Post Semester Musings

•December 21, 2012 • 1 Comment

This past semester ended up being the worst one (grade wise). I worked very hard and failed. I tried to write like they wanted me to, and I still couldn’t do that. I turned in multiple drafts of the papers i made B’s on, rewrote one paper entirely, and yet I still couldn’t do what they wanted. I tell myself I should’ve turned in one more draft… And maybe I should’ve, but I didn’t. None of the other grad students turn in drafts and they get A’s. I turn in draft after draft, correction after correction and get B’s. The one paper I simply turned in without a draft netted me an A. It’s a confusing struggle in the middle of nowhere Texas.

I was accused of strange things this semester. I was told I was uncharitable to a philosopher I was critiquing. I’m not sure if it was because I was uncharitable, or if by simply critiquing this particular philosopher (after all, who am I to critique him) I am being uncharitable. Another professor insisted I do not set up my claims correctly. I don’t “establish” my claims. I don’t know how much more backstory and build up I can give to my claims. I’ve given up trying to make that guy happy.

I’ve failed here. In ways I still don’t understand. Philosophy is strange here. The people are strange here.

I’ve started applying to Ph.D. programs, but I don’t think I’ll get in. My professors in this department will probably make sure of that. I don’t know what I expected from philosophy. I didn’t expect what I’m getting here. Some can continue on in solitude, reading the people they love while trying to play the game. I don’t know if if my love of philosophy can survive such solitude. I need community, philosophy is community. Without it, philosophy is dead. I think Plato understood this. His dialogues are just that, dialogues. Dialogues presuppose a community of at least two people. These people talk to each other, and great things come out of those talks.

It does feel like I will be leaving philosophy behind. I don’t think I regret graduate school, but I am left disappointed. People tell me I don’t have to leave philosophy behind, I can always keep reading. They don’t understand. Philosophy is community, philosophy is people (much like Soylent Green). I can’t do this in a vacuum. I will keep this blog, but it will not be filled as often or with much. I will be focusing on making a future with my wife, getting us somewhat secure for our first child (whenever that is). I think that might be the harder path, the straight and narrow. I don’t know.


Philosophical Progress (The Proper Description)

•October 27, 2012 • 3 Comments

I had a conversation with my fellow grad students yesterday about philosophical progress. 

I put forward the unpopular claim that there is no such thing as philosophical progress. If anything like it exists, it does not entail a kind of “pushing forward” towards truth. Philosophical views come in and out of focus, some die and get resurrected, others are left on the wayside and abandoned. Nothing is laid to rest for good in philosophy. This is not progress in the sense we’re used to (the one that the sciences give us).

We then started speaking about descriptions. One of the grad students said, “surely there is a true description of a state of affairs, the right description. That seems to be what we’re aiming at.” Again, I’m weary of this claim. There are many different descriptions that can be given for the same event, there doesn’t seem to be any one that’s “better” than the other. That is, without a given use or context, it seems there is no objective “better” vlaue claim to be given. A description can be better or worse based on what kind of use you have in mind for the description. However, the bare use of “better” here without that context seems to be empty. By what criteria would we give to claim one description is objectively “better” than another? That a description is the proper one without a use? 

After pushing this forward (also unpopular), I was told that I think philosophy is empty. That if there is no proper description, there is not progress, then I think philosophy is meaningless. That philosophers are just chasing their tails. I told them this wasn’t the case. If I didn’t think philosophy was important in some way I wouldn’t be here, doing the work. As a matter of fact, I find that philosophy is only thing I care about as an academic discipline. 

There is a tension here. If there is no philosophical progress, if there is no proper description, then what is philosophy doing? This I know: it’s not going to explain anything. But that’s not helpful. I want to know what philosophy does do. That, I think, is mysterious. 

Heard on a song on tv

•October 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

“I don’t care whether I’m right or wrong, I just gotta be me”

The logical problems here are many. The most troubling thing is this: individuality takes on a higher value than morality. 

I may be a serial killer, but, you know, I just gotta be me! 

Lord have mercy.

Teaching Philosophy

•September 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Teaching philosophy is hard. There is no method, no proper way of teaching the subject. There is no guide, you are forced to create something. It becomes a painful exercise. You want, somehow, to transmit the same things that you have acquired over your time in philosophy. This is not possible. The best you can do is keep pointing at the door, beckoning the students to enter through it.

I do this by trying to turn the claims of the philosophers I teach onto the students. I like to say that the philosopher is making a claim about them. That is, most philosophers have some conception of the human person built into their philosophies. I tell my students that these people are telling them what they are. This seems to strike them. If I can get the philosopher to grab them by the throat, they cannot escape their claims. 

If I can get them to start thinking about what they are, they may be changed in the process. This is the start of real philosophical work. If you are not wrestling with yourself, you are not doing philosophy (in the right way). This is my hope in my teaching: That I can get my students to wrestle with themselves. That they may do the kind of work that so often goes undone. That they may work on themselves. 

God help me.

On Self Discipline

•September 3, 2012 • 2 Comments

Self discipline is a deceptively easy process. The concept to something like driving oneself from within. One has to be their own master. The interesting thing about self discipline is that those who have it are often trained to have it. I’m thinking in particular about military personnel in the intense training that cadets undergo. I’ve had more than one person say that people who go into basic training without any self discipline come out a new person, one that is self motivated and self disciplined. Those who do not have self discipline, are those who typically have a hard time finding it. There are also people who tend to find and develop self discipline. Sometimes the self discipline lasts a lifetime, other times it fizzles quickly over the years.

The latter, unfortunately, is my case. I seem to have lost self discipline. The interesting thing is I don’t know how to get it back. I find it exceedingly difficult to do simple things like go to the grocery store or get to the gym. I have lost something and myself, this “something I know not what“. I can blame a number of factors that have contributed to this lack of self discipline, but I feel this will be only an excuse.
The interesting thing I feel is that I lament my lack of self discipline, as most people do. It is a bizarre situation where a person is complaining about a thing they have complete control over. The answer is deceptively simple. You simply have to “do it”. That is, you simply have to shut up and do what you know you need to do. How does one motivate oneself to do this? What is the process and the human person that allows us to simply shut up and do what we need to do? What bars us from such a process?

I suppose the answer goes very deep. There has to be something deeper going on than what goes on in the mind. To put it in any ethical context, something has gone wrong with our practical reasoning. Though we set the ends that we want to achieve, and we know the means to get to that end, we do not execute our action. Perhaps we’re deceived about our own ends. Whatever the case, something has gone wrong in the human person and it is very hard to know what the problem is. Sometimes the problem never surfaces, it is never resolved. There is a kind of self searching involved that is arduous and often painful. The process of self discovery often takes a lifetime.
Self discipline is the struggle and overcoming over oneself. It is a bloody process. Wrestling with oneself is one of the hardest battles a human person can undertake. Your opponent knows all of your weak points. Your opponent knows you oh so well. Your opponent is often fierce and unforgiving. To win this wrestling match, this battle, one has to train. One has trained continuously and without end. I suppose I have to take baby steps again in this regard. Even if I lose the battles I have with my own person, I’m hopefully becoming stronger.

voice recognition software

•September 2, 2012 • 2 Comments

I have decided to use voice recognition software in my writing process. Apparently windows seven has a three and quite advanced voice recognition software built in. I’m pretty excited about it to be honest because I think I can get more work done this way. As a matter of fact, I’m using it to write this Block Post. As you can see, there are few books to be worked out, but the software over time taylor’s itself to your voice. This is cool, since there’s a sense in which the program is learning your voice. Either way, I hope to have more block posts here that have been dictated via the recognition software. This was my first test I have made no corrections and no edits to this block of text. If nothing else, maybe we will get some humorous typos.

Replace “book” with “blog” and “three” with “free”. The software seems to have trouble learning the word “blog”. Oh well, more to come

Philosophy of Religion Weeklies

•August 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

In my Philosophy of Religion seminar, we are required to write “weeklies”. These weeklies are weekly response to the readings. I will be posting mine on here. I will try to give a link to the article I’m responding to as well.  This is the first one in response to an excerpt of Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy”.

In Rudolf Otto’s article, he distinguishes between the rational and the holy.  The part of the mind that is holiness (or religiously) receptive (the numinous part) is completely distinct from the rational part of our minds. The, for lack of a better word, insights we receive from the divine are those that are not able to be conceptualized rationally. He says, “In other words our X [the insights] cannot, strictly speaking, be taught, it can only be evoked, awakened in the mind; as everything that comes ‘of the spirit’ must be awakened” (82).

            Later in the article he states that there are degrees of loftiness one may have in the religious life. There are loftier a priori cognitions that can be “activated” in a person. He likens this to the art judge and the artist. The art judge understands and appreciates art, whereas the artist not only understands and appreciates but can also create art. So, too there are those that are “endowed” with these loftier a priori cognitions of the divine. Some have the ability to not only to receive the divine, but also to create. Otto calls these kinds of people prophets.

            My problem is with the relationship between the rational and the numinous parts of our cognition. The prophet, when he speaks, does not speak from the numinous part of himself. He cannot, since Otto claims that divine insights cannot be spoken of. The process from receptivity to delivery is not clearly explained. Perhaps the insights of the divine have to “watered down” in someway through the words of the prophet. The prophet may give commands, tell of theology, give warnings, etc, and these are certainly products of the rational side of the mind, but they couldn’t be content of his numinous cognitions. The artist, however, can both have a vision of what he wants to create and then paint according to that vision. The prophet, however, only has words and concepts at his disposal to express this numinous side of himself. However, concepts are foreign to the numinous. What then is the relationship between the numinous and the rational? How can the prophet communicate his knowledge of the divine? How can he create when the materials of his creation are not applicable in the numinous?