I referenced this in an earlier post (here!), and it’s too good not too give it its own space. This is from the Preface of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. He’s describing how professional philosophers assemble theories and arguments for publication.
“One form of philosophical activity feels like pushing and shoving things to fit into some fixed perimeter of specified shape. All those things are lying out there, and they must be fit in. You push and shove the material into the rigid area getting it into the boundary on one side, and it bulges out on another.
You run around and press in on the protruding bulge, producing yet another in another place. So you push and shove and clip off corners from the things so they’ll fit and you press in until finally almost everything sits unstably more or less in there; what doesn’t gets heaved far away so that it won’t be noticed.
(Of course, it’s not all that crude. There’s also the coaxing and cajoling. And the body English.)
Quickly you find an angle from which it looks like an exact fit and take a snapshot; at a fast shutter speed before something else bulges out too noticeably. Then, back to the darkroom to touch up the rents, rips and tears in the fabric of the perimeter. All that remains is to publish the photograph as a representation of exactly how things are, and to note how nothing fits properly into any other shape.”
This strikes me as resonant; not just for philosophers or even just academics, but for many of us (myself included!) – at work, at home.