Sunday, May 21, 2006
Most of my days follow a pretty regular pattern. I get up in the morning, take care of Gideon's breakfast, have some play time (these days that almost always means playing cars or trains), watch some Sesame Street, and then head out to the park or for a walk around the neighborhood before lunch. A few times a week we throw in a trip to the store or run some other errand. After lunch, it's four or five stories and then naptime (Gideon's, not mine--though some days I certainly feel like taking my own).
When Gideon sleeps, that means I sit down to work: (a) composing a lecture, (b) working on a paper or my dissertation, or (c) trying to catch up on the reading that I need to do for (a) or (b). The transition is sometimes jarring. Within a half an hour, I can sometimes go from making grilled cheese and reading My Truck is Stuck to trying to make sense of Wittgensteinian approaches to value. My mind isn't great at focusing on command but I can't afford not to use the time that I have. So I end up working whether I "feel" philosophical or not. The same is often true in the evening. When Tisha gets home from school, I usually have to head out the door to (a) give the lecture I prepared while Gideon was sleeping, (b) work on a paper or my dissertation, or (c) try and catch up on the reading I need to do for (a) or (b). My students don't care what kind of day I've had. They are (rightly) expecting me to be prepared for class--to have something to say to them about that day's reading. And sometimes that means trying to inspire them philosophically when I really just want to hang out with my wife and son. My guess is that Plato and Descartes probably didn't work under such conditions.
Nietzsche thought that it was bad for a philosopher to be married--one couldn't fully devote oneself to philosophical endeavors and simultaneously be bothered by family responsibilities--and it is surely significant that relatively few of the "great" philosophers in history have been married. The life of the mind requires time and reflective space and if one wants to be a good husband and father, other things will always impinge on that space. That being said, I can't help but think that the single and childless philosophers of the past were somehow cut off from a realm of experience that is not at all discontinuous from the philosophical enterprise. If what we are after is a better understanding of our place in the world, then deep personal engagement with things that matter to great numbers of people has to provide insights that would be unavailable without experiencing them for ourselves. Or, at the very least, it has to put us in a good position to have those insights. So maybe family has a (perhaps undeniably) negative impact on the quantity of work one can do while having a highly positive impact on the quality of that work.
Of course, "being a better philosopher" wasn't on my list of reasons to get married or have children. But hopefully it will prove to be a nice bonus. I'll tell you in 20 years whether it does.