The three weirdest things that major league philosophy professors do when talking to those of us playing in the minors (MiLP, consisting of all of triple, double, class, etc. etc. etc. A departments)-
- Refer to colleagues and/or their major league graduate school teachers by first name, as if we automatically know who they are talking about (i.e. “Oh yeah, I remember how Charles used to get really cranky whenever people crossed him about the deontic/alethic distinction.” Huh? Charles who? Parsons? Hartshorne? Bukowsi? Some Charles whose last name I don’t even recognize?).
- Less common, but common enough to be a reliable trope, automatically assume that you have read their work (“Don’t forget that I already covered that one in “Pretense’s Pretense.” What? Pretense what? What’s this “pretense theory” you keep mentioning?).
- Expect you to get worked up that that one or more of their papers is not cited or discussed in places where it should be (say an anthology dedicated to some problem doesn’t even mention them). Everyone in the minor leagues who has published enough is used to this happening to them.
The only sense I can make of all three of these is that major league philosophy is a very small community, at least compared to all of the MilP programs. If you are among the very small group of academics who belong to departments with a non-trivial speaker series and travel budget (and working plumbing in your building for that matter) you have a much better idea of who everyone else in such departments are and what they are working on. As a result you are right to expect everyone else in that small group to know what’s going on with you.--Cogburn "When Major League Philosophers talk to the rest of us." @Philpercs.com
When I arrived in grad school in the mid 90s, I turned out to be the fifth 'Eric' (Brown, Wiland, Brandon) or 'Erik' (Curiel); in addition, there were still fresh enough memories of an 'Erich' (Reck). So, we were simply identified by our last names, especially when talking to each other. Luckily none of us had last names that also doubled as a common first name (e.g., Stanley, Taylor, Hunter, etc.), so further confusion was avoided. Last names were also good enough for our local heroes -- one was either in the Wittgenstein-Anscombe or (the much smaller) Carnap-camp. Because there was a kind of happy indifference to Kripke at Chicago, I reflected little on the fact that names had metaphysical import, but if I had thought about it at the time I would have been suspicious of the very idea of self-identity and certainly not consider it trivial.
The joke of Cogburn's post is that he has been more widely and more regularly read than most living philosophers. Defying all the old status rules of the profession, he has better name recognition within the profession than (say) your average NYU grad. For a while I would be often asked what he is really like. After all, I spent nearly three years in intense, daily contact with Cogburn. But, while I have very fine-grained (and surely false) theories on the subject, I always deflect the question because I have never met the man in person to this day; he is the only one of the old NewApps crew that falls in the unmet category, which proves his point: most of the others I met on my or their work-related travel, funded by generous taxpayers and endowments.
Even after we went our separate ways, I have stayed compulsively addicted to Cogburn's blogging because he is mostly unpredictable (his recent turn to T.S. Eliot excepted), often profound, and distinctly unwilling to activate the tiresome and endlessly repeated Memes about the profession that circulate elsewhere.
Philosophy is an unusual profession in that our status hierarchy conforms, in very large part, to the objects of our knowledge, that is, the scribblings and occasional bons mots of other philosophers. Yes, other professions and arts also have status hierarchies in which folk emulate and keep track of each other; and, of course, in academic disciplines they are also supposed to cite each other. But the naked truth is that even when -- let's stipulate -- it is meaningful, much of professional philosophy has no outside referent; when it does, it is constructed or imagined by those very same philosophers or other academics--this is true even of much work in the philosophy of special sciences and applied ethics. This means a good chunk of philosophy just is about philosophy or the way the world is imagined by philosophers. This has an obvious corollary: while officially we keep arguments, moves, and distinctions distinct from identity, we have made it when our names have become a short-hand for them (cf. 'to Quine'; Platonic; etc.).
If we really believed what we say, 'our arguments stand or fall regardless of the speaker's authority,' then why has there not been a proliferation of anonymous or group pseudonyms in our best philosophical writings (since, say, Kierkegaard)?* The rare exceptions tend to involve motivated hoaxes and political concerns. (Impossible you say? Mathematics had Bourbaki.) Professional philosophy is best compared to a credit economy with currency controls; there are a lot of inflated reputations, but the bubbles tend to last rarely for more than a decade.
In his post, Cogburn, suggests that there is an escape from this credit economy. But as he recognizes, you can't really write about about the path toward freedom and still be convincing. Amusingly enough Cogburn's post went viral and was shared by professional philosophers on Facebook who, well, play in the majors.
I never got sophisticated about engaging with Kripke. When I was still historicist, I used to think that rigid designation is a metaphysics apt for a society that embraces the one-drop-rule. After I rejected historicism, I was relieved to discover Lewis, embraced counterpart theory, and decided to keep worlds fairly small.
Dailynous has directed me to the obituary of Dave Heller, who with a master’s degree in American literature ended up teaching (ahh) philosophy; since his death, his life has been turned into a symbol of the plight of adjuncts in our oligarchic universities that represent our oligarchic times--a noble cause. He also seems to be an exemplar of somebody who lived a true philosophical life and, thereby, experienced the kind of freedom Cogburn describes. (That's not intended as an argument for ongoing exploitation of adjuncts.) Google directed me to snippets of his life (as a salesclerk at the Magus bookstore in Seattle); I was thrilled to learn that his shtick involved him asking, “Are you re-reading anything?” No text stays the same, after all.+