Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tips for the Top: How To Be a Philosopher by Brook Sadler

Technique 1

Begin by making a spurious distinction. Befuddle the reader with your analytic wizardry. The reader will enter a logical trance, from which she will be unable to recall the initial spurious distinction and will feel strangely compelled to accept your conclusions.

Technique 2

Think of a matter of great importance to life. Reduce it unequivocally to three concepts. Enumerate them. Analyze each concept by distinguishing two independent notions in each. Continue with further analysis (preferably speculative) until you have developed a maze of distinctions that bear no resemblance to any topic of any importance to life at all. The use of logical notation at this point will evoke deep feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in the reader - use this to your advantage. Use the word reductio at least once. Conclude by congratulating yourself on having advanced our collective human understanding of a topic of great importance by making it completely unrecognisable as such.

Technique 3 (Advanced)

Sit in front of a computer. Have a thesaurus nearby. Smoke up. Proceed to pronounce on anything that happens to come to mind. Use a tone that is urgent and highfalutin. Avoid the use of punctuation and use periods as infrequently as possible. French and German phrases should appear with regularity. When in doubt, make hasty references to Foucault, Heidegger, or Derrida. Take great pains not to explain what you mean. Abandon all reason.

Technique 4

Single-handedly develop your own jargon. It should include an exceedingly hard-to-follow extended metaphor of dubious relation to the topic under discussion. Persist in using the metaphor to ground your arguments. Stick to it at all costs, even if it seems to run your argument into blatant dead-ends or outrageous contradictions. To give the appearance of profundity, insert paragraph breaks at random. Then number every paragraph. (The reader will simply divine the appropriate relations between paragraphs, sub-paragraphs, and sub-sub-paragraphs.)

Technique 5

Think of a famous example from a twentieth-century philosopher. Think of a pun based on that example. (e.g., What is it like to be a rat? zit? phat?) Use the pun to develop a catchy new example of your own. Explain your example at length. Say nothing of genuine importance. By all means, do not advance philosophical discussion one iota. Conclude with more puns.

Technique 6

Respond to an article or book that you have not read. Be relentless.

Technique 7

Read an enormous mass of empirical data. Cite all of it and conclude that it is right. Overlook statistical ambiguities and incongruities. By all means, do not deign to interpret the data. Continue on like this for as long as you can (it may require stamina). The goal is to bore the reader into submission before the flood of facts. Try not to problematise anything (that only makes it harder).

Technique 8

Do some serious research. Do not rest until you have found a really obscure text. Reject this text. Continue to search until you find something truly obscure and completely unknown. In your first paragraph, state something of interest that you have discovered from reading this obscure text. Go on for many, many pages detailing the seemingly trivial and inconsequential insights of the obscure text. Repeatedly affirm what you said was interesting in the first paragraph, taking care not to expand upon what you said there. Conclude by reminding the reader that the point is so terribly obscure and so minimally interesting that if you had not written about it, no one would have.

Technique 9

Discuss a controversial and extremely interesting topic. Show great skill in handling the complexities of the topic, treating the arguments with care and subtle attention to important details and distinctions. Carefully trace out the implications of the different positions. But (and this is the hard part) refuse to be identified with any of the available philosophical positions. In fact, it is best never to let on that you have an opinion of your own. Always seek to evade the possibility that someone might reference your argument as your actual view. Use the elusive phrase 'One might argue' as often as possible to escape detection as a philosopher who is committed to something ... to anything.

Technique 10

Spend some time - one or two seconds - concocting the most outrageous ethical conundrum possible. It should involve Nazis in some way. For example: What should person B do if confronted by person A, disguised as a Nazi, but not really currently a Nazi, but who used to be a Nazi, and who is threatening to kill B, who does not know whether A is or ever was a Nazi, and who is known as having a penchant for torturing small children, though only Nazi children, just for fun, but who has a special relationship with A's child, who is not a Nazi, but who will enlist in the Nazi party if A harms B in any way or if B lies about his/her penchant for torturing Nazi children? Just when you think that the conundrum is complete, add in the possibility of saving one's wife from a dire predicament, just to throw off the reader's intuitions.

Technique 11

Using a style that is lively and congenial, make a promissory note. Say a bit. Make another promissory note. Say a bit more. Make another promissory note. Say a bit less. (You should be getting tired about now.) Say something - anything at all. Don't worry about relevance - that's overrated. Make a point about something wholly beside the point. Promise to return to the initial topic. Do not fulfill any of the promissory notes. End with a promise to take up another topic in a future paper. (An existent unpublished paper will do at a pinch.)

Technique 12

Set out not to solve any problems. Do this in spades.


Naturally, these techniques are not recommended for amateur use and should not be attempted without the supervision of a full professor. These philosophical techniques are for use only by professional philosophers who have had years of specialised training. The author is not responsible for any non-sequiturs, invalid arguments, fallacies, digressions, existential malaise, mid-life crises, or career changes that may result from the use of these techniques. Anyone who feels chest pain, constriction in the throat, reddening of the face, or clenching of the fists upon reading these techniques should be treated immediately for anautoscopsis (an inability to laugh at oneself), a potentially lethal condition.


Anonymous said...

10 made me lol. Hard.

Anonymous said...

"Use the elusive phrase 'One might argue' as often as possible to escape detection as a philosopher who is committed to something ... to anything."


Orpheus said...

I sincerely hope that these comments are not a genuine reflection of your attitude toward philosophy; if they are, why are you teaching it? Why are you drawing a paycheck for something which, in your own opinion, has no value? There is a point beyond which cynicism ceases to be funny and becomes destructive to good pedagogy.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who feels chest pain, constriction in the throat, reddening of the face, or clenching of the fists upon reading these techniques should be treated immediately for anautoscopsis (an inability to laugh at oneself), a potentially lethal condition."

Adam Parker said...

Orpheus, I think this list has been around for a really long time. This is a real list of real philosophical advice. You must learn the difference between a joke (which this list definitely is not) and a serious attempt at reflecting the state of philosophy in the 21st Century (which this most definitely is). Myself, I have been using almost all of these for at least a decade and they have served me well.