Adventures in Ethics and Science

Sean, Chad, and Steinn ponder the lameness of academics in self-reporting their “guilty pleasures”.

Quoth Sean:

I immediately felt bad that I couldn’t come up with a more salacious, or at least quirky and eccentric, guilty pleasure. I chose going to Vegas, a very unique and daring pastime that is shared by millions of people every week. I was sure that, once the roundup appeared in print, I would be shown up as the milquetoast I truly am, my pretensions to edgy hipness once again roundly flogged for the enjoyment of others.

But no. As it turns out, compared to my colleagues I’m some sort of cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Caligula. Get a load of some of these guilty pleasures: Sudoku. Riding a bike. And then, without hint of sarcasm: Landscape restoration. Gee, I hope your Mom never finds out about that.

Chad kind of blames technology:

Actually, it’s a little tough to come up with anything that really works, in this age of blogging. After all, a guilty pleasure is something you don’t want other people to know that you enjoy, and a lot of the really good candidates in my life are here for the whole world to see.

Steinn rejects the original question:

I’m not into guilt, and there are real academic pleasures; emotional states that come with the job.

We should revel in them.

As someone with a professional interest in ethics, and — perhaps more importantly — raised by two parochial school graduates, I know a little something about guilt. Let’s see if I can make Sean feel a little less like Caligula.

People have noted, though, that one probably ought not reveal one’s guiltiest pleasures to anyone beyond one’s lawyer or confessor. Academics, especially, are judged on more than how well they grade papers, teach class, deliver talks, and contribute to the literature.

So I won’t be saying a word about my secret life of baby-eating (for example).

However, for guilt to be really meaningful, I think we have to go beyond matters of questionable taste. I think there needs to be an actual transgression of a norm by which we see ourselves bound (or a virtue to which we aspire, if that’s how you like your ethics). With that in mind, here are three things in which I take pleasure and about which I am right to feel guilt:

The lipid sandwich:

Slice up some onions and mushrooms and fry them in an excessive amount of butter. Sprinkle liberally with seasoned salt, and pile on to a white bun slathered with mayonnaise and horseradish. So little nutritional value! So very tasty! (Why guilt? Because I refuse, on the basis of nutritional value, to pack sandwiches made with white bread for the sprogs’ lunches. Why is hypocrisy so delicious?)

Gossip about scholars in my field:

I don’t get to do this as much as I used to, but when you find out that certain departments with which you have ties had eras in which they might be mistaken for Peyton Place (or Melrose Place), it’s hard not to go there. Yeah, sure, Prof. X has the best analysis so far of a particular problem, but let’s talk about who he was cheating with when he was married to Prof. Y, not to mention with whom Prof. Y was carousing, and how Campus Police got involved in things.

We philosophers are supposed to be utterly preoccupied with ideas, but goodness, the foibles of the people crafting those ideas can be entertaining.

What I’d do if I were a tenured professor in the Ivy League:

This is a thought experiment about the utilization of graduate students. Consider the power you have in your present position. Increase that by at least a couple orders of magnitude, and imagine yourself with an army of graduate students.

How would you use them?

I’d use one of them to break in new shoes for me. If that isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. (I’m willing to bet that those who cannot appreciate the harm this would inflict on the graduate student have never worn women’s shoes.)

Comments

  1. #1 KeithB
    September 26, 2007

    “I’d use one of them to break in new shoes for me.”

    Well, it would really add to the guilt if you only forced the *male* grad students to do it!

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    September 26, 2007

    We philosophers are supposed to be utterly preoccupied with ideas

    And booze, as I understand things…

  3. #3 coathangrrr
    September 26, 2007

    I think that some people have such a high view of their work that anything outside of it is a “guilty pleasure,” thank you very much protestant work ethic.

    My guilty pleasure, as of late is wasting time I should be reading playing Pokemon video games. Not so much because I’m wasting time, but because it’s Pokemon.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!