If you’re like most people, you may think of philosophers as starry-eyed eggheads who haunt university corridors and rarely interact with the real world. Although this may be the case in the vast, vast, vast, vast… vast… vast… majority of instances, it isn’t always. Philosophers can, in fact, be found in a wide range of settings. There are philosopher-sales reps, philosopher-garbage collectors, philosopher-sportscasters, philosopher-pastry chefs, and even philosophers in middle management.
However, the stereotypes persist. That’s why i find it so gratifying when i unexpectedly encounter philosophers who have chosen to establish themselves in non-academic settings.
The other day, for instance, i was entering the building where my doctor maintains his office, when i was caught off-guard… no pun intended… by the voice of a uniformed security officer whose desk was sort of obscurely placed in a corner.
Security Guard: I greet you with enthusiasm and a high regard for your dignity and sense of well-being.
The Blogger: I say! What a carefully thought-out salutation!
Security Guard: It’s what i do, sir.
The Blogger: You employ language in a careful, deliberate manner, choosing your words as vehicles for meaningful communication rather than rote conventionality, in such a way as to optimize precision, clarity and significance?
Security Guard: Dude. You took the words (as it were) right out of my mouth. Except i would have included the Oxford comma.
The Blogger: Is that what the security company that you work for pays you to do?
Security Guard: Well… not really. [He leans in toward me.] You won’t narc on me?
The Blogger: I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s a pleasure indeed to meet a fellow philosopher in a place like this.
Security Guard: We are a rare and vanishing breed.
The Blogger: Especially in the security industry, i’m guessing.
Security Guard: You’re tellin’ me, bub.
The Blogger: So how do you like your job?
Security Guard: The work isn’t terribly difficult. But there are annoyances.
The Blogger: Such as?
Security Guard: Everyone seems to assume the security guard is a moron.
The Blogger: Wow, that sounds pretty harsh.
Security Guard: It’s true! They don’t bother to ask questions, for instance; they just figure you don’t know anything. People routinely seem to take for granted that i know nothing about the physicians and staff in the building where i work five days a week. They’ll stand there in the lobby, puzzling over where to find a particular doctor, staring dumbly at the directory on the wall, asking each other questions that of course none of them are able to answer. I will generally toss them a cue at this point… “Is there someone i can help you find?” At which point they will often say, “No, thank you, well-meaning but retarded fellow. We’ll figure it out.” Okay, they don’t usually say the ‘retarded’ part, out loud, but i can tell they’re thinking it.
The Blogger: Security guards are not widely reputed as being, er, mentally gifted.
Security Guard: [sigh]
The Blogger: So is that the only thing you find troubling about your job?
Security Guard: No. There’s also this: I’m expected to sit here and stare into space, with no books to engage my cognitive faculties or writing materials to use in composing my thoughts into structured bodies of argument.
The Blogger: Purgatory!
Security Guard: The sheerest agony.
The Blogger: But at least the money is probably pretty good…?
Security Guard: You are, of course, making a cruel joke.
The Blogger: Oh. Oops.
Security Guard: But — i’ll tell you a secret — you can’t let this get out —
The Blogger: I am as silent as the grave. Well, that is, when i’m not talking.
Security Guard: So here it is. I really do keep books here with me at my post. I keep them well hidden so that i won’t get in trouble. Come around here… i’ll show you.
[I step around the Security Guard’s desk and look under it. I am flabbergasted to discover a library of several hundred books, neatly organized by subject and author’s last name.]
The Blogger: Now that’s an impressive body of reading material!
Security Guard: Well, just a few volumes i’ve pulled together.
The Blogger: A few.
Security Guard: But enough about me. What is it that you do?
The Blogger: Well, among other things, i’m The Blogger. I have several blogs, one of which — and the most relevant for our present purposes — is called “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious.”
Security Guard: And Other Salient Observations.
The Blogger: Wait. What? You’ve heard of it?
Security Guard: I’m one of your most devoted readers.
The Blogger: Well, jeepers. I don’t EVEN know what to say.
Security Guard: Reading your blog has kept me going during the times when i’ve been tempted to think that philosophical thought has all but disappeared from the postmodern world.
The Blogger: Well, building discussions of philosophy around the concept of flockbinkers is what you might call my own personal… er… my…
Random Knight of the Round Table, Whose Arrival No One Had Noticed: Idiom, sir. [He disappears again, just as mysteriously.]
The Blogger: Idiom. That’s the word.
Security Guard: Hey, whatever works. Plato had his Socratic dialogues; you’ve got your flockbinker blog.
The Blogger: [Blushing] You place me in auspicious company, sir.
Security Guard: Not at all. So, would you like to know how i’m able to apply philosophy in my current occupational setting?
The Blogger: I’ll admit, i have been wondering.
Security Guard: I use it to fight crime.
The Blogger: You mean, you employ your deductive powers in the solving of open cases?
Security Guard: Well, i guess i could do that. If i wanted to. But what i meant was that i use rational discourse and the application of philosophical principles in dealing with perps right here on the property.
The Blogger: Seriously? So, for instance, if a bad guy were to show up right now, here at the entrance to the building…?
Security Guard: I will subdue him by sheer force of logical argument.
The Blogger: Jeepers.
Security Guard: Not the usual sort of thing. That’s what you’re thinking.
The Blogger: I am. Boy! Wow. So, you’re saying that you are actually able to apprehend and immobilize the criminal element… by discussing philosophy with them?
Security Guard: That’s precisely what i’m saying.
The Blogger: And this happens here on a regular basis?
Security Guard: Well — i mean — not really on a regular basis.
The Blogger: So how many times have you taken down a bad guy using philosophy?
Security Guard: [mumbles something indistinct.]
The Blogger: I’m sorry? I didn’t catch that.
Security Guard: [Turns several different shades of red, one after the other.] I… well… that is to say… I haven’t really, up to this point. That’s just sort of how i imagine it playing out, if i were given the opportunity.
The Blogger: Wait. So you claim to fight crime using philosophy, except you haven’t actually tried it out yet?
Security Guard: Dude, chill. I’ve got it all worked out. I can picture in my mind precisely how things would go down, if i just had the chance.
The Blogger: And i can picture in my mind exactly what it would be like to win the lottery.
Security Guard: Red herring.
The Blogger: Argument from analogy.
Security Guard: [Scowls.] Okay. I’ll give you that one. So you’d like to see what doing combat with a potential vandal or robber — using philosophical argument, of course — actually looks like?
The Blogger: If you can actually pull it off, yes. I’d love to see you in action.
Security Guard: Okay then. Let us choose, as our first subject, this young gentleman approaching the front doors. He is clearly up to no good. I shall confront him.
The Blogger: I’m about to see the master in action! This’ll be good stuff.
[A male in his early 20s comes in through the automatic doors.]
Security Guard: Say, you there! Naughty fellow!
Naughty Fellow: Um.
Security Guard: If you have come here to perpetrate acts of unspeakable naughtiness, please know that your plans are doomed to failure!
Naughty Fellow: What.
Security Guard: As an advocate for the Rational Order of Things, i shall take all steps necessary to prevent you from performing deeds of wickedness.
Naughty Fellow: Huh.
Security Guard: If you have legitimate business in this building, you may state it now.
Naughty Fellow: My girlfriend here to see Dr. Mummer. She pregnant.
Security Guard: Dr. Mummer is pregnant?
Naughty Fellow: Dr. Mummer a dude, man. My girlfriend is pregnant.
Security Guard: Ah, yes, of course.
Naughty Fellow: Can i come in now.
Security Guard: You may. But mind you refrain from perpetrating acts of naughtiness.
Naughty Fellow: Sure thing, man. Whatever you say.
[The young man continues on through the lobby, gets into the elevator and disappears.]
The Blogger: I’m thinking that didn’t go quite as you’d anticipated?
Security Guard: Not exactly. But you can’t afford to take chances.
The Blogger: Of course not. The world being what it is, and the times being what they are, and all that sort of thing.
Security Guard: Precisely. Oh, look, here comes someone else who appears naughty. What do you think?
The Blogger: I’d rate him a nine out of ten on the naughtiness scale.
Security Guard: At the very least. I must confront him.
The Blogger: Knock yourself out.
Security Guard: You there! Mischievous vagrant! State your business on this property.
Mischievous Vagrant: Well, to be honest, i’m here to vandalize the exterior of the building and then go in and rob as many of the patients as i can.
Security Guard: [aside to the Blogger] You see? We’ve got a live one here.
The Blogger: I must admit, you nailed it this time.
Security Guard: [To the mischievous vagrant] Rude fellow, know that i shall do everything in my power to prevent you from carrying out your nefarious program.
Mischievous Vagrant: I’m trembling in my boots. Show me what you’ve got.
Security Guard: To begin with, there’s the Categorical Imperative.
Mischievous Vagrant: Oh, so you’re going to pull out Immanuel Kant on me? No dice. Deontological ethical theory is a house of cards.
Security Guard: [His breath catching] So, wait. You’re… a philosopher?
Mischievous Vagrant: Every inch.
Security Guard: [Aside to the Blogger] Now THIS i had not anticipated. There may be some rough going here.
The Blogger: Dude, you’re telling ME. The guy appears to know his stuff.
Security Guard: [Returning his attention to the mischievous vagrant] So you fail to recognize that participation in organized society places ethical obligations on each moral agent toward all others?
Mischievous Vagrant: I deny the very principle of moral agency. Take that!
Security Guard: [Recoiling, then recovering] Then you deny that the universe presents us with any kind of intrinsic moral architecture?
Mischievous Vagrant: I do. Categorically. Get it? Categorically?
Security Guard: Clever Kantian pun.
Mischievous Vagrant: Thank you.
Security Guard: There is no larger structure informing any given course of action that you choose to undertake at any given time?
Mischievous Vagrant: Well, there is the entirely subjective system of needs and desires that i’ve assembled during my life, due to a combination of heredity, environmental influence, and rational examination of the consequences of various kinds of actions.
Security Guard: A teleological approach to ethical decision-making, if unsupported by a transcendent order, is merely arbitrary and indefensible.
Mischievous Vagrant: [Takes a few steps back as if he has suffered a serious blow, then advances again.] Freely chosen actions need not be defended in terms of any ethical system outside of the agent’s own subjective proclivities.
Security Guard: Any society structured along such lines as you describe would suffer from the most extreme version of Hobbes’ anarchic vision, and life would indeed be “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Mischievous Vagrant: [Falls back again, recovers, and comes at the Security Guard with his best shot.] It’s impossible to establish an objective ground for moral decision-making; a systematic study of the world’s religious and ethical systems leads to a radical relativism.
Security Guard: [Winces and takes two steps back, then moves in for his coup de grace.] On the contrary: When we consider together (1) the promptings of the individual conscience, (2) the typical patterns of cultural taboo found in most human societies, (3) the core teachings of the world’s religious traditions, and (4) the positions resulting from a utilitarian approach to social good, then certain patterns emerge that can be employed in the establishment of a binding social contract that will result in the securing of the persons and property of both individual persons, and the res publica in general.
Mischievous Vagrant: [Stunned, he falls back several feet, utters an expletive, and turns tail to run.]
Security Guard: And i think we’ve seen the last of him.
The Blogger: I’m stunned.
Security Guard: [Beaming with pleasure.]
The Blogger: It was like… it’s as if Clint Eastwood was a philosopher.
Security Guard: People really tend to underestimate the power of philosophical discourse.
The Blogger: That was amazing. I’ve never seen philosophy used so directly in the service of public safety.
Security Guard: Well, you know, so many people think of philosophical discourse as merely a web of abstractions disconnected from the realities of the practical world. If i can, in my small way, do something to change that perception….
The Blogger: It’s a vision worth living by.
[We both stand in silence for a little while, contemplating the implications.]
Security Guard: Oh! By the way, i’ve been meaning to say this for several minutes. The treadknicious character of flockbinkers is not necessarily the sort of fact that might be established through empirical investigation.
The Blogger: Beg your pardon?
Security Guard: Sorry. I should explain. It’s been my understanding that some of your readers are troubled by the fact that this blog has flockbinkers in the title, when in fact flockbinkers are not always the topic under discussion.
The Blogger: Well, it could be argued….
Security Guard: Right, right. I get you. But not everyone who reads the blog will have attained a sufficient level of philosophical sophistication to understand that.
The Blogger: [turning beet-red with pleasure]
Security Guard: As i understand your usage of the term, ‘flockbinkers’ exist… insofar as it can be said that they DO exist… in accordance with several distinct modes of ontological nuance.
The Blogger: I can think of a certain regular reader of this blog who will take strong exception to that.
The Good Reader: Enough of that, now. It’s not like i can’t hear you.
The Blogger: Technically, Reader, you’re not hearing. You’re reading.
The Good Reader: [says a word that we do not feel justified reproducing here, given that this blog is aimed at a family audience]
Security Guard: So i made a seemingly purposeless reference to flockbinkers just so that no one will be able to say this post didn’t mention them. Y’know: to take some of the heat off of you.
The Blogger: I am strangely moved, o noble security guard.
Security Guard: Here for ya, bro.