“Academic Philosophy Is Ruining Our Marriage”, Non-Hegel Versions


By now many readers will have seen the Reddit post written by a physicist seeking advice about what to do about her Hegel-obsessed philosopher-of-science husband. It was posted in the Heap of Links the other day, and all over social media—to the extent that “Hegel” was trending on Twitter.

The post begins:

My husband and I are both academics. We’ve been married for 3 years, and been together for 6. He is an academic philosopher and I am a physicist. He has recently expressed displeasure that I’ve never seriously engaged with his work. Now, I’ve read a bit… Unfortunately, everything he’s shown me has just seems completely insane. Here’s the problem: his work apparently involves claims about physics that are just wrong, and wrong in a very embarrassing way!

She details some of those claims, points out various problems, and claims his pre-occupation with Hegel “has reached the point of creepiness,” noting that “he keeps a framed picture of Hegel on the nightstand in our bedroom.”

The problem grows and culminates in a fight:

Recently we got in a huge fight because he was trying to demonstrate an example of the Hegelian concept of the “unity of opposites” (whatever that means) by claiming that right and left hands are opposite but also identical. I told him this is just wrong and that right and left hands are not “identical” in any meaningful sense (chirality is a basic concept in geometry/group theory: left and right hands are not superimposable). He kept putting his hands together and tried to show how they were “identical” and kept failing (because they’re not) and then got angry and stormed out of the house. I haven’t seen him since (this was about a day ago) and texted him and haven’t heard back.

There’s some speculation that the post is a hoax. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it.

I was trying to imagine versions of this, modifying the wife’s research area and the philosopher with whom her husband is obsessed in ways most likely to generate similarly ridiculous fights.

It can work like a kind of MadLibs:

Husband works in [area of philosophy] and is obsessed with [philosopher].
Wife is a [expert career].
Recently we got in a huge fight because [husband’s philosopher-based actions or statements are at least apparently inconsistent with what the wife knows in virtue of her expert career].

Here’s one:

Husband works in the History of Philosophy and is obsessed with Hobbes.
Wife is a primatologist.
Recently we got in a huge fight because he has become increasingly bossy, saying that Hobbes showed that you needed one strong power in charge otherwise we’d have a state of nature in which life was nasty, brutish, and short, and that we needed to apply this to our family. I told him this is just wrong. Studies of gorillas and our other close primate relatives show that they, in their state of nature, are able to exist largely peacefully. He kept drawing prisoners dilemma matrixes to support Hobbes’ view but got angry because he kept putting numbers in the matrix that didn’t add up to the results he wanted. When I reminded him that gorillas don’t have prisons anyway he stormed out of the house. I haven’t seen him since.

I bet some of you can do better than that. (And you needn’t be beholden to the specific husband/wife roles, of course.) Go for it.


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Led
Led
2 years ago

A hoax, without a doubt. It’s too perfect that the physicist would bring up a famous Kantian argument (handedness) and the Hegelian husband would just get angry and not comprehend it.Report

mrmister
mrmister
Reply to  Led
2 years ago

Also, she just happens to be fluent in German? Pretty convenient. But less believably yet, he disdains science but still actively invites his physicist wife to read his work–if this pastiche of bad behaviors were real, he would be a lot more cautious about inviting close readings from the science-literate. I think that obscurantists learned in the 90s that head on engagement does no favors!

I wouldn’t really call it a “hoax” though, which imo implies a level of intent to deceive. My impression is that this part of reddit is a known mix of truth and fiction. Which this post happily carries on in the tradition of, by inviting us to write our own!Report

Dani
Dani
Reply to  mrmister
2 years ago

It’s not a ‘hoax’ so much as it is a piece of high caliber trolling (aka: online performance art).Report

Nicole
Nicole
Reply to  mrmister
2 years ago

I dunno if the fluency in German is really such a red flag. I had at least three professors in college who were fluent in German (many more fluent in other languages) and most professors marry other professors.

Also, I happen to be fluent in German myself 🙂Report

Rakesh Chandra
Rakesh Chandra
Reply to  mrmister
2 years ago

Hegels negative views on women and the impossibility of participation in civil society and politics are well known.a true hegelian would not expect his wife to understand hegelReport

Skef
Skef
2 years ago

“There’s some speculation that the post is a hoax. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it.”

Its being a hoax would presumably be what makes the fun more permissible, the alternative being an invitation to riff on a couple’s dying marriage.Report

Wilhelm
Wilhelm
2 years ago

Hoax or not – there is no difference – Hegel says.Report

Aaron Lercher
Aaron Lercher
2 years ago

Husband works in early modern philosophy and is obsessed with Berkeley.
Wife is a stone mason.
He believes that no physical object is real unless it is perceived. He trips over a stone that he happened not to see on the floor of his wife’s workshop and falls down. But he continues to believe that the stone is real only because it is perceived.

Next up: Thales falls in a well and hilarity ensues.Report

Aaron Lercher
Aaron Lercher
2 years ago

Husband works on ancient skepticism and is obsessed with the legacy of Pyrrho.
Wife is a human being.
Husband refused to believe in the evidence of his senses. So she was afraid that he might walk into traffic or off the edge of a cliff. One day he walked off the edge of a cliff.
Thus ended their marriage.Report

Lisa
Lisa
2 years ago

Does it make sense to call it a hoax?

It’s seems a very obvious joke. Perhaps it strayed over into an attempt at believability because the person composing the post really put their heart into it. The distress of the wife is written in a such a heartfelt way that the absurdity becomes slightly less evident.

Any non-philosopher who has gone so far to marry a philosopher would know better than to stake their marriage on whether the philosopher believes something they find wrong or impossible.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

From a letter to The Globe and Mail, quoted by Tom Hurka:
“ The ethical dilemmas involving a runaway trolley illustrate the uninformed situations that cause people’s eyes to glaze over in philosophy class. Trolleys and trains are unlikely to run away because they’re equipped with a “dead man’s pedal” that applies the brakes if the driver is incapacitated.
The potential rescuer would not have the choice of “throwing the switch” because track switches are locked to prevent vandalism. And the rescuer’s response would depend on the speed of the trolley. If the speed were less than 15 kilometers an hour, the rescuer could jump onto the trolley, sound the bell and save all five lives. If the speed were less than 30 km/h, then the rescuer (with a switch lock key) could throw the switch and kill only the one person on the branch line.
If the trolley were moving faster than 30 km/h, throwing the switch would cause it to derail, which would injure or kill the passengers but save the workers on the tracks. So the better choice is to allow the occupied trolley to run through on the main track and, regrettably, kill, the five workers.”
– Derek Wilson, former CN Rail transportation
engineer and project manager, Port Moody, B.C.

I don’t know whether mr. Wilson was married to a philosopher.Report

betternever
betternever
2 years ago

Well, it’s not quite the same, but David Benatar has significantly hurt my dating prospects…Report

Varun Soontornniyomkij
2 years ago

So, what is exactly is your point, Justin? Hobbes was apparently wrong on that point but it would be a huge mistake to claim that his description of the state of nature is the entirety of his philosophical works. His social contract theory is still very much applicable to today given how so many people want the laws of a country to be according to their moral beliefs , which are often religion-based.

Are you trying to defend actual living Hegelians? Perhaps they can tell me when Hegel referred to ‘the Absolute’ in his ‘Ph. of Spirit,’ was he was referring to a supreme being? Was he a pantheist? Why didn’t he give his take on the existence of God, the cosmological argument, and the ontological argument, as Kant had done? Why didn’t his successors? Why haven’t living continental philosophers done so?

Still, I consider his ‘Sc. of Logic’ a good attempt at describing fundamental concepts even though I find many errors (many resulting from his equivocation) within the book.
That, his thesis about binary opposites has inspired later theses about other allegedly binary opposites and how they can be ‘deconstructed,’ is really unfortunate. Not only that, someone (Heidegger) with a revisionist mindset has claimed that Western philosophy had been privileging presence over its opposite, namely absence. So, where is an example of this? Also, semantic holism implies that language learning is impossible, sorry Derrida and your ‘method of differences.’

Please forgive me if I sound a bit harsh. As a a philosopher and an inquirer, I need to state my thoughts out loud for the sake of inquiry as a whole. I cannot be nurturing for any person’s theses without also having to nurture the theses of every person asking for support of their theses, per parity (for preventing double standards). I am not proofreading essays here, nor am I supervising a PhD candidate’s dissertation; instead I am evaluating theses, so I cannot give constructive criticisms (that support a person’s research project). Thus, I cannot exempt any thesis from philosophical scrutiny.Report

wtf
wtf
Reply to  Varun Soontornniyomkij
2 years ago

lol i mean, i don’t want to defend Hegel, necessarily, but he did write about the ontological argument, at length (there are several monographs of secondary literature about it), and so have other Continental philosophers, some still living. Maybe google it before you get self-righteous about a joke.

also i’m sure “inquiry as a whole” will get along just fine without you stating your every thought out loud.Report

Varun Soontornniyomkij
Reply to  wtf
2 years ago

Hello,
So what did those continental philosophers say about the ontological argument? Please back your own claim up (instead of telling me to google about it and having to potentially navigate through some Christian apologetic websites in the search result).

You wrote ‘out loud.’ To be fair, I didn’t use any all caps and repeated exclamation mark in my previous comment.

How can ‘inquiry as a whole’ get along just fine when many inquirers still:
1. Take criticisms of their theses as a sign of hostility toward them
2. Do research with a normative, political agenda and are proud of their value-laden inquiry while employing special pleading in order to exclude values they disagree with
3. Assume that ethics is a settled field and that we already know what constitute justice and what constitute injustice
4. Employ hermeneutics of suspicion, assuming the presence of malice
5. Claim a deeply entrenched force in society as an explanation for their frustration without eliminating confounding variables first
6. Employ monolithic grand narratives about history
7. Assume that questions about moral responsibility and its existence are settled
8. Employing anthropocentrism (that human infants, autistic people, non-human animals, etc. do not matter)
9. Deny or ignore formal logic, and relying on intuition alone
10. Write in a style of writing an award-winning novel
11. Hold self-defeating views
12. Make equivocations and category mistakes
13. Conflate maps with the territories that they were created to represent
14. Never read the SEP entry on the definition of lying and deception

and/or

15. Think that humans are infallible about their past personal experiences
?
I can back up each of the above point with examples if you ask me to.Report

Dien
Dien
2 years ago

My ex-wife (a fellow academic) and I signed up to be subjects in a psych experiment on relationships and arguments when we were in grad school. The task we were told to do was to argue about something that has come up before. The whole thing was recorded. We could not dig up anything of significance. Eventually, I said something like, “Well, you don’t think there is an analytic/synthetic distinction and I think you are totally wrong.” (I was a student of Jerry Katz back in the days). We ended up arguing about that for a good 20 minutes.

I am pretty sure they did not use our participation in their experiment.Report

ehz
ehz
2 years ago

A follower of Stanley’s certainty norm of assertion refuses to speak to her husband.Report

Marriage Counselor
Marriage Counselor
2 years ago

Strange Hegelian who has not even overcome the dialectic of perceiving. He is stuck in a very early stage of Hegel’s system. The marriage counselor advises: Take a journey together and read Hegel’s Phenomenology. There might be a dialectical solution: Philosophy which seemed to doom this marriage, could turn out to be its salvation.Report