A Philosophy Major

Brother # 2 was graduated from the same college as I with a BA in philosophy.  If anything he had elected a career path even more useless than mine, and while we have not discussed it, since we Platodon’t discuss anything, I surmise that like myself as an English major he had small grasp of what being a philosophy major was about.  In any case, he was accepted in graduate school, but dropped out in his first year, in part because of the draft, and in part because he started to learn what academic philosophy is about.

But for him as it would have been for me, the philosophy taught in graduate school was not the real thing.  It was analytic philosophy, which as far as I am concerned is the death of philosophy, major league knit-pickers, knit-picking to death philosophers whose thoughts they could not match if their lives depended on it, and making up elaborate intellectual puzzles, that they try to dignify with the term “thought-experiments,” which can be used to justify or knock down any argument known to humanity.

I do not speak for him of course since I have no idea what’s on his mind, but I expect that he believed that, if one went to graduate school in philosophy, one became a philosopher, that is, a person with a philosophy by and according to the values and knowledge claims of which one lived, or tried to live, since no real philosophy has ever been a piece of cake, and suffering is to be expected along the path.  His naiveté, as well as profound ignorance of what becoming a “professional” anything means for the middle class person, is here demonstrated.  To believe that one would become a philosopher by attending graduate school—why that’s a fool’s errand.  We were rubes in the ivory tower.

That he was inclined to view philosophy in this way seems also indicated by his having on occasion thought about becoming a reverend or minister.  He did not want simply to have a set up beliefs by which to justify and rationalize his actions, he wanted to live the beliefs and thereby to test them and himself, as the believer.  The problem here, I think, was that he did not believe in God, or let’s say the God he believed in would not be recognized as a God by anybody else.

 He also expressed a desire to join the Marine Academy and become a sailor.  He loved as I recollect the Captain Hornblower novels. This was a path within his grasp upon being graduated from high school but he did not take it.  I think he would have made an excellent “salt.”

But of course we all could have made an excellent something else if we had bothered to go in that direction.  Instead we took the educational means of moving up.  With his philosophy degree in hand, pursued by the draft, married soon, and then with a child on the way, he applied for a job in the post office, got it, and stayed in their employ for near on twenty years by my calculations.

For a working class person, a job in the post office is not to be scoffed at.  It’s civil service, the work is steady, and the pay reasonable.  And one gets to wear a uniform.

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