How not to become a professional philosopher

I don't know whether I qualify as a philosopher or not, I certainly think of myself as a philosopher, but I've never made a penny out of it, so I'm definitely not a professional one. I do spend a lot of time thinking about philosophy, and quite a decent amount of time writing stuff that looks awfully like philosophy to me. On and off I've been doing philosophy now for decades, so I think I must be an authority on how to do lots of philosophy and never get to be a pro. So I thought that would make an eccentric autobiographical theme, and here it is.

My Philosophical Development
1. Adolescence
I have almost no recollection of doing philosophy as a schoolboy. I quickly headed for mathematics as soon as specialisation was possible and left all the wordy subjects behind. I did find it necessary to consider God, finding him surplus to requirements at an early age.
3. The Keele Foundation Year
After five years in the real world messing about with computers it was time for something new. The theory was that I would get a degree in Maths and Education and a teaching certificate and start teaching mathematics. I chose Keele because they did joint honours in Maths and Education and this great foundation year in which you did absolutely everything before starting in earnest on your principal subjects. So I started to write essays, some on philosophy, and by the end of the foundation year I had dropped education for philosophy and forgot all about teaching.
5. Keele Philosophy (incomplete)
Instead of one substantial project I now set about several projects which were started and handed in incomplete in fullfillment of the essay requirements. In retrospect the department were pretty reasonable about this eccentricity, but since they weren't cooperating with my enthusiasms it was only a matter of time before I got disillusioned. My essay on Liberty was dismissed by the lecturer as simply not being philosophy, and that did the trick. My energy transferred to mathematics; from here on in philosophy I was mostly marking time.
7. Foundations in the Wilderness
After leaving Keele in 1976 it was about twenty years before I got back to philosophy again (and I still havn't really got going again yet). Except for the foundations of mathematics, which I worked on for about a decade while I was thinking initially about AI, but mostly about formal methods. The foundational stuff was more technical than philosophical, but I have an increasing sense of its relevance to the philosophical position I am trying to put together.
2. Broadening
I left school, spent one year at Cambridge University, left in haste to start life and then began to broaden my interests. I read round lots of things which I never before touched; novels, social sciences, philosophy... I also did a lot of introspection about life the universe and everything (as tortured young men often do), went through lots of personal "isms" and ended up an anarchist (with a hint of Zen).
4. Keele Philosophy (classical)
For the first four terms of principle philosophy at Keele I was enthusiastic and came to think of myself as a philosopher. I wrote more or less the kind of essays the department was looking for, got some good grades, and found the whole thing pretty stimulating. Then I decided short essays didn't have enough room in them and attempted (unsuccessfully) to negotiate an arrangement to meet the essay requirements by installments on some larger work.
6. Keele Philosophy (fill-in)
Fortunately I was able in my final year to do a special topic on logic and the foundations of mathematics, otherwise Philosophy would have been a complete wasteland. The essays of this period were minimal cost compliance exercises.
8. Philosophy on the Web
When I did want to get back into philosophy it was pretty hard, I just didn't get the intellectual space for that kind of thinking. Eventually I discovered how to hold down a job and think about philosophy at the same time. The Web made a big difference, it would have been really hard to write without it. Its the best ever vanity-publishing medium, but also, the hypermedia make a big difference to me.
On my 50th birthday in February 1998 I gave up my day job (and set up my own company) to make it easier to plot my own course and to make more room for writing.

up home © RBJ created 1997/3/28 modified 1998/08/14