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Should I Become an Academic? Academia and the Ethics of Career Choice

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[Note: This is a draft chapter from a book project I was trying to get off the ground called The Ethics of Academia. It looks unlikely that this book will ever see the light of day, and if it does it’s even more unlikely that this draft chapter will be part of it. So, I thought there would be no harm in sharing it here. The writing style in this draft chapter is intended to be somewhat ‘tongue-in-cheek’.] If you are reading this the odds are pretty good you are an academic or, at least, thinking about becoming one. But maybe you are having second thoughts? Maybe this career isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe you are not sure that you want to spend the rest of your life churning out research papers, teaching students, or, God forbid, administering other researchers and teachers? I commend you. The first ethical question any academic should ask of themselves is: should I exist? I don’t mean this in the profound existential sense. Albert Camus (1942) once said that the question of suicide was the first and most important of all philosophical questions. He may well be right about that, but that’s not the question I think all academics should ask of themselves. I think they should ask the slightly more mundane question: is being an academic an ethical career choice? Not everyone gets to choose their careers but I’m guessing that if you are considering a career in academia you have the luxury of some choice. There are, presumably, other things you could do with your time. Should you do them instead? Many people fail to ask this question. Outside of some extreme exceptions — assassin, torturer, arms dealer — most of us assume that our choice of career is ethically neutral. We try do what we want to do and what we feel best suited for doing. We may not always succeed, but that’s usually the goal. Careers guidance councillors often reinforce this attitude toward career choice. They advise us to focus on our aptitudes and talents, not on the relative moral standing of. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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