Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dr. J Answers Your Questions

A while ago, I invited readers to submit questions through my "Ask Doctor J" site over on Formspring and promised I would do my best to answer them here on the blog. Then, I quickly forgot about the whole thing. Oops.

I just went back and found that there was quite a list of questions just languishing there without answers. So, I'm going to try to knock out several at once here, which means my "answers" will be brief (and not necessarily informed or serious). The questions submitted so far don't easily organize themselves into "categories," so I will just take them in the order they were submitted.

If you have a question that you want to pose, visit the Ask Doctor J site and submit it there. (I've also provided a link in the column to your right, if something occurs to you later.) Buckle up, here we go:

If you were in Memphis for only one day, where would you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner (and possibly barbecue)?
First, I want to say that I do not understand what function your parenthetical clause is meant to serve. If you are in Memphis for only one day, assuming you are not on some kind of fast, you MUST eat barbecue. (There's no rule against eating barbecue for breakfast, by the way, which I have done often.) Anyway, this is a really tough question, because over the last 10 years or so, Memphis has become more and more of a "foodie" town. My answer to this question would likely change depending on which day you asked me, but for today I'm going to recommend the following:
BREAKFAST: The Arcade (This is probably the one meal that I wouldn't change depending on which day you ask me. A lot of Memphians will tell you to go to Brother Juniper's or Otherlands or Cafe Eclectic for breakfast, all of which are great, but The Arcade offers great food AND a quintessentially "Memphis" experience. So, if you only have one day, The Arcade wins hands down.)
LUNCH: Central BBQ (I will insist also that you go to the Central BBQ location that is actually on Central Avenue. Don't let your tour guides sucker you into eating barbecue any further east than East Parkway.)
DINNER: Mollie Fontaine's (This is a tough one, because there really are a lot of great places to eat in Memphis. I'm choosing Mollie's for its combination of awesome location, great tapas-style food, and radiant cool ambiance.)
AFTER-LAST-CALL EATS: Alex's Tavern (One thing to remember about visiting Memphis is that you'll have to include another "meal" to soak up all the libations. Alex's is the best choice for this. And there's no "last call" at Alex's.)

How does this dazzling multiplicty of identities which become salient in different social contexts, and this array of sensations and memories, hang together to form a "self"?
With pixie dust, I'm pretty sure, which I think is secreted from the pineal gland.

How do we respect difference without collapsing into ethical relativism?
Well, I suppose if you're really worried about "collapsing" into ethical relativism-- a worry that I'm not sure that I share with you-- then there's no reason why you can't "respect" difference and still be an absolutist about moral claims. The trick, I think, is to find yourself a mysterious and compelling authority to whose revelation you can appeal. It's perfectly fine for you to be the "chosen" human scribe for that revelation, but you'll definitely need to get it down on paper at some point and give the book a catchy name. Something like "The Holy Antiqua." Then, when you find yourself in a moral dispute with someone else, you can say: "Of course, I respect your position, and I understand that you, as a woman, are inclined to think that way... but as it is written The Holy Antiqua (insert chapter and verse reference here): "She who speaks in her own voice and of her own mind is like the camel who spits in the direction of the western wind."

To many, even in Continental philosophy, Jacques Derrida is becoming passe. Is he?
No, he is not. As it is written in The Holy Antiqua: "Those who must resort to the lanaguage of the hated in order to hate him are usurers and gossips, and are not loved."

Do doctors wear underwear?
I suppose that depends on whether or not you mean "real" doctors (MD's) or the rest of us (PhD's). I have it on good authority that PhD's often go commando. I can only assume this is also true of MD's, especially given the fact that they get to wear those loose and comfortable scrubs.

Of the problems in Memphis, how much do you think is the fault largely of the black community, how much of the white community, and how much is more of a "joint fault" kind of thing?
It's ALL a "joint fault" kind of thing. But the "joining" parts in that fault are entirely constituted by people living east of East Parkway.

Do you ever plan to get married and/or have children? Why or why not? Do you think the man you marry would have to be adept in philosophy, or could you fall in love with a guy who did not know much about philosophy?
Uh... er... well... none of your beeswax, really. But since I'm answering, I guess I'll say that I don't know if I'll ever get married or not. It's not really a "plan" of mine, and my strong suspicion is that I won't, though the reason I won't (or won't be able to) has very little to do with my "plans." As for kids, that's more of a definite "no." I love children, but I have no desire at all to be a mother. I suppose I would say, as a general principle, that if I were to marry, it would be important to me that he or she be "adept" in philosophy, though that doesn't necessarily mean that he or she would need to be a professional philosopher. Love is a mysterious thing, which means that it's unpredictable. It's also a burning thing, by the way. So, yeah, I don't know.

What are the five most common and/or frustrating misconceptions non-specialists have about your discipline?
Great question. Here's my list.
1. That philosophy is "just theory"-- by which people mean, I think, that it has nothing to do with the "real" world. Without philosophy, there is no way to think or talk about anything. All of the other "disciplines" were originally sheltered in the House of Philosophy. You simply cannot engage in ANY activity that involves concepts without philosophy. It's our sandbox. Everybody else is just playing in it.
2. That philosophy is "too hard" for "regular" people. Everybody uses concepts. Everybody is bound (or should be bound) by the same rules of logic. Everybody engages in arguments with others that require (or should require) the ability to construct and defend reasonable positions. Everybody decides questions of meaning and value on a daily basis. And by "everybody," I mean "regular people."
3. That philosophy is just your opinion. Funny enought, the very same people that think #2 above also think this. If they're talking to a professional philosopher, they will treat philosophy as elitist and overly abstruse. But if they're sitting on the barstool next to yours, they will happily regale you with their "philosophy" on what the government should (or shouldn't) do, how to be in (or get out of) relationships, what really matters about x, or how to be a good person. And if you happen to disagree with their "philosophy," they will probably politely concede that you can have your philosophy and they can have their's. Not true. Philosophy is a DISCIPLINE. It has rules. One of the first things you learn in a philosophy class is the difference between (what the Greeks called) doxa and logos. Your "opinion" is doxa.
4. That philosophy is responsible for the culturally- and ethically-devastating effects of "postmodernism." This may be partially true, but I prefer to think that the effects that most people are referring to here is really the fault of the other disciplines misreading and misunderstanding those philosophers that get tagged as "postmodern."
5. That philosophy is ahistorical. Philosophers are partly to blame for this misconception. There are branches of Anglo-American philosophy that do operate as if the discipline is ahistorical, or that if it has a history at all, that history began in Vienna in the 1920's. But they're wrong. Philosophy is not only deeply embedded in the history of all human endeavors, but it has it's own history as well.
[If I could be allowed one more addition to this list, I would add the following:]
6. That philosophers are "uncool." I mean, c'mon, really?! Philosophy IS cool, and there are plenty of hip (living and dead) philosophers. And, what's more, I'm a philosopher. Q.E.D.

Keep those queries coming!

1 comment:

Petya K. Grady said...

i think you should get married anyway. just give yourself some time to meet the right kind of guy. preferably, someone with a great haircut ;)