Meet the functional sceptic


Let’s get one thing out of the way: I am not the functional sceptic. I am neither particularly functional nor very sceptical. In fact, if I had to describe myself in two words, it’d probably just be the word ‘puerile’ twice.

     The functional sceptic was a fellow philosophy student at the university of Tübingen who one day after class, apropos of nothing, felt the need to stand up and make an announcement to his fellow students and the professor, proclaiming himself to be, indeed, a functional sceptic. He then went on to explain why he refers to himself in this way, completely ignoring the fact that absolutely no one had given even the faintest indication of interest in the matter whatsoever. Apparently, in the same manner that functional autists manage to function more or less normally in society in spite of their mental condition, he, despite being a natural sceptic who questions absolutely everything, manages to function as a normal member of society. It took an unprecedented amount of willpower for me not to interject “I don’t think so, mate”.

     We philosophy students are an odd sort. Everyone knows that. However, the situation in Tübingen was exceptionally peculiar. Whenever I was in the classroom, I felt as if I was surrounded by bare-footed Johnny Depp lookalikes with hipster-ish haircuts proudly displaying their excessive and poorly maintained facial hair. And the male students looked even worse.

     Leaving physical characteristics aside, the most unnerving thing were the class discussions. Basically, when the discussions kicked off, it all devolved very quickly into an exercise of intellectual masturbation. Now I don’t know about you, but I much prefer good, old-fashioned, regular masturbation, though I tend to indulge in that at home rather than in the classroom. While the ‘official’ goal in a group discussion is to collectively try and solve the particular problem at hand, what usually took place was some kind of unbearably dull ‘intelligence’ contest in which students tried to fit as many Latin and Ancient Greek words into their one-minute vocal contribution to the discussion as possible. That’s not what a masturbate mass debate is supposed to be like, is it?

     As a good (by which I mean twattish) philosophy student, instead of saying that a concept is defined negatively, you say it’s defined ex negativum. Instead of saying ‘all other factors remaining the same’ you say ceteris paribus. Actually, I guess using these Latinisms as part of the jargon of academic philosophy isn’t that bad. It’s just the way they say it; they raise their voice and nose in equal measure. It doesn’t matter what the words that come out of their stupid philosopher’s mouths are, be it mutatis mutandis, or pectus excavatum, all I can hear is “Worship me, peasants! For I am of a higher intellect than you.”

     A hoard of pretentious wankers, but there was one to trump them all. That’s right, we’re back to the functional sceptic. What a funny looking fellow he was: short, chubby, ginger, a LOT of hair, generally a very hobbit-like figure. He had a beard like Socrates and I’m sure his body odour can’t have been too far off either. But as for all the other philosophy students, the worst thing about him had little to do with his appearance. As you’ve probably anticipated by now, he was a bit of a c…

     haracter. He lacked basic manners, and let’s not even bring up etiquette. For example, he was incapable of gauging when he was entitled to speak up and when he should have shut up and listened. And whenever he spoke, which was pretty much all the flippin’ time, he did so far too loudly, no matter whether he was addressing the whole room or just his neighbours. He was the most complete manifestation of self-unawareness I have ever witnessed. As a functional sceptic, he may have questioned every epistemological theory in the history of philosophy, but questioned himself he has not. One time, in a lecture, he sat in the front row and kept chatting at a respectably disrespectful volume with his neighbour about who knows what until after a while everyone in the class including the professor and the person he was talking to was dead silent and just looked at him in astonishment, because he still was not aware of the disruption he was causing. It took an awkward thirty more seconds before he finally realised that everyone wanted him to refrain from speaking so that the lecture could continue. Another time, in a seminar, he kept interrupting the very patient professor during our discussion, and later on, when the professor and he happened to start a sentence at the same time, even said the following: “I don’t think this is going to work if we keep interrupting each other.” I find this kind of entitlement fascinating.

     The cherry on the cake of weirdness that is the Functional Sceptic is his key ring. Hey! Why not turn this into a quick game of cherchez l’intrus? Cross out the object that you think should not belong on a key ring.

keys — USB drive — nail clippers — bottle opener

Apart from being seriously odd, how important can nail clippers possibly be for them to have to be instantly accessible at all times? Grooming really didn’t really seem to be one of the philosophobbit’s main concerns in life (judging by looks and smells). Plus, I have never heard of an emergency where the immediate clipping of one’s nails was literally vital to the survival of a person.

Assistant doctor: Defibrillation unsuccessful.

Doctor: Don’t you die on me!!!

Assistant doctor: What are we supposed to do now, doctor?

Doctor: I don’t know… I guess there’s only one more thing we can try. This’ll be our last hope.

Assistant doctor: What is it?!

Doctor (sighs, hesitates): Clip his nails.

Assistant doctor (doubtful, but the softness of his voice still suggesting subservience):       Clip his nails?… Are you sure, doctor? With all due respect, it seems like the chances of him surviving are minusc…

Doctor (interrupting the assistant): …have you got a better idea? No, you don’t. So, do it…Do it! For Christ’s sake!

Assistant doctor (nervously grabs the nail clippers): Wait, fingers or toes?… Doctor?

Doctor: I don’t know!!! This is unprecedented… Just do both. And you better do it quick!

Assistant doctor (begins the delicate procedure. He is much more resolute now, having appreciated the urgency of the situation): Jesus Christ…


By the way, the reason why I know about all the objects on his key ring is because I had the pleasure of sitting next to him once, which wasn’t particularly easy on my ears… or my nose… or my eyes… Anyhow, he stored all the texts from the syllabus on his USB drive, which he—thanks to the jangling keys—very noisily inserted into the side slot of his laptop, catching my attention and making me look over. There’s one more thing that might be worth highlighting. As far as I’m aware there’s two types of nail clippers. You get the big ones for your fingernails, and the smaller ones for the toenails. His looked suspiciously small. I definitely wouldn’t put it past him.

     I never confronted him about the nail clippers, if only because I think what would most likely have ensued is him launching into an impromptu thirty minute monologue about the ethical and anthropological implications of clipping one’s nails in public. And to be perfectly honest, I can really do without that on a Monday morning, thank you very much.

     Before I go, I want you to know that if you assumed the doctor in my imaginary little film scene was a man, you’re a sexist and you should be ashamed of yourself.

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