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November 16, 2012



Indian tradition expected renunciation, but wasnt the enlightenment that was expected itself fairly conventional, or at least conventionally unconventional? And in most cases the roles were sequential rather than exclusively one or the other?

The rant against pro-natalist philosophy department members stills stands. But were these departmental colleagues that far from conventional life before they had children? How many Platos and Spinozas can there be in the world at one time? Probably not as many as the number of teaching positions in university philosophy departments.


Suffering succotash! How fashions change --- which is, of course, the nature of fashion. There was a brief flurry of affirmative action-inspired hiring of women in philosophy departments in the 1980s, and well do I recall the solemn admonitions to never display pictures of offspring, if any, on the grounds that it wouldn't be professional; even a photograph of one's significant other was suspect. We were to be brains in vats, or something along those lines.
And now you tell me parenthood is required for certain levels of philosophical insight? Delightful.

elisa freschi

As Omar suggests, the two roles are generally sequential in Indian thought (apart from the case of Jainism, Buddhism and some currents of Vedānta).

As for the rest, I am afraid that the tendency you lament is typically American. Personally, I am in favour of a strict separation of competencies. The fact that X is a good husband does not speak in favour of his being a good president. And there are good or bad philosophers both among the ones who have children and among the ones who have not.

Emina Melonic

I agree. I see a similar phenomenon even among PhD students (I am currently working on my PhD in philosophy). Suddenly, this new portal opens, and I am sure on some level it does. But to exhibit an implicit moral superiority because they have children is something I really don't care for. And this, of course, transcends the academic world; American parents tend to worship their children. People have been having kids since the dawn of time, as they say, so what makes this age so special, and what makes philosophers so special as well? You either have kids or you don't. Very simple stuff. But philosophers (in the academy) tend to overthink the simplest and most practical of tasks, and it seems that parenting falls under that category as well.

Patrick Lee Miller

An interesting but flawed article. Three problems stand out to me.

First, Aristotle and Augustine were fathers, besides being great philosophers, so the askesis argument is weak. It is surely no coincidence that these philosopher-dads also developed the richest accounts of love in antiquity.

Second, the article's point about Wollheim et al. -- that they learned lessons about childhood by recollecting their own -- is fallacious, because retrospective accounts of one's own childhood are mostly fantasy and confabulation.

Third, the article makes a deep point, albeit in the wrong way. It's not that one must choose between philosophy and parenthood (a la St. Jerome) but that a philosopher considering having children must choose between two different ways of being a philosopher.

As a parent, one sacrifices massive amounts of time that could be devoted otherwise to one's philosophical expertise. It's a real loss, and I feel it every day. But there is a gain of something else, something that it would be hard to acquire any other way.

Part of this gain is what I suspect you are hearing your colleagues talking about: indelible lessons about humanity in its infancy. It's not that one cannot read about these lessons, they are communicable, but when one lives them every day for years they do generate a new perspective, especially when they are combined with the experience of selfless love in which one learns them. In any case, the childless miss that gain.

As every parent recognizes, you can't do it all. However, our generation of philosophers is the first -- in all of history, I believe -- to be parents and to be involved in parenting on a widespread scale. I suspect that the ideas emerging from this novel situation will be our contributions to the tradition.


Not quite accurate about the Indian traditions. I tried to think of a few Indian philosophers, being careful to think of philosphers first and then wonder if they were married, to avoid sampling bias: so Vedanta Desika and Appayya Dikshita both appear to have had children, Jagannatha Panditaraja was married (or at least had a mistress), couldn't find anything about Abhinavagupta and Anandavardhana but they *probably* were married, the stories about Bhartrhari say he was married before giving it up, Mandana Mishra was married, Adi Shankara was an ascetic from a young age, and hoping for details of personal lives of philosophers before that is probably pointless. So yeah, at least of those that came to my mind, there is no positive correlation between being unmarried and being a philosopher.


Hello. You are most welcome in my blog (if you haven´t been there already) and your rant was very interesting and to the point.

Cheers! I salute you, philosopher!



While I understand that this was written in response to the rise of pro-natality, I can't help but feel like your stance is leaning too far in the opposite direction. In trying to combat the normative presupposition of pro-natals, you seem to be idealizing the solitary philosopher.

Interestingly, I just finished reading your post calling for an appreciation of the more subtle human conditions, such as culture and irrationality: http://www.jehsmith.com/1/2015/01/my-discipline.html

Does your post here in defiance of pro-natality mesh with your stance in the linked post on the necessity of irrational cognitive processes in shaping our experience?

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