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?

Faith and Consumerism

•August 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Phenomenal talk by Fr. Jonah


With the war of the election year unfolding before us, it’s important to realize that all of the politics are secondary to the human person. The human person is where any kind of real change occurs, political policy will never reach the heart.

The Ikea Nightmare

•August 14, 2012 • 2 Comments

I went to Ikea for the first time the other day. It was awful.

The store is a monstrosity, towering over the other buildings in the Philadelphia docks area. The entire store is painted blue and yellow, very simple and full. The words IKEA in all capital letters marks the place with a kind of cold certitude. The most unsettling thing is the collection of flags waving outside of the store’s entrance. It’s as if the store is so culturally important that it needs to mark it’s place with flags of the countries it’s associated with, like it’s the United Nations.

When you walk in, you are given a map. This map lays out the store into various areas and gives you a path to walk through them (along with “shortcuts” through various areas. You proceed upstairs to the “showroom” and walk through the various areas. I swear they try to set this place up like a themepark, like some kind of bizarre disney world for furniture. Each “land” is divided into the various rooms and setups you could arrange with their furniture. You don’t buy anything in this area, that comes later. There are various exhibits and demonstrations of rooms that you can look at and view as you take the predetermined path on you map. This is not unlike an attraction at a themepark.

There are various places to eat throughout the store, also like a theme park. The store has constructed itself so you can spend the day in it’s store without leaving, all of your needs are met. This makes the Ikea shopping an EXPERIENCE, a FUN thing that no one should miss! Consumerism at it’s finest. 

At the end of the tour is a warehouse. This is where the actual buying takes place, not unlike a gift shop at the end of a themepark ride. If you find a piece of furniture you like in the showroom area, you write down the number on the map they give you, then you find out where that piece of furniture is in the warehouse. Finally, you buy the furniture. Thus ends our ride…. Wasn’t that fun?


The Greatest Rebellion

•July 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As Christ suffers on the cross, someone says “He saved others, let Him save Himself”

This struck me today as the penultimate statement of the fall. The words hold all contempt for God, while at the same time acknowledging God. It is looking God in the face and saying “do something you weakling”. Replacing God for myself. Christ had shown His power, but the chief priests hadn’t shown theirs. The people thought they could overpower God, even given what He is.

It is as if we could compete with God for His position. As if Christ was somehow on our level, a level we could fight with. This is the ultimate mistake of the fall. The only way we could think like this is if we thought ourselves God.

Some Quotes from Summer Reading

•June 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“It was a devil with which he was trying to come to grips, the abbot decided, but the devil was quote evasive. The abbot’s devil was rather small, as devils go: only knee-high, but he weighed ten tons and had the strength of five hundred oxen. He was not driven by maliciousness, as Dom Paulo imagined him, not nearly as much as he was driven by frenzied compulsion, somewhat after the fashion of a rabid dog. He bit trhough meat and bone and nail simply because he had damned himself, and damnation created a damnably insatiable appetite. And he was evil merely because he had made a denial of Good, and the denial had become a part of his essence, or a hole therein. Somewhere, Dom Paulo thought, he’s wading through a sea of men and leaving a wake of the maimed.” – A Canticle for Leibowitz

“Perhaps it is by now a little clearer why we are tempted to retort, “But suppose I don’t want to be moral?”; and also why it would be irrelevent here. The Categorical Declarative [sic] does not tell you what you ought to do if you want to be moral (and hence is untouched by the feeling that no imperative can really be categorical, can bind us no matter what); it tells you (part of) what you in fact do when you are moral. I cannot – nothing a philosopher says can – insure that you will not act immorally; but it is entirely unaffected by what you do or do not want” – Must We Mean What We Say?

“If you feel that finding out what something is must entail investigation of the world rather than of language, perhaps you are imagining a situation like finding out what somebody’s name and address are, or what the contents of a will or a bottle are, or whether frogs eat butterflies. But now imagine that you are in your armchair reading a book of reminiscences and come acress the work “umiak.” You reach for your dictionary and look it up. Now what did you do? Find out what “umiak” means, or find out what an umiak is? But how could we have discovered something about the world hunting in the dictionary? If this seems surprising, perhaps it is becuase we forget that we learn langugage and learn the world together, that they become elaborated and distorted together, and in the same places. We may also be forgetting how elaborate a process the learning is. We tend to take what a native speaker does when he looks up a noun in the dictionary as the characteristic process of learning language … But it is merely  the endpoint in the process of learning the word. When we turned to the dictionary for “umiak” we already knew everything about the word, as it were, but its combination: we knew what a noun is and how to name an object and how to look up a word and what boats are and what an Eskimo is. We were all prepared for that umiak. What seemed like finding the world in a dictionary was really a case of bringing the world to the dictionary. We had the world with us all the time, in that armchair; but we felt the wright of it only when we felt a lack in it … How we answer the question, “What is X?” will depend, therefore, on the specific case of ignorance and of knowledge.” -Must We Mean What We Say?

Writing Metaphilosophy

•May 10, 2012 • 1 Comment

I’m often drawn to write metaphilosophical papers. This is a problem in graduate school. Professors don’t seem interested in analysis of a philosophical project. They don’t care if the project seems confused, or if there are grounding issues in a particular view. They want me to engage in discourse with the philosopher about the view at hand. They want me to poke and prod into the logic, the missing links in argument, the troublesome consequences. These things don’t interest me much. I’m more interested in the logic being used, the foundations of views, and what’s being said behind the argument (behind the curtain).

Philosophy is about people. I’m interested in people above all else. I’m interested in authors, what they’re thinking, what they’re up to, why they say what they say. I’m interested in motivations, confusions, implicit premises, and presuppositions in philosophical writing. To most professors in my department, I’ve simply left the realm of philosophy when I ask questions concerning the latter. I’ve somehow missed the mark. I don’t know why this is.

The kind of philosophy that matters to me is the kind that speaks. It is not dead, but it is alive in some way. The author pours himself into the work. The author is somehow present in the paper. There is a richness that transcends the words on the page. The technical papers in the modern literature seem to be dead. They have some things to say, and then move on. They wish to win the argument. Winning is everything.

This is a cynical view of philosophy in its current form. I hope I am misguided and downright wrong. The department I find myself in has brought this worry to me, and I fear the situation abounds in most other schools as well. I’m constantly trying to find some middle ground between what I want to write and how I’m supposed to write. Most times I fall flat. I find my thinking has been locked into this form. I hope to find my middle ground soon… Term papers are approaching.

Tractatus 2.022, 2.023, 2.023, 2.0231, 2.0232

•April 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.022 It is clear that however different from the real one an imagined world may be, it must have something – a form – in common with the real world

2.023 This fixed form consists of the objects

2.0231 The substance of the world can only determine a form and not any material properties. For these are the first presented by the propositions – first formed by the configuration of the objects.

2.0232 Roughly speaking: objects are colorless


Now we get to the form of the world. More mysterious passages. It seems the objects are the fundamental parts of the world. Whatever we imagine, it shares the same form with our world. This form is the substance, the objects. 

We finally get to see what Wittgenstein has in mind when he thinks of propositions. It’s true, the arrangement (configuration) of objects are propositions (though I’m not sure what the is is doing here). The substance of the world cannot define properties (materially). Again, a metaphysical temptation. I’ll try to leave speculating about this phrase behind, as I don’t know what to think if this is not a metaphyscial statements. I also don’t know what the “these” is referring to in 2.0231. I assume the material properties. If material properties are formed by propositions which are formed by arrangement of objects…. How can the substance of the world not determine material properties? Especially if objects form the substance of the world?

The only answer: objects are colorless. These objects become more and more interesting. Maybe this was Wittgenstein’s strategy to detach us from the word that’s so familiar to us in other contexts. Maybe I’ll look to a companion to the Tractatus to get clearer on this concept.