What Philosophy Makes You Worse At


Over at the group blog, A Philosopher’s Take, new contributor Mike Steiner (a philosophy PhD who went into the business world) has a post up asking what studying philosophy makes one worse at.

He asks:

Does studying philosophy specifically make one worse at certain tasks, or make philosophers less capable to do certain jobs than they were before they studied philosophy? Are there jobs philosophers should specifically avoid on that basis? Beyond work, can philosophy create problems in your personal life or relationships? For example, did it turn you into an excellent debater, only to irritate and alienate your friends and family? Did it make it impossible for you to enjoy cultural or religious practices that you once loved, due to a heightened level of skepticism?

Interesting questions.

(Related.)

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I work with idiots
I work with idiots
5 years ago

I think it makes you better at feeling superior to everyone you meet in the workplace. I’m not quite sure how to translate that to its negative logical equivalence, but you get the point.Report

Charlie Gordon
Charlie Gordon
Reply to  I work with idiots
5 years ago

Ever read Flowers for Algernon?Report

Ben Abelson
Ben Abelson
5 years ago

I think it has made it more difficult for me to write poetry. My thinking is too literal and critical to allow the fluid associations of meanings necessary for poetic writing.Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
Reply to  Ben Abelson
5 years ago

This may be a function of the kind of philosophy in which you are trained.

(Though it must be said that Nietzsche wrote some really, really bad poetry.)Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

It makes one worse at ordinary conversation. Or at least, it did me. I think it’s because so much ordinary conversation is actually hidden debating, and I have a rigid style of debating that is the only one I’m capable of.Report

juliette
juliette
5 years ago

For me it wasn’t poetry but fiction which became difficult to write. I also find it more difficult to find pleasure in reading – unless I go for something not too “philosophical.”Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  juliette
5 years ago

That’s really interesting that you say that. After about a decade off (because my “creative” writing was all directed at dissertation and the development of an understanding how to do journal articles), about two years ago I returned to writing fiction again, and I find that my philosophical training has made my fiction writing a lot easier. There is so much subject matter in philosophical debates, and when I’m writing fiction, I can just assert things, I don’t have to argue for them! It’s so liberating.Report

Juliette
Juliette
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Sounds great! But for me it’s really a question/problem of style: too clear, short sentences, incapable of writing dialogues, awkward sentences, etc. To be fair, I’ve never been a good writer anyway.Report

Nearly-done Phil PhD
Nearly-done Phil PhD
5 years ago

It has made me terribly indecisive. I’ve probably always had difficulty making (good) decisions, but now it’s agonizing. Sometimes one should pick a path without exhausting all possible arguments and counter-arguments.Report

ugh
ugh
Reply to  Nearly-done Phil PhD
5 years ago

Definitely. And even if I do decide I’m never convinced that I’m right or wrong.Report

PhiloScience
PhiloScience
5 years ago

I think it’s made me worse at pretty much anything that’s “teamwork” oriented. I’m significantly less patient with others than I used to be.Report

Komal
Komal
5 years ago

Philosophy has not made me worse at anything, but being involved in academic philosophy has made me worse at things like being happy.Report

I work with idiots
I work with idiots
Reply to  Komal
5 years ago

I’ve found being involved in academic philosophy has made me much better at being happy. In the business world, I found myself surrounded by people who I did not enjoy being around, and it was a constant struggle to “participate in their world”. While the philosophical profession is obviously quite stressful and difficult, I find I am much more fulfilled and much “happier” – if I can be the judge of this.Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Komal
5 years ago

Philosophy really helped with being happier, for me. Before going to university I was incredibly shy in all social contexts, having a hard time in conversations with more than one person. I guess, it wasn’t easy to find common interests and to openly speak about questions that interested me — on fear of being labelled as the excessively reflective girl who overthinks everything.
I felt much more at ease in the academic philosophy environment, and discovered a surprising passion for engaged discussion with my peers and professor. Being in that environment also helped with non-philosophical conversation…with philosophers though!Report

BecauseBeans
BecauseBeans
5 years ago

Philosophy has made me worse at giving a shit about most things.Report

PhiloScience
PhiloScience
Reply to  BecauseBeans
5 years ago

I view this as a positive skill.Report

Travis Rieder
Travis Rieder
5 years ago

Philosophy training has made a lot of friends and colleagues worse at looking others in the eye while talking. We get used to this thing where, in trying to be perfectly precise, we look for the exact right wording on the ceiling or the inside of our eyelids. As I transferred into a more ‘professional’ academic position, I had to REALLY work on relearning basic conversational and social skills.Report

Kate Norlock
5 years ago

I loved encountering philosophy and logic a bit belatedly (at 25) and it felt good to do homework and to solve proofs. But I found that once on the TT, when I tried creative writing again, all my creative writing powers had left. I remember writing fiction and poetry as a youth. I just don’t remember how. *Happy news* for those who identify with this, though: When I got a job that allowed me to cut out my commute and spent that newfound time on reading fiction and poetry more, some of the creative powers returned! Yes yes! It turns out to be recoverable. It took me a few years of reading fiction and poetry again to be able to do it, but it worked, unexpectedly.Report

SCM
SCM
5 years ago

This discussion puts me in mind of e e cummings’ poem:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesisReport

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

I so love that poem. Thank you.Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

Amen.Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

And lest we forget, from another cummings poem: “not for philosophy does this rose give a damn”Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

I’m with Tom. More specifically, it’s made me worse at that subset of ordinary conversation usually called ‘small talk’ (not that I was ever any good at it anyway). The most innocent, throw-away comment can seem to raise philosophical issues I find fascinating, but that I know would (often) be inappropriate (?) to raise in that context. For instance, suppose someone is telling you about how a co-worker blatantly lied to her face, and she exclaims, ‘Next he’ll be telling me that the sky isn’t blue’. Now that’s probably not the best time to raise, and seriously talk about, the distinction between primary and secondary qualities (though you know it’s what you’d be thinking, at least for a second). No one wants to be ‘that guy/gal’ — the one who turns every conversation into an opportunity to discuss his/her obsession.Report

Stephane
Stephane
5 years ago

Therapy.Report

Tim
Tim
5 years ago

I find it interesting to read about difficulty in writing poetry or fiction. I wonder if it’s due to a loss of Realism and the sense of Analogy of Being in contemporary Philosophy. It used to be that, in poetry, language reached its highest possibility in analogically pointing to higher realities. Tolkien had a similar view on fiction, which he related to C. S. Lewis.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

A lot of philosophers seem to learn to write in a much more opaque style than they would normally develop, and then show an inability to shake that style. This really does seem to be a learned inability to be clear.

I think we also often lose track of what non-philosophers think, though possibly we didn’t have that before coming into philosophy.Report

Tim
Tim
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I agree. My work requires an enormous amount of documentation (I’m a psychotherapist) and I’ve noticed my writing is wish washy.. tentative.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

“Did it make it impossible for you to enjoy cultural or religious practices that you once loved, due to a heightened level of skepticism?”

Quite the reverse. It turned me from an anti-religious person to someone who cannot understand why all philosophers aren’t Buddhists. Philosophy would be a cure for scepticism since if one pursues scepticism far enough one finds out what is real. Philosophy does not have to be interminable. As someone says above, answer to the main question here will depend on how we study philosophy.Report

JCM
JCM
5 years ago

An odd thing I found in arriving at a theory of art that I found deeply illuminating was that it paradoxically made it harder for me to art myself. It was Adorno of all people who helped me go beyond that, by embracing a number of artistic aporia (e.g., between caprice and structure, honesty and pleasure) even though I still think that the paralysing theory that resolves these aporia does so adequately. Practically, I have to forget that.

Of course, Adorno is a philosopher as much as anyone else, so of course in one sense philosophy hasn’t prevented me from arting at all. And I still hold out hope that philosophy can resolve this oddness wherein what I consider the true theory is paralysing.

More inflammatorily: philosophy is just the business of becoming more human. All it can really make us worse at, if we’re doing it right, is being animals.Report

Mark
Mark
5 years ago

It seems to make one worse at processing implicatures.Report

Cynical
Cynical
5 years ago

understanding metaphors
appreciating beauty
processing emotions, both in oneself and others
social skills
understanding humor that is playful and non-literal
and, ironically, appreciating the value in views that are not your ownReport

Led
Led
5 years ago

Writing.Report