On Striving within a Culture

I was thinking about how people strive for things.

Aside from basic survival, and other basics of life, most of out strivings are within a context and a culture. For example, I wanted to be a philosopher, and, currently, most philosophers are associated with a university. So I learned the game of the university. I learned how to teach, how to conduct research, who are the important people in the field, and what the major university departments are. My goal, like anyone’s was to do well in philosophy.

But even as I thought about things that weren’t necessarily tied to my culture, these embedded rational decisions were within the context of a culture and, importantly, with the context of an institution. Institution, here, I use broadly, in the sense of being institutionalized.

Most of out strivings are embedded in this way. These are socially constructed realities within which our reason applies itself.

For example, I was just reading a bit about the prestige bias within philosophy. People from prestigious departments are more likely to get hired at prestigious departments. Many people strive to work for a prestigious department, but few do, and it seems that the bias is towards people who are already prestige-affiliated.

But for me, as an now an outsider, it seems to me that these longings and strivings are embedded within a large university-industrial-complex, which I am not a part of. I’m not saying it’s bad to strive in this way, or that that system is a bad thing. I’m just saying the things related–such as where one applies for a job, that one applies for a job, what one wears to interviews, that one goes to the APA, and so forth–are embedded within a constructed system.

I think most of our strivings are embedded in this way. Our reason is often “applied” within a context and culture. This doesn’t make it any less rational, but it does seem that we may be fooling ourselves if we think, normally, that we are applying reason to the thing-in-itself.