My Philosopher to be

Originally posted for World Philosophy Day (2015), but as it is about a philosop-HER, reposted for International Women’s Day (2016).

As this blog is about being a philosopher, for my World Philosophy Day special edition, I thought I would talk about the philosopher I want to be.

So far in my philosophical life I have encountered quite a few philosophers who I admire, aspire to, and have been importantly influenced by. My undergraduate lecturer and supervisor who first introduced me to my philosophical interests and loves. My graduate supervisor who manages to generally challenge, and extract my intellectual best while also being tolerant of my (many) peculiarities. My philosophy hero whose every shining idea and charismatic word I hang on like a starstruck groupie (gushing and all). In addition to these living examples there are also a number of dead philosophers whose ideas and lives have made me think hard about my own ideas and life.

However, none of these are the philosopher I want to be. The philosopher I want to be is MM McCabe. (See her in action, start 9.55min.)

TO BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR I do not mean ‘want to be’ in the way that is just amounts to wishful thinking, luck, or requires a magic wand, like wanting to be ‘Kim Kardashian’ or a ‘princess.’ Nor ‘want to be’ like a creepy stalker who aims to possess their heart’s desire, perhaps by literally possessing their desired’s heart. But, also, I do not mean ‘wannabe’ mindlessly adopting manner, look, persona in the hope of becoming an ideal, which only makes for bad impersonations and sadly comic caricatures. I mean ‘want to be’ in the way that is meant when someone says I want to be a welder or president. Something that is real, attainable, worthwhile  — something that doesn’t require scare quotes.

Not that MM McCabe is some thing, or an occupation listing. She is a philosopher. Someone who takes ideas, philosophical practice, and herself seriously (but not without humour). Someone whose ideas and practices I can look to, have confidence in, and take on, in order to take myself seriously (still with jokes).

My contact with MM is primarily a course she guest convened at my philosophy department. By golly she is hard going. Each seminar we read the words, all the words, and read them straight. We thought about the ideas, thought about what we thought the ideas were, then thought again. We talked, and talked some more, and talked differently. Although left worn out, I never felt broken down, or shattered, after these sessions. Never deserted to put myself back together. Instead just the fatigue of having things drawn out of me that I perhaps did not realise was even there to be drawn.

During that time I had the opportunity to see in MM that the philosopher I want to be is possible. MM demonstrates what I hope to become as real, attainable, worthwhile and not just some fancy of mine. That it is possible for me to be that philosopher. To be all about the ideas and coming to self-understanding; to care about philosophical practice, that enduring human conversation; and passionately challenge it when it goes astray.

Also, not insignificantly for me, as a philosopher who happens to be a woman, MM happens to be one too. To my eyes, in the man’s world of philosophy she has not Man-ified herself, like her biology needs to be overcome; nor has she Lady-fied herself, like her biology sets her apart. She is simply herself. I do not think all of this makes her superhuman, a demagogue. Rather I see her as deeply human, which I hope is what we all want to be. This is why MM McCabe is my philosopher to be.


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