Luck and Precursive Belief (guest post by Amy Olberding)


“I was lucky. There were multiple joints in this path where things could well have gone sideways. Indeed, sideways was my more natural trajectory and temperament. But my luck, I hasten to say, was not just dumb luck. Instead, much of my luck was given to me by others.”

The following is a guest post* by Amy Olberding, professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. It originally appeared at Department of Deviance.


Luck and Precursive Belief
by Amy Olberding

For a host of reasons, I’ve been giving much thought lately to succeeding in academia, about how it happens and about how the pathways to success in place operate. My thinking about all of this has been inspired in part by the work of others (most especially by this beautiful reflection by Alan White), in part by my working in an unranked PhD-granting program where we seek to place students who will be competing in a job market in which pedigree exercises an outsized role, and in part by having a child soon to embark on college applications. 

In my own career, I know I made out better than anything in my trajectory would have predicted. Let me just lay bare all the ways I shouldn’t be where I am. 

My early schooling was not strong, to understate the matter considerably. I dropped out of high school following my junior year. My mother, panicked about what this boded for my future, discovered a provision in Louisiana law that would give me a probationary year at any public Louisiana college where I could be admitted. To fulfill my probationary terms, I would need a B average for my first year at college and a 26 on the ACT. So off to Louisiana Tech University I went. By the end of the year, I had a B average and I took the ACT, scoring a 26, just barely clearing the bar. And having done this, I then promptly dropped out of college. I was intellectually enlivened by having beautiful, brilliant friends, but in that time and place, most of the beautiful, brilliant people were also, not to put too fine a point on it, disaffected academic fuck ups. I had also serendipitously discovered the word “autodidact” and decided to be one.

After a year or so of working and scraping by, my mother again stepped in to suggest I try a different college. She persuaded me to apply to Hendrix College, a small liberal arts college in Arkansas. This I did and they (rather astoundingly) admitted me. I immediately took to it—it was a place where feeling intellectually enlivened and going to class actually intersected.

After receiving a BA, I worked as a maid, as a substitute teacher, and in a public library. I dabbled in graduate courses along the way and eventually applied to University of Hawai’i. I was admitted, but without funding. I went anyway since trying my chances there seemed as good a bet as any—there are houses to clean everywhere and being enrolled in graduate school would, not insignificantly, keep my student loans at bay.

At Hawai’i, I again found an enlivening intellectual environment and thrived. Even so, I left Hawai’i as soon as I was ABD. I had met my spouse in the Hawai’i program but he left the program precisely because we had married: We knew enough to understand that people who want to pursue careers together cannot both be in Chinese philosophy. So he redirected into another field and was admitted to University of Chicago in Sinology, and I moved there with him. While in Chicago, I got a job, first adjuncting and then full-time, at a community college. I wrote my dissertation while teaching 10 courses a year. At long last, as my husband neared being ABD, we thought I should go on the job market in the more usual manner, casting a wide net. This was when it felt like my initiation into something like the current profession really began.

I never did know all that much about the mechanics and strategies of applying for things. After all, when I applied to colleges, I applied to one at a time; when I applied to graduate school, I applied to one at a time. Moreover, because of its isolation, both geographically and in philosophical focus, at Hawai’i, I never realized how hard it is to get employed in philosophy and how pedigree, rank, traditional canon, and analytical methodology circumscribed the chances for people like me. (This was before the internet told us all sorts of things we’d rather not know.) It was only in being around the U of C culture that I really began to understand the challenges and difficulties of being on the job market in philosophy.

Aware I needed help navigating the market, I smuggled myself into a career services session given for U of C graduate students entering the academic job market. (It’s not like they check student IDs for those things.) The guys sitting in front of me were smugly discussing all the places they would never condescend to work. Louisiana was one. I didn’t much like those guys, but that session did teach me how to present myself for the market and I was hired at University of Oklahoma, making what now seems like a leap—from teaching at a community college to an R-1 in one go. And now, here I am, some many years hence, working at OU.

I raise all of this personal history as a way to illuminate something made more eloquently plain in Alan White’s essay: I was lucky. There were multiple joints in this path where things could well have gone sideways. Indeed, sideways was my more natural trajectory and temperament. But my luck, I hasten to say, was not just dumb luck. Instead, much of my luck was given to me by others, people who were more generous with me than my “on paper” specs would have recommended. And it is this that sticks with me most about my own trajectory. I stumbled upon people who believed: my professors at Hendrix and Hawai’i, my colleagues at OU. At every crucial joint, I found people who believed I could do things and their belief set me into circumstances where I could indeed do things—finish college, get a PhD, get a job, do research at an R-1 level. I could very easily have not done any of these things. Not doing these things was, again, my more probable course. And I suppose this is what most troubles me now that I have gotten to know far more about higher education and academic philosophy in particular.

I got my PhD in 2001, my job at OU in 2004. I expect that a trajectory like mine, however improbable it was back then, is dramatically more improbable now. Many of the graduate students I am involved in training are so much smarter, so much better prepared, and so much more together than I ever was, but they do not, in general, enjoy anything like the luck I had. I was never really faced with any gatekeepers. At first, I didn’t even know there were gates: I mostly just happened upon windows and tunnels under the wall. Sometimes this was because someone beckoned me to them—e.g., at Hendrix and then at Hawai’i—and later I did some of my own tunneling—e.g., sneaking my way into using U of C resources on more than that one occasion. My despair with the present profession is that getting through gatekeepers in the more orthodox way, straightforwardly meeting them and convincing them to open up, seems far more essential. There just aren’t that many windows or earth soft enough to tunnel through. And the gatekeepers are ill-disposed to believe, to take chances on the “sideways” types, those who are approaching the gates from odd directions.

On my worst days, I worry that the profession has become so abducted by gate-keeping that (not to sound ancient) the scrappy sideways kids these days have little chance. It can seem that the profession is just all Matthew Effect, all the way down. To get a job, one needs to attend a “top” graduate program; to attend a “top” graduate program, one often needs to attend a “top” BA-granting institution or at least get “top” advising; to attend a “top” BA-granting institution or get “top” advising, one needs to have already enjoyed a great deal of good fortune early on. One best not be a high school dropout or, at any rate, have found your BA institution by your own wits in a high school with little good college counseling. Likewise, if one is to get a job, one may also need to publish in “top” venues, which, given most “top” journals’ practices, will mean one needs to study a “top” area that such journals are far more likely to publish. And one will need to court the attentions of “top” scholars who can write “top-notch” recommendations, and attend “top” conferences where you might stand a chance of meeting all those “top” folks. Each of these “tops” represent different gates to enter, different gate-keepers to convince, and different challenges. It’s just all “tops,” all the way down.

The profession talks sometimes as if it wants to render some of these processes more egalitarian. The PGR ranking system, e.g., purports to publicize just what counts as “top” so that otherwise uninformed students know where to aim when they aim for the “top.” But of course there is a recursive loop here, as one must first identify the most “top” sorts so that they can rank for us all exactly what counts, in their “top” judgment, as “top.” I suppose this does represent a prudential value of sorts—if you want a job in philosophy, this is the way the profession is set up and best get to know that early so you can know what the gates look like. And to know that there are indeed gates.

But I at least regret that the profession is so preoccupied by what is “top.” Let me draw this back to those two guys in the career session at U of C I smuggled myself in to. At the time, I heard them snidely dismissing all the places they would never work and thought they seemed like hot-house orchids, like people who had bloomed into these fantastically impressive flowers but did so in conditions meticulously designed to nourish them. In contrast, I thought of myself as kin to a lesser, less fantastical wildflower springing up out of some manure pile on the roadside. I had a bit of color in me by then, a bit of bloom brought on by good mentors, but except where I could smuggle myself in, had never been in the hothouse, never lived with the sense of high expectations and assumed success. We were like utterly different sorts of plants, yet trying for the same role in the world, seeking to be selected for the bouquet of academic life. Whether for admissions committees or for hiring committees, we inhabit a world in which wildflowers sit alongside hothouse orchids and, regrettably, it’s clear which the field prefers

There are many who would defend our professional systems as evidence of meritocracy in operation. People who are “top” earned their way there; “top” programs earned their collective way there; and so on. That is, one can just deny that any of this is a problem by saying that the gates and gate-keepers do let pass any who can earn their way in. To tangle up my analogies: you can bloom your way out of a shit pile and take your place in the bouquet of hothouse orchids. Here is my own great, gnawing reservation about that line of thinking: For that to work, somewhere, somehow, someone still must pull you from the manure. And at least for myself, that had to happen multiple times.

It isn’t just that I had to get into a college that nurtured me, get into a graduate program that did the same, and then into a job that did the same. It’s that all along these ways, I could have been otherwise. That is, there is nothing about me that I would count as representing an “earned” way into the trajectories of professional work I have enjoyed. Instead, there were lots of people who helped me swerve off the trajectories my circumstances would have predicted. And with those swerves came arrangements from which I profited. To take but my most recent chance, my job carries a 2/2 load and support for research. Much of the work I have produced is a function of just that, of my having the time, the institutional support, and, put plainly, the kind of job that enables me to do whatever it is I have done. Had I a different job, I would have a different professional profile. The circumstances are set up to favor my being what I am; different circumstances would have yielded a different me, a different professional profile (or no profile at all). So I just can’t get very exercised by assumptions that I have, as an individual, done this thing, that I somehow earned my way to my places in the long stream of life opportunities I’ve had. In each case, I got extraordinarily lucky to get a helpful place, and then the place made me. Hendrix made me viable for graduate school; Hawai’i made me viable for jobs; my job made me viable for greater research.

My concerns with the profession, put plainly, is that it presently inclines strongly against pulling wildflowers into the bouquet, inviting swerves away from predictable trajectories. It inclines to see people’s value by way of too fixed trajectories, top to top to top. Those not already on such a trajectory will find few invitations to swerve away from whatever non-top trajectory they presently have. Indeed, I worry that career trajectories like mine can obscure how rarely swerves happen and can indirectly contribute to myths about the meritocracy or, worse, to Horatio Alger stories. Someone like me makes her way into the profession and it can seem I somehow did that. I write all this just to say I didn’t. And the importance of that, as I see it, is that there are other people in the profession, people like me but younger, who can’t do it either. So long as the profession goes on blithely believing in its meritocratic and egalitarian myths, expecting that any “qualified” sideways types can earn their way to the “top,” we will fail to offer the sorts of chances the sideways types really need. As a sideways type myself, I needed people believe, and to believe ahead of any clear proof. I got lucky to find people who could do that but they’re thinner on the ground now, I fear. 

Since I am both engaged in training some sideways types and raising one I birthed, I feel all too acutely the vagaries of luck and, more importantly, how some are just far more vulnerable to luck than others. I long for them to have the luck I’ve enjoyed, but I can’t make luck. Instead, all I can do is this: Own my own luck in the hopes of stimulating those who do stand at the gates to keep a sympathetic, kind eye out for people approaching from the less commonly traveled directions.


Art: Vincent Van Gogh, “Poppy Field” (detail)

Comments Policy

guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JCM
JCM
3 years ago

Thanks for this. I think philosophy needs a whole bunch of people’s stories just like this to break in our hearts the meritocracy myth.

But I wonder if the moral is quite right, or quite complete. Granted the Matthew effect, it’s also the case that those who breach the gates (with papers in order) are genuinely really good, and even that within their spheres they make brilliant, original, left-field, creative contributions. A re-orientation of the institutions of philosophy away from this stuff would, I don’t doubt, result in lots of brilliant philosophy being done, and anything that makes the demographics of philosophy departments less nauseatingly and unjustly homogeneous is to be welcomed with fanfare – but nevertheless, you would still have plenty of dedicated and passionate philosophers cruelly refused entry. (And although it is tempting to think of an privileged person who didn’t make it “cry me a river,” and to tell them to go get a sinecure in their daddy’s multinational, I know of plenty of philosophers who are successful by philosophy’s metrics but who’ve still had a tough old time of it in plenty of other very important respects.)

I don’t want to be mean-spirited in complaining that you didn’t say something additional to what this post is about, but I think that when you’re telling this sort of story, it’s important to also mention that (short of a radical re-imagining of the academy) super philosophers not making it is par for the course; and to say something about this grief.

P.S. The flower analogy is an allusion to Dotson’s lovely, sad, ‘Concrete Flowers’?Report

Heath White
Heath White
3 years ago

I once read an article about how the housing crisis had driven up the price of milk. The mechanism was that a housing debt crisis meant less construction, which meant less lumber sawn, which meant less sawdust created, which meant dairy farmers had to pay more for the sawdust they use for cow bedding, which meant higher milk prices. This is an efficient market, where all the flex has been wrung out of the system. Changes in one remote part of the system affect others far away.

I think what Amy is describing is just the tightening job market for philosophers. Supply is high and demand is low, which means you now have to do EVERYTHING right to get placed. There are fewer second chances; the flex has been wrung out of the system. In her day (mine too) someone coming up a “sideways” path would not have displaced a person who did everything right; today, they probably would. The mercilessness of the present situation is not a function of anyone’s psychology, it is a function of the objective economic constraints on the hiring process.

I also think “merit” is being used in two different senses. In one sense, possessing more merit means possessing more qualifications for a particular job, and in that sense I don’t see that Amy’s post contains any arguments that today’s job market is not meritocratic. (Except intergenerationally; older cohorts of philosophers got careers based on meeting lower standards than today’s philosophers.) In another sense, merit is deserts, something that is due to your own efforts, and is opposed to luck. In this sense, but not the first, a meritocracy would be egalitarian (“careers open to talents”). I think she is right that any number of us can point to places in our careers where we were helped along by others, without deserving it. Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Heath White
3 years ago

Heath, I agree with all you say about flex, but my view is a bit stronger than you represent, I think. I think our measures for “possessing more qualifications” are warped. Often “more qualifications” just means “top” and “top” is just a byword for accumulated advantages – and I think our preoccupations with “top-ness” are really distortive. But more to the point, I think we can overstate our ability to spot someone who “possesses more qualifications” because of how processes prove out: we admit or hire someone who does possess more qualifications, they thrive, and then our judgment is proven. Part of what I was seeking to get at was that I think it isn’t that we’ve judged the individual correctly (against others) but that many individuals can, if seated in the right circumstances, thrive that way. I.e., I see more about arrangements and circumstances at work than our narratives regarding qualifications seem to permit. Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
3 years ago

Thanks, JCM. I agree that there’s more grief here than I describe. I also, to be clear, think the appearance of being a “hothouse orchid” can be misleading. I think *looking* like one is prized so all sorts of bedraggled types who make it into one of the hothouses may find incentives to try to look like they belong. I.e., people who look privileged may only look that way and there may be incentives to try to look that way precisely to hide one’s disadvantages. Anyway, as far as the job market in philosophy is concerned, I think there are losses everywhere.

No, I wan’t alluding to Dotson, but I like the connection! I was just describing what I thought all those years ago in that U of C session and, more generally, being who I was around U of C.
Report

Alan White
Alan White
3 years ago

Amy–
“. . much of my luck was *given to me* by others, people who were more generous with me than my “on paper” specs would have recommended. And it is this that sticks with me most about my own trajectory. I stumbled upon people who believed. . .”

This is such an important component of your point about having good luck–it may not be the heart of what Scanlon believes that we owe to each other–but it is certainly a function of it. Thanks for this strong and reflective essay, and for generously mentioning my little piece.Report

hothouse flower
hothouse flower
3 years ago

I find the metaphor of the hothouse flower pretty unfortunate. I don’t think that top programs are “meticulously designed to nourish” their students. They do enjoy a massive advantage in resources, but those resources are not particularly oriented around caring or nourishment.

If anything, I think they are instead arrayed in their own version of the Matthew effect, where students who are already more driven, self-confident, and generally psychologically healthy are confident and pro-active in taking advantage of them, and consequently benefit most and have yet more reason to be psychologically healthy and confident, and so on in a virtuous cycle. And then, of course, there is the opposing vicious cycle. Most of the resources at top programs seem targeted at accentuating the virtuous cycle–take that great paper and turn it into a talk, take that talk and turn it into a (travel-funded) presentation, take that presentation session and write it up for the journals, all with collegial and helpful advice from (important, research-active) faculty–provided you’re on your game to hunt them down, of course. These are great resources! By contrast, aside from the occasional angel advisor, when it comes to students who are instead in a tailspin there are few resources or institutional structures designed to pull them back out–my sense is that it’s much more often benign neglect eventually giving way to poorly communicated and inconsistent ultimatums.

Underperformance (real or imagined) in graduate school can instill a deep sense of alienation and shame. And then for those at the top programs, add–wow, you underperformed? Jeez, what kind of flower are you, that you couldn’t even bloom in a hothouse? It plays straight into the all-to-typical complexes, which is why I think it’s an unfortunate way to package the message. Report

JTD
JTD
3 years ago

After reading this I vote for Amy to be interviewed next on “What is it like to be a philosopher”.Report

JTD
JTD
3 years ago

“My concerns with the profession, put plainly, is that it presently inclines strongly against pulling wildflowers into the bouquet, inviting swerves away from predictable trajectories. It inclines to see people’s value by way of too fixed trajectories, top to top to top. Those not already on such a trajectory will find few invitations to swerve away from whatever non-top trajectory they presently have.”

Here is one suggestion for something we should be doing that will help address this. Currently there appears to be a lot of prestige bias in hiring. Thus, imagine two job candidates who are equally excellent by all relevant indicators (e.g. same quality and quantity of publications, similarly impressive teaching dossiers, etc.) yet one is from a prestigious, top-ranked, PhD program and the other is from an unprestigious, unranked program. Many hiring committees would take the institutional prestige of the first candidate to be the tie-breaker and hire that candidate. The current criticism of prestige bias calls for this factor not to count and for both candidates to be regarded as equally desirable hires. However, I think the reverse bias is actually justified in this case. The candidate from the prestigious institution has had access to the various outstanding resources such institutions offer their graduates and has done very well. The candidate from the unprestigious institution has not had access to these outstanding resources and yet has done equally well. This suggests that the second candidate could in fact have done even better if she had access to such resources. It also suggests that she will do better than the first candidate if she is hired as, once hired, each candidate would have similar institutional resources at their disposal.

I think this point extends beyond tie-breaking. In the current system prestige bias doesn’t just break ties, it also elevates candidates from prestigious institutions with solid CVs ahead of candidates from unprestigious institutions with slightly better CVs. I would advocate that we replace prestige bias with an anti-prestige bias that does the same. Thus imagine two candidates who are equally excellent except that A has three high-quality publications and institutional prestige whereas B has two high-quality publications and no institutional prestige. On a hiring committee I would be advocating for hiring B as, given that B has achieved her CV with less resources, I would expect her to perform better. Of course, at some point I would draw a line where better performance by the candidate from the prestigious institution outweighs the impressiveness of good performance by a candidate from an unprestigious institution.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that if more philosophers on hiring committes started thinking like this then we would not only end up hiring better philosophers but we would also end up having more diversity, more “wildflowers” as Olberding puts it.Report

Julia
Julia
3 years ago

“That is, there is nothing about me that I would count as representing an “earned” way into the trajectories of professional work I have enjoyed. Instead, there were lots of people who helped me swerve off the trajectories my circumstances would have predicted.”
This sentence resonated with me, because it made me think about two different conceptions of luck. I think one type of luck is much more relevant than the other when it comes to our employment histories (and I myself benefited from it a fair amount). The first, less relevant kind, is one that is at work when we win the lottery. We are just lucky or unlucky – there is nothing about us that made us a winner or loser, the chances were all the same, and it is no less “abnormal” to win than to lose. The author sometimes seems to suggest that this is the type of luck she enjoyed in her career. But I don’t think the people that help others who look less polished pull a person out of a pile of similarly unpolished people like a winning lottery ticket.
Rather, it seems to me that the sort of luck that is involved is one where, given that one meets the people one does, it is not accidental that they will pick out someone they find promising, even if they don’t look polished in a traditional way. But one could have easily not met those people. For example, if I had taken a different class during my study abroad visit, I would not have met the professor who became invested in helping me apply to grad school in the US. So, in some sense, for many of us, things could have easily turned out otherwise, because our success was due to lucky encounters with people who saw something worth investing into. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t deserve in some way to be picked out. People don’t go around randomly trying to promote students who don’t seem promising in some way. Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
3 years ago

I think it’s right to say there are a couple of types of luck possible to invoke here and, yes, the second type does entail that there presumably be *something* the helping-type will see and seek to draw out. I.e., it’s not that literally anyone could be pulled up out of the manure and the presumption is that the ones who pull people out do so because they can spot potential and respond well to it. But I am just not content to leave it with that. For I think there lurks here an additional element we really need to recognize. Some people are far more disposed to see and respond to rough potential. Others are not well disposed to see and respond to it. That is, there is a whole world of flex here on the part of those at the proverbial gates. I doubt that any in the profession are hardened elitists who simply blithely ignore potential from rougher quarters. Rather, I think that the way the profession discusses its troubles with prestige bias inadvertently reinforces a disposition against helping the sideways types.

We sometimes talk about the patterns of prestige tracking evident in job placement data (such as Helen de Cruz provided) as but the unexceptional effects of merit in operation. We are too complacent with placement patterns that not only (I think) fail to spot myriad wildflowers in our midst, but also create a woeful insularity and uniformity at the “top” ranks. We implicitly endorse narratives in which those at the “top” are just there by blunt merit and those not at the “top” are right where they ought be, also by (want of) merit. By doing so, we place trust in systems that are never secure in the ways such trust would really require. E.g., whether in graduate admissions or hiring processes, the work burdens are high and even a modest confidence that everyone is leveled right where they should be, that everyone is positioned in proper accord with their skill and potential, can entail shutting out candidates with rough potential or just lacking prestige markers. To be clear, what I’m saying is that a willingness to find and cultivate the wildflowers is itself a disposition. I think that our professional talk often discourages cultivation of this disposition. So, yes, we do need to acknowledge that spotting potential is spotting something, not nothing, but I want to couple that with emphatically noting that spotting potential requires that one cultivate a disposition to do so. We can have more or less of this disposition, and the profession can generally promote or discourage developing this disposition. My sense is that it presently discourages developing it or at least truncates it in various ways.

As an aside, concern about how we discourage a disposition to look for wildflowers is partly why the word “top” so aggravates me. I think this language is the enemy of the disposition we’d need for finding wildflowers. All our nattering on about “top” this and “top” that uses language of ridiculous and egregiously simplistic hierarchy. “Top” is a term that situates one thing in relation to other things. To be “top” is to be atop something else, to be “highest” or “best” in a comparative judgment. The language is inherently comparative or even competitive in a way that, say, being “excellent” or being “good” is not – multiple things can be excellent or good without thereby ruling out other excellences or goodnesses. Talk of “tops” steers our thinking in ways that aren’t useful, not least because the things we choose to evaluate for their topness are ill-suited to the measure used. Discussions of “top” programs and of “top” journals and such demand that we sacrifice imagination and complexity. What will be the genuinely best program or journal will depend on what sort of philosophy you’re investigating (no program does them all), and what sort of philosopher you are (there are lots of different types of these), and a host of hard-to–capture features. Yet we mindlessly talk “tops” as if none of this complexity attaches. It’s like the childhood game King of the Mountain, but played by professionals who should know better. At any rate, my real complaint is that all this simplistic talk of “top” is bad enough applied to entities such as programs and journals, but it’s really egregious applied to human beings. And the more we align ourselves with spotting “tops” in all sorts of professional domains, the more this language and its associated thinking ooze over into how we assess people, making us complacent with the thought that “top” hires or admits are going to come out of “top” programs and publish in “top” journals and top this and top that. We squash our own dispositions to look for and see complexity where it may appear, to look for and see possibility and potential in forms other than what plays at the “top” or, worst, already sits at the “top.” As much as I think philosophy itself and its various institutional aspects just don’t cash out into anything like the simplistic hierarchical calculus we sometimes employ, it really doesn’t apply well to people. People develop in variable circumstances, people develop at different rates and paces, people have periods of soaring and slumping, and, most of all, the relevant skill sets and talents needed are far too vast and variable for anyone to command them all. It’s a sad form of philosophy that has any “top” philosopher. People, that is, will have different strengths and no “top” program or “top” range of programs is likely to draw out all of the relevant and important things we’d like not to miss out on as philosophers seeking to cultivate other, younger philosophers.

Sometimes in my teaching, I forbid students to use particular words, typically words that I think will function to short-circuit necessary complexity or words that seem to mean something but are really vacuous. E.g., in teaching on Chinese mourning ethics, I forbid the use of “closure.” (After all, what the hell is that when it’s at home?) The goal in forbidding a word is to make my students look for a substitute for what they’re thinking – I.e., how would say this if you had to find some less indolent and more genuinely evocative and meaningful form of expression for it? So, if I personally were King of Philosophy Mountain, I’d forbid philosophers from using “top.” Whatever it is you think you’re describing, find some richer, more meaningful (and thereby more accurate) way of saying it. And then maybe our dispositions will better align with what we all want, a profession that doesn’t Matthew Effect all the way back to nursery school. Report