I haven’t done much philosophical reading, writing, or even thinking in about a year. This is not to say that I have stopped entirely. There were several projects underway that I managed to complete or continue, but my heart hasn’t been in it. I have had similar “pauses” in my work over the course of my entire career, beginning with a year break during graduate school which meant that it took me 6 years to finish instead of the recommended 5 (which was the norm at the time).
The negative aspect of such pauses is that each time I stop it takes a very long time to gear back up. For one thing, I fall behind in the literature and so I have to catch up, but also I lose the habit of thinking and, perhaps even more importantly, writing as a philosopher. By that I mean thinking carefully and not allowing myself to accept an incomplete or undeveloped thought as some kind of truth upon which to build other ideas. There are probably other important aspects of philosophical thinking that I lose but that is the one that I most aware of.
What makes me pause? Sometimes causes have coincided with some important events in my personal life. One followed the death of my father in my late 20s. Another followed a series of events: completion of my PhD conjoined with the birth of my daughters about 5 years later. But events in my personal life do not always lead me away from philosophy. My divorce and the years of upheaval following it were productive philosophically. This most recent pause seems to have been the result of exhaustion caused more by other activities outside of philosophy, primarily, service to my institution. Although, I think that this service may have been precipitated by or at least coincided with coming to a hard place in my research. I think this may be one of the first times that it is a philosophical problem that has been the primary cause of my slowdown. That’s probably not the norm for philosophers I would think. It is probably the difficulty of the problem that is the usual cause.
Am I more erratic in my working patterns than other philosophers? I think I am more erratic than those who are most productive. I do not feel apologetic about it any longer, though I certainly did when I was younger. I cannot work unless I feel that I have something to say and that saying it is important enough to motivate me to work. This is one of the pleasures of not having an appointment at a research university.
I suppose the big question is whether the pause leads to a full stop of career, which I suppose such pauses do for some people, or whether it is part of the process of reaching a point where I am ready to tackle the problem again. I am about to explore that question.