Wife Swap

by Kieran Healy on March 20, 2009

Excerpts from an email forwarded from a philosopher of my acquaintance:

I hope you are doing well! I am a casting producer for ABC Television’s hit reality show, Wife Swap. I am currently trying to cast families that promote philosophy as a discipline for a special episode of our show and thought perhaps you might know some scholars that would be interested in such an opportunity. An ideal family would have 2 parents that are both philosophers and children that also believe in the discipline.

Requirements: Each family must consist of two parents (you don’t have to be married) and must have at least one child between the ages of 7 and 17 living at home full time … This is a very unique experience that can be life changing for everyone. In addition, each family that tapes an episode of Wife Swap receives a $20,000 honorarium for their time. Anyone who refers a family that appears on our program receives $1000 as a ‘thank you” from us. Please feel free to forward this email on to anyone that you feel might be interested.

In case you are unfamiliar with the show, the premise of Wife Swap is to take two different families and have the moms switch place to experience how another family lives. Half of the week, Mom lives the life of the family she is staying with. Then she introduces a “rule change” where she implements rules and activities that her family has. It’s a positive experience for people to not only learn but teach about other families and other ways of life.

Wife Swap airs on Disney owned ABC television on Fridays at 8 pm- the family hour! There is another show that copies ours. We focus on having fun, learning and teaching. They focus on conflict. I just want to make sure our show doesn’t get confused with theirs! I appreciate you taking the time to read this. If you have any questions, please email me at the address below. Thank you for your time!

If Freddie Ayer were still with us he’d probably be up for taking the show at its word. But failing this, I want to know what sort of occupation they have in mind for the other half of the swap. Do they think of philosophy as being about, say, atheism, and want some fundamentalists in the mix? Maybe not for 8pm family hour on ABC. Alternatively, is it supposed to be airy-fairy life of the mind vs huntin’ shootin’ fishin’? Logic-choppers vs Used Car Salesmen? I honestly have no idea.

An tempting alternative (though clearly one with no viable TV market at all) is to recruit families comprised of different sorts of philosophers. If they got a Wittgensteinian there could be endless arguments about the rule change and its relationship to the family’s way of life. Philosophical Metaphysics vs Barnes & Noble Metaphysics might be good, though would probably turn violent. Modal Realists vs Phenomenologists. (“I thought you said all the beer was in the effing fridge.”) Rawlsians vs Libertarians. John Emerson goes to live with John Hawthorne. That sort of thing.



John Quiggin 03.20.09 at 5:03 am

I’ll get in first to link the Jerry Springer version.


nick s 03.20.09 at 6:43 am

Oh, you know that it’s going to be a swap with the bloody Nietzscheans.

We focus on having fun, learning and teaching. They focus on conflict.

Not the one I saw with the expat Scouser arsehole.


Michael D 03.20.09 at 8:07 am

They could do Frequentists vs. Bayesians:

F: Is there any beer in the fridge?
B: Probably
F: $#%^@


Mrs Tilton 03.20.09 at 9:02 am

“… and children that also believe in the discipline”?


David Moles 03.20.09 at 9:13 am

“Barnes & Noble Metaphysics”?


Nick Valvo 03.20.09 at 9:28 am

They call it ‘Wife Swap,’ but they really mean Mom Swap.


dominic 03.20.09 at 10:54 am

So are you guys going to do this, then?


Chris Bertram 03.20.09 at 11:28 am

I’m already imagining the episode where Laurie is sent off to live with Glenn Reynolds for a week and you and the kids get Dr Helen. [Shudders]


harry b 03.20.09 at 11:48 am

Are you making this up?


Jamie 03.20.09 at 11:54 am

I figure the other couple must be people who actually do something.
Either that or comp lit.


Kieran Healy 03.20.09 at 1:13 pm

I’m not making it up, no. I’m also not participating.


Hogan 03.20.09 at 1:58 pm

“Do you believe in philosophy as a discipline?”

“Believe in it? Hell, I’ve seen it done.”

(Or maybe they’re thinking of “discipline” in terms of childrearing. Go to your room and don’t come out until your logos is driving your eros! And no language games!)


MH 03.20.09 at 2:05 pm

I’m waiting for the bailed-out Wall Street executive/laid-off GM worker episode.


harry b 03.20.09 at 2:09 pm

How could the children believe in the discipline? This does make it look like a mistake.

Of course, if you were making it up, you would say that you weren’t, so I still don’t know what to think.


jdkbrown 03.20.09 at 2:11 pm

I’m surprised nobody’s yet brought up the obvious potential of the Kantian/Utilitarian swap.


Tom Morris 03.20.09 at 2:21 pm

Just thinking that modal realists have no need to appear on Wife Swap because they already are in another possible world. I’ve always wondered what it would be like if they had a philosophical/intellectual Big Brother. Fifteen academics put themselves to the public vote.

They’ve already done atheists v. fundamentalists – see InfidelGuy’s page about it.


joel turnipseed 03.20.09 at 2:31 pm

I think Hogan @ 12 not only made me snort coffee into my sinuses, but hit exactly what the producers are looking for–but which they won’t likely get. Probably B&N Philosopher (and earnest Whole Foods shopper) swapping with Rapalla-chucking ‘Realist’ (who will, to lady philosopher’s horror, insist on buying a truck-bed full of Kraft products at Wal-Mart).

Harry: all</em kids believe in the discipline: if for no other reason that they have an uncanny way of spotting inconsistencies and coming up with cutting counter-examples, no? Our four-year-old has said, at various times, “You’re not letting me create the narrative,” “That’s not true, papa: you’re just seeing the shadows,” and, our all-time favorite: “I’m only misbehaving because you don’t create consistent patterns.” How she learned that you can derive anything from a contradiction, I’ll never know–but there you go.


John Protevi 03.20.09 at 2:55 pm

I’m wondering if they approached the Honderich and McGinn households.


CK Dexter 03.20.09 at 3:53 pm

“I figure the other couple must be people who actually do something.
Either that or comp lit.”

That’s probably the hidden angle they’re looking for. Uneducated, common sense, hardworking Joe six pack vs ivory tower head in the clouds do-nothing children corrupting commie.

In other words, volunteer and you’re wife will get to meet Joe the Plumber.

An update of Aristophanes’ The Clouds, basically.


dsquared 03.20.09 at 4:31 pm

I would be worried that they were actually going to destroy my wife and then replace her with a molecule-by-molecule replica of my wife.


Michael Bérubé 03.20.09 at 4:35 pm

Just wait til Brian Leiter finds out that there are children who believe in the discipline.


MH 03.20.09 at 4:58 pm

I don’t know if children are natural philosophers or not, my mine made a syllogism before his third birthday.

P1: Men like mustard
P2: I am a man
C: So, I like mustard

Given that P1 was based on two cases, P2 is false for most definitions of the word ‘man’, and that he had tried and hated mustard on several earlier occasions, I’m thinking of encouraging him to take up plumbing.


rea 03.20.09 at 5:04 pm

I don’t know if children are natural philosophers or not

They are, however, moral philosophers.


joel turnipseed 03.20.09 at 5:14 pm

It got cut off by some error I made in coding, but the end of my earlier comment was in accord w/points made by Rea@ 23 and MH @ 22: all children seem to be really good at coming up with pithy counter-examples, as well as understanding that you can derive anything from a contradiction.


Perezoso 03.20.09 at 5:38 pm

An ideal family would have 2 parents that are both philosophers and children that also believe in the discipline.

That’s probably a null set, except for that one creepy old Brit. couple–Geach-Gomez & Miss Morticia Whatevah-(tho’ Miss G. might be mort) -who considered King Ludwig Pokerstein as the second coming of Jeezuss.


rm 03.20.09 at 5:46 pm

MH, he came up with a logically perfect argument that does not actually work practically. Sounds like philosophy.


David Wright 03.20.09 at 10:14 pm

Michael D and MH: I (heart) your suggestions.


Britta 03.21.09 at 4:28 am

@15 jdk brown,
Kantian vs. Utilitarian
Ha, I’m trying that now, basically, as part of a couple where one of us has a hard-core Lutheran upbringing and the other a hard-core Australian upbringing ;)

As for the show, they probably want something nice and basic, like analytic vs. continental.


colin f 03.21.09 at 10:14 am

‘very unique’? head for the hills.


John Emerson 03.21.09 at 1:04 pm

Me and Leiter. But the concept seems to assume normal married couples with houses and shit. His task in my household would be to surf the internet, have a few beers, read a few books selected by me, and postpone cleaning up the apartment.


SusanC 03.21.09 at 10:28 pm

A swap with different types of philosophers would be so cool … if not to actually do, but to read as a parody.

e.g. John Holbo and Belle Waring swap with Jacques Derrida and Marguerite. Will Zoe like Marguerite? Does Pierre Derrida like American comics, or only Tintin? Will Belle and Jacques argue? (Yes, I know, sadly Derrida is no longer alive .. but you could still imagine it).


LFC 03.22.09 at 12:41 am

@14: How could the children believe in the discipline?
B/c the letter is written by a semi-literate TV executive. Instead of “I appreciate your taking the time to read this,” he writes “I appreciate you taking the time to read this.”
Now, of course, someone is going to say this is accepted usage. Language evolves, etc.


jim 03.22.09 at 12:48 am

Do philosopher-wives actually set rules for their households? On what basis?


Dave Maier 03.22.09 at 12:50 am

Now, of course, someone is going to say this is accepted usage.



salient 03.22.09 at 3:45 am

There is another show that copies ours.

Something about this sentence in particular reeks of Ted L. Nancy. It took me half an hour to finish re-folding the giant red flag that unfurled upon first reading it.

Though, it is in iambic pentameter. Pity the rest of the email wasn’t.


'As You Know' Bob 03.23.09 at 5:40 am

[A] tempting alternative (though clearly one with no viable TV market at all) is to recruit families comprised of different sorts of philosophers.

I beg to differ: I’d certainly watch that.


Alex Prior 03.23.09 at 6:16 am

Can I volunteer Alain de Botton?


ajay 03.23.09 at 2:26 pm

Surely “Rawlsian Survivor” is the way forward? Each contestant gets 24 hours’ notice to design their vision of the just society, which is then created in the Bornean jungle with a cast of unemployed financial analysts; the contestant then has to live in their society, without knowing in advance which place they will have in it.
In the series finale, all the different societies fight with spears.


American Citizen 03.23.09 at 6:39 pm

$20,000 to suffer some televised humiliation? Many people with some component of their income tied to the economy would take that.


ddt 03.23.09 at 7:56 pm

Awesome suggestions — sounds like homemade webisodes could be in the offing.

Having taken Freddie to dinner while my mother was visiting, and watching him pitch charming woo to a married woman whose won was _sitting right there_, I do think he he himeself would be quite open to participating in this program… .


ddt 03.23.09 at 7:57 pm

(I’m not condemning Freddie for it, by the way. It was all quite charming.)


Bruce 03.23.09 at 8:10 pm

” …she introduces a “rule change” where she implements rules and activities that her family has.”

Is this a reality show, or is this Coraline? Buttons anyone?


mollymooly 03.24.09 at 2:06 am

The ABC version was to be called “Trading Moms” but was changed to the original UK title “Wife Swap” when Fox brought out a clone called “Trading Spouses”.

I guess the email, if not a pure joke, was generated from the preceding episode’s via a search-replace of “vegetarian” with “philosopher”; so the “cattle farmer” email now reads “marine” or some such.


lisa 03.24.09 at 3:10 am

They fail to see the drama really lies in swapping wives of different disciplines: A Philosophy wife for an English lit wife. That would be far more entertaining.


Kathleen 03.24.09 at 9:34 am

I think David Lodge already wrote a novel about that.


Del Cotter 03.25.09 at 3:52 pm

This is where they put your wife’s brain in a tank for a week, feeding her the sensation of being in another household.

In return, you get a philosophical zombie.

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