August 08, 2005

Moldy thoughts.

In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin mentions the desire to go "away from libraries and other men's work" (pg. 75). Only away from what everyone else has written and thought can he begin to write what he thinks. I really should have started to get serious about studying for my prelims -- in one week! -- earlier than I did, that being a week ago. I dabbled in a little ancient gear before that, but that was not serious studying. Boiling down all of Aristotle in two hours on a Saturday afternoon does not count as serious work. But now I'm in the thick of it. I'm disturbed by Hobbes, thinking about William James in the shower (no, not like that) and having dreams involving Hume, Kant a bog and German beer. This happened during my second year of college and my second year at BC when I was studying for my MA comps. I can't sleep, and I'm restless and edgy. This comes from confining myself to other people's thoughts for extended periods of time with the goal of learning them and remembering them and being able to ape them for an exam. I've written a few essays about the dangers of relying too much on the philosophy texts that we already have -- and really pissed off at least one professor who called me "overly contentious" and was right to do so. Another professor pointed out that there is much to be said for mastering the literature, and he's also right. There are more reasons to actually master this stuff that I feel like writing about this morning, to be sure. But what do we do once we've mastered it? Write essays about it and present them to other boring people at conferences or in journals that only a dozen or so people will actually read? I'm not going to write a long post about what's wrong with academic philosophy. I could just paste an essay I already have and guarantee not to have any readers anymore except for the dozens a day who get here looking for Life Aquatic images (third on the list). That would be pointless and foolish and might get my bum kicked by some colleagues and rightly so. What I mean is that I'm not going to insult my fellow philosophers or myself. We all know what's wrong with philosophy in the academy. But it's really the only place to learn philosophy with other people, so we do what we can. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is tired of reading Locke or Kant, as if it's really going to change the way I think any more than it already has. I can't be alone in feeling like we are required to learn and spit back all this old stuff over and over again as an end in itself, like the "training" never stops. More folks than I must wish there could be more time and energy and encouragement to do some original thinking in academic philosophy: original as in from one's own reason or experience of the world. This is not starting from someone else's books as we are wont to do, though learning from said books can certainly be an advantage. Not that I'm in the habit of having any original thoughts. And the ones I have, I'm storing for my dissertation, whose prospectus I have to complete this fall, lest I contribute to the mold problem more than I have to in order to get a job. Fellow philosophers, please don't tar and feather me. Buy me some beer, since you alone know how soul-crushing it can be to bend one's will to ape Kant's ethics.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two hours of Aristotle may not be real work, but then, prelims aren't either. They're a hoop. And a stupid hoop at that. So jump the hoop, get it over with, and then get on with real thinking.

Pragmatik said...

Thanks, man:)

Stasyna said...

Ha, how are we to use knowledge. That is a great question. For me atleast, personal satisfaction is what drives me to read/study more and more. I can wander mentally into one of Descartes meditations and "lose" myself for awhile.

It's a nice feeling, knowing more than your neighbour. Cocky perhaps, but feeling good about yourself once in awhile is okay.

Pragmatik said...

I think my metaphysics professor was right when he informed me that I'm "too much of a pragmatist" to want to learn metaphysics for its own sake, when I wrote a paper that was a Pragmatic (Jamesian) defense of the kind of metaphysics (Hegelian and Thomistic) that my professor had just written a 600 page book on. And he hated James (said he was too lazy for a logic like Hegel's and that I should get to SIU and take up Peirce instead) with a considerable passion, so that paper pissed him off a little, I think.

He was only partly right about me, since I still believe that there is certainly some pleasure to reading philosophy, else I would never have sold my late teens and twenties to get degrees in it. But it too often takes the place of real thinking, creative in creating new ideas.

Having some knowledge of philosophy texts is not so great when compared to what my neighbors are into, though, since philosophy and (worse) degrees in philosophy can be alienating to other people. Knowing a little more wouldn't make me feel better about myself than my neighobor, since he or she could just learn what I learn, and they probably already know about a lot more things than I do. Useful things.

And I never look down on folks without degrees in philosophy or degrees at all and usually LOOK UP instead. In fact, most of my closest friends do not have degrees at all, and that's part of what I love about them.

Degrees don't make great philosophers, and they usually hold them back instead.

But we're not talking about degrees, and I'm rambling and brain-dead from reading too much Nietzsche for one day.

I just want to get these damned exams over with.

Stasyna said...

But, isn't anyone capable of being a philosopher? Isn't that the true, raw beauty of being a conscious, thinking being?

Pragmatik said...

Yes, every person can be a philosopher, I suppose. That's what I said, dude:

"Knowing a little more wouldn't make me feel better about myself than my neighobor, since he or she could just learn what I learn, and they probably already know about a lot more things than I do."

"Degrees don't make great philosophers, and they usually hold them back instead."

Not every "thinking being," though. That some animals can think to a certain (and even at times great) degree has been proven numerous times. But they are not necessarily capable of reflection, which I think even the most "fact-minded" pragmatist will admit is necessary for genuine philosophical inquiry.

Perhaps all people can just go and learn philosophy and how to philosophize (like I said), but I would not go so far as to say that my brother's Pug can be a tiny philosopher.

Pragmatik said...

Now that I think of it, I am not sure I think all people can be philosophers. Some people are so stuck in their unreflective patterns of behavior that it's nearly impossible for them to become philosophers, I think.

I'm too tired to attempt a definition of philosophy or a philosopher, but being a philosopher is certainly more than reading philosophy and understanding it, and even that's not something that every person can do, any more than every person can master quantum physics. We're not all dished out equal amounts of intelligence. Which is not to say that it takes a genius to read Plato (certainly not), but it does take a person of at least average intelligence. And the whole idea of an I.Q. is based on an average of 100, meaning that for every person over 100, there is one equally under 100. Can an average person read Aristotle and get it? Maybe. Someone with an I.Q. of 70 like Forest Gump? Hell no.

I don't mean to sound elitist, but we can't all do the same things. I'm a dumpy five ten/five eleven and near-sighted and I can't stand falling. I can try all I want to, but I'll never be able to be a jet pilot.

The fact is that not everyone possesses the intellectual capacity and the proper habits (I'm a good Jamesian) to philosophize with any seriousness. There's only so much that one's free will can do, even if we go nuts about it like Sartre.

I go back on the implication that I meant that everyone can be a philosopher. Perhaps some of my neighbors can (I think that's what I probably meant), but sure as hell not all of them. How is someone so unreflective or stupid that they still think inter-racial marriage is wrong like a disturbing amount of Heartlanders do (Not all or even most! I love you, Heartland dudes! Please don't linch me for marrying outside my ethnicity) ever going to be a philosopher?

I would bet double my student loan debt that Dubbya never publishes a philosophical article of any kind;)

Pragmatik said...

I hate Kant, but he's right:

more reason=less happy*

I don't really think that there's a "raw beauty" to being a rational being. Reason is often is a source of pain and does not show itself to be inherently good at all. True, it can do great things, but that needs a good will, and Kant is poopy and I'm too tired and am going to bed now and will stop commenting on my own blog like I know what I'm talking about or some crap like that.

(*See Groundwork For the Metaphysics of Morals.)