I want to go into academic philosophy as do several friends. This world is very mysterious to us. When you look at people publishing in journals, and you scan over journal articles treating of obscure topics, you wonder how this could possibly relate to one’s tutors here in Oxford, which always seem to be far more grounded and ethical, unconcerned with the ultra-competitiveness that pervades all modern academic life.

I think that the thing to do is to keep focussed on the three real goals of this process that are beyond desires for job security and personal recognition—the reasons one has for studying the subject. Firstly to develop one’s understanding. I imagine there are bright sparks working in philosophy because they find it fun to get published about the problems they think they’ve solved, but I’m not sure that is something that can really last. Secondly to write great essays. If one writes something fantastic, that gets undergrads and grads and faculty all excited, the name behind it is irrelevant and the journal it is published in it irrelevant—all that matters is the piece. Thirdly the importance of trying hard to teach those lower down on the path but I don’t know anything about that, being on the lowest rung…

Another mysterious fact is the relation of Oxford philosophers to the rest of the world. Philosophers seem to fall into groups, partly based on age perhaps, of people who are in touch more frequently, working on the same things. And of course everyone thinks their group is the most important. For example of the two tutors at Balliol who I know best I can give you a list of names of “their gang” of the great names of the past fifty years. I think that perhaps to a certain extent Oxford separates itself in style from, say, American universities? I really don’t know.

As students here we certainly find ourselves associating ourselves with the style of philosophy our tutors espouse. Oxford philosophy[1] is the ‘right’ kind of analytic philosophy, we think. Of course this represents a massive loss of perspective. But it’s easy to do.

Here’s another thing. Hundreds of papers get published. But as an undergrad most seem impossibly unexciting: inaccessible but also not following the big problems that to me dominate, based on my studies so far. I suppose this reflects the general inaccessibility of academic philosophy: the stuff I do is presumably equally inaccessible to the average person. It is important not to lose perspective on this too—I am very guilty of this.

[1] Not to be confused with Oxford Philosophy, a school of thought from the twentieth century.