Friday, January 13, 2006

Self-assessment exercise


Academic philosophy is an intellectual game characterised by a lot of cut-and-thrust gladiatorial behaviour. Some of the fighting happens in person, and lots of it happens in the very strange time-delayed world of peer-reviewed publication.

Aspects of my personality compatible with the game
  1. I think unusually quickly on the fly. This makes me good in real-time debates.

  2. I don't find the gladiatorial thing threatening. Criticism of my philosophical views doesn't make me feel defensive or insecure. I like challenges to my arguments, and find them fun and interesting. I've been surprised to discover this, because I can be woefully oversensitive about other things.

  3. I get real joy out of good philosophical arguments, of just the kind that I get from music or mountains.


Aspects of my personality incompatible with the game
  1. I overthink things. If the debate is happening in real time, I don't have time for this, so I come across as pithy and decisive. My written work, on the other hand, suffers from getting bogged down with a million disclaimers and overcautious hedging. This means that it lacks clarity and punch. Also, the hedging takes too long and fosters insecurity in my argument, which apparently I can only generate myself. This in turn means that I never get done with anything written because either I'm dissatisfied because it's unclear or because it's not hedged enough, and I am constantly pinging from the fish to the bait cutting.

  2. I get angry about terrible arguments. I get so frustrated and enraged about the necessity of defending good positions from really terrible, weak objections and opponent positions that I can't concentrate. If I'm listening to or reading an argument with a huge hole in it, or one which dismisses a beautiful, powerful position on some bullshit grounds, I have to breathe slowly to calm myself down. I have developed doodling strategies to help. This is completely crazy. In the first place, I can't understand why my response is so extreme -- it is completely disproportional to my own assessment of how important it is. Second, I really need to attenuate this response if I'm going to succeed in this academic gig, because otherwise I'm going to die early.

2 comments:

pluvialis said...

Can one attenuate one's response by habituation, like you can with a bad smell? Exposing oneself to bad arguments all the time?

Probably not

Xtin said...

Bwahahaha! An excellent idea. I could do it with my own arguments, only that probably wouldn't work on the same principle as one's own farts never smelling too bad.