Monday, January 15, 2007

Philosophy Graduate Students Say the Most Peculiar Things

In the holiday spirit, I thought I'd post a few of the more memorable utterances of my fellow graduate students when I was a Berkeley in the 1990s. To give credit where credit is due, I'll use their names. I don't think they'll be embarrassed -- they shouldn't be! -- and I hope they'll forgive me if they are. (I'll remove their names from this post if they request it.)

David Barton, sitting in his usual spot on the couch in the graduate student lounge (a place he occupied sometimes for long stretches): "Work, schmerk. Kant, Schmant. For all x, schmex."

Josh Dever, sitting in a hottub, holding up the chlorinator: "This is the name I'll give to my first child." Someone else: "You'll name her 'chlorinator'?" Josh: "No, her name will be this object. If you want to refer to her, you'll have to include this chlorinator in your sentence." (Josh never did follow through with this intention, though.)

An undergraduate had written a paper on Kierkegaard including the following sentence: "Being a knight of faith is like falling off a never-ending cliff into water, hitting various flying things along the way." What can a T.A. do with that? John Holbo struck upon the perfect solution: He circled "flying things" and wrote in the margin "do you mean birds?", then photocopied the page and put it on a corkboard in the graduate student lounge.


Jonathan Ichikawa said...


But surely there are ways to refer to Josh's first child other than by using his or her name. Like, for instance, the way I just did (assuming that he's had one).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

You're right of course, and Josh was (is) too instinctual a philosopher of language to make that mistake. I'm sure I've misquoted him.

It's possible, also, that using a certain pattern of sounds is a way of including a chlorinator in a sentence; that chlorinator might then be her true name. Maybe I'm just stuck in the old ways!

Clark Goble said...

Wow. That's a leg up over Prince since at least Prince when he was formerly known as allowed his tokens to be replicated. Here we have a single token. Kind of interesting in a way. Raises all sorts of questions about how to sign ones name.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I agree. It raises interesting questions about what can count as language and what it is to be a word.

Anonymous said...

In my defense, I am sure I never put the paper on the corkboard. I only shared the comment with a few private afficionados of such things. Because it would be unendurably humiliating to be the student in question and have a page from your paper hung publicly like that, even without one's name attached. (But I did write the snarky comment on the paper.)

Ah, it takes me back. Good old falling off a never-ending cliff into water.


Anonymous said...

No wait, it's been nagging me and now I've got it. You are slightly misremembering the quote.

"Being a knight of faith is like falling off a never-ending cliff into water. What makes it so hard is that you have to watch out for birds and other flying animals."

And I wrote something like 'does that include flying squirrels?'

I think that's right.



Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the clarification! That's even better. I seem to picture it on the corkboard, but I could be totally wrong. Amazing how much memories of such things diverge....

I hope you weren't bothered by my using your name. In retrospect, I think that wasn't the most conservative decision.