Saturday, January 03, 2009

Philosopher at large.

One of my best friends, Ken Shiotani, went to University of Tokyo for many years. First he finished the master's course at the mathematics department. Then he went on to work at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Having met his wife and thus getting a means of living, he happily quitted his job, and went back to the campus, this time as a graduate student at the philosophy of science department. He stayed in the department for 9 years, the maximum time allowed by the regulations. After graduating, he has held no position basically, except for a brief period of time when he had a job at University of Chiba. Shiotani has been a "philosopher at large", known for his sharp intellect and powerful speech deliveries, but without any steady or even temporary jobs.
For some years I hoped that he would one day get some position, but having seen how institutions destroy the free spirit by numerous administrative chores, and a false sense of self-importance, I now feel that his position as a freelance philosopher is probably the best one.
I don't know why, but I thought of him first thing this morning, after having had a very strange dream involving a chair and a cliff.

Ken Shiotani, the philosopher at large.

Ken Shiotani's notebook of philosophical ideas.


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Oliver said...

It may be unusual in modern society, but your friend's undertaking is a very old, and venerable occupation! I immediately think of Socrates and other wandering thinkers in antiquity.

I must add that I'm a bit envious. It really is a good job. And I think, given the freedoms it grants, an underrated one.

Maybe someday companies and well-to-do patrons will fund philosophers' independent and free thoughts in the way that they fund open-source programmers to continue work on their own projects.

I am interested in what your friend has written on his page. If only my Japanese literacy were not so poor.

Greg said...

Besides the value created by Mr. Shiotani's thinking, there is also value in the choices that he and his wife made to allow and support his work. He and his wife made sacrifices in terms of the security and stability of an academic or professional position. However, in return, he gained the freedom to pursue and explore his own thinking. As Dr. Mogi mentioned in his post, a life in academia has its own restrictions.

Christine said...

Too bad people's genius wasn't more appreciated.