• Amuses

    Philosophical arguments

    One of my courses is compulsory. It is on philosophical skills and methods. It carries 20 European credits (=28 hour study load per EC) and runs over two semesters. Just to put things in perspective: the entire Research Master is 120 EC, so it is a substantial part. Because of that, I thought it would be something like the compulsory statistics in Experimental Psychology: long and heavy. But it is nothing of the sort. It teaches research master student necessarily life skills. It has taken me a while to find this out, but that really is what it does.

    Apparently it is a huge problem to get funding to do a PhD, and fewer and fewer students get financed. So the university is stepping in to help their brightest to jump through the hoops of the funding process. The funding process is heavily regulated. Decisions about funding are no longer taken at university but at national or international level. As I have my one leg firmly rooted in the non-academic world, I cannot help but think how similar this looks to a commercial process. Particularly because to succeed, you need to learn to write a proposal, present it, navigate your way around rifts in Philosophia which might you prevent from being chosen, even do a two-minute pitch, oh horror of commercial inventions. Then there are the skills which every modern PhD researcher must master: the writing of reviews, popularising article (no, that is not a typing error) and articles according to exacting standards. Because articles get published in journals, and this works as a CV to which you add all your researching life.

    I was oblivious to the above when I started the ReMa. It only sank in yesterday when in a private conversation I learned from the professor teaching the course how 21st century academic funding works. He expressed a great deal of worry about what he called “these kids”, the students of this course, his best and brightest. I suppose he is about my age. He told class about how he became a professor because he was asked to fill the position, as he ‘happened to be around, as he put it. Things would not work that way today.

    This, then, is the reason I get to learn about current rifts in Philosophia. The conflict between the “analytics” and the “continentals”  was on in the second week: we had to read up on it and subsequently discuss it in class. Supposedly this is the rift that every philosopher had been talking about for the past 100 years. Well, not at Oxford, I can tell you. I had never heard of continental philosophy and was utterly amazed to hear about it. Now I have learned that there is a reason for that: When I was at Oxford, this was the home base of the analytic philosophers, and they ignored everybody else. Stiff British upper lip. Amazing.I had to write an assignment about this as a preparation for the class discussion. I will include it for your amusement. By now I have recovered from my amazement, and I am thinking this argument between philosophers is not much more than a pissing contest. But perhaps I will learn to rephrase that.

    To my mind there is a connection there with Brexit which really got under the skin of the professor: that this analytic-continent divide is part of what is at the root of Brexit. During a break he even went to look up the plausibility of what I claim on the internet, he wanted to disagree with this so much. He was still referring to it in the weeks after.

    Is there an unbridgeable gap between continental and analytic philosophy?

    The controversy between continental and analytic philosophy started at the turn of the 20th century. G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell came up with a novel approach to Philosophy which emphasised the notion of “meaning” of terms and propositions in natural language. This linguistic conception of philosophy revolutionised not only British philosophy. It also threw a very large stone in the pond of traditional Western philosophy, the teachings of Kant and Hegel particularly.

    Analytic philosophy developed in fits and starts. After the early days of proportional realism, Moore embraced common sense philosophy, whilst Russel and Wittgenstein came up with logical atomism.  Next came Ayer, another British philosopher who in collaboration with the Vienna Circle, developed  logical positivism. After the war, philosophers from Cambridge (Wittgenstein and Wisdom) and Oxford (Ryle, Austin, Strawson and Grice) invent ordinary-language analysis. In the 1960s, another shift: linguistic philosophy turns into the philosophy of language, then metaphysics and then yet another set of philosophical sub-disciplines. During its development, analytical philosophy found itself many new opponents: Husserl’s classical phenomenology and after, existentialism (Sartre, Camus), and postmodern philosophers (Heidegger, Foucault en Derrida).

    Analytical philosophers may have changed their beliefs and direction several times, they do possess a unifying characteristic in having a very precise and thorough style. They are also willing to explore narrow topics, rather than the great scheme of things as continental philosophers are prone to. They undertook much philosophical work, particularly in the fields of language and mind, which may have been neglected otherwise. Hans-Johann Glock says: “analytic philosophy is a respectable science or skill; it uses specific techniques to tackle discrete problems with definite results.”

    Clearly, a debt of gratitude is owed to analytical philosophy, but not without misgivings. There is something infuriating, about a group of philosophers claiming the exclusive right to “proper thinking” and denouncing the work of any opponent as sloppy and irrational.  The famous British stiff upper lip furthermore shows itself by ignoring the other side. From my personal experience as a philosophy student at Oxford in the 1980s, I can report that neither continental philosophy nor its philosophers were ever mentioned. What influence might this general disdain for ‘all things continental’ have exerted on those now sitting on the benches of the British House of Commons and debating Brexit?  Mostly educated at Oxford and Cambridge, they will have read classics, history or politics; courses which to this day contain an obligatory philosophy component.

    How then, to mend the rift? Not by using the time-honoured instrument of philosophical debate. The famous clash between Derrida (continental) and Searle (analytic) may serve as an example. This ended with both parties denouncing each other without either party making an effort to establish common ground.

    Indeed, what rift is there? As Bernard Williams points out, the distinction between continental (geographical) and analytical (methodological) is strange:  it is like dividing cars into “four-wheel-drive” and “made-in-Japan”. Let us have a Japanese four-wheel-drive. After a century of bandying hurts and insults, it is time to harvest achievements. To treat the gap that has engulfed both sides, not as philosophical in nature, but as psychological and historical in origin. If philosophers cannot set such an example, who can?

  • Amuses

    And so it begins

    It was a long wait, from the end of November until February when I finally could start on my research master (“ReMa”, as it is affectionally called at “uni”). I might tell you I used all that time really well, preparing for my courses and lectures, catching up on everything that had been happening in Philosophy during the past 30+ years.  But that would be nowhere near the truth.

    For a start, even though I had been formally admitted, there were lots of administrative details to be completed which made me feel as if I had entered a different universe. For instance,  a form which had to be signed by all sort of high-up people agreeing that I could start in the middle of the academic year, and which was already overdue.  Which is a bit strange considering the official starting dates of my particular course are September and February.  I got through all the red tape, eventually. Bit of my own fault really, by started the admission process backwards, I must have confused people. 

    Secondly, I was suddenly afflicted with  a personal loss which I won’t elaborate on in these pages, but very nearly toppled me. I self-medicated on Belgium beer and the things that politician don’t inhale and I put in chocolates (rather than medication), and after some weeks, slowly picked myself up again. Thank you, my  husband, for watching over me.

    Third, my beloved employer on whose behalf I daily save the country, decided to reorganise all 30.000 of us yet at again.  This time they managed to eradicate the security organisation almost completely, so finding a new boss proved difficult for a while. Not that my workload has gone down, I still do the work of 2 or 3 people, and that is not including the work for my new boss. Must not complain though, because my employer pays half of my fees and I even get study leave (a day every two weeks), so that is grand. Just as a precaution, I decided on a social media strategy at work (we run an internal platform) so as to become more efficient at sharing information (and save myself many meetings in which I would constantly have to repeat myself). Let’s hope I can keep it up and not get side-tracked.

    In January I was finally administratively enrolled, and able to get access to the university digital environment. Which took me a while to get to know. I did not know where to start, so I did what I always do: I dived into the library. Ah, all those books, journals, publishers suddenly at my fingertips. Not that I had nothing before: I get full JSTOR access as an Oxford alumni, and I am a member of the Dutch Royal Library which has an extensive ebook section. Not to mention my international friends who graciously share their library access with me. But real university access is so much better. So I wallowed around in this newly found luxury for some days, reading all kinds of stuff just for the fun.

    After that came the settings up of email- and other accounts and my student pass. Aha, the student pass, with the student number. It entitles me to discount, and as I am Dutch, I cannot resist a bargain. So I have been buying useful software at knock-down prices. Husband graciously donated the use of his laptop (cannot take the company laptop into campus), and updated his own equipment at a discount. I renewed my local library card (50% discount), splurged on a great grammar checker (no discount) and experimented with speech-to-text software (which I decided not to buy because my typing speed is so high that there is not much profit, time-wise, to be gained).

    Then came module enrolment, a real pain in the neck. For a start, the schedules are not released until very late, and general descriptions are not, how shall I put this, information-dense. My professor had told me to look also at modules at other universities, which I did. The whole thing took several days of break-neck speed googling and consolidating; then validating the result with the professor.  The net result was that I should take 3 modules in the next 6 months which is the equivalent of a full-time study. Yes, I know, it is crazy. But husband and I had just watched Lord of the Rings yet again.

    Having arranged everything well in advance, I now sat back and waited. Nothing was happening on the courses I signed up for. I even sent a worry-mail to my professor, asking if I had somehow missed the posting of the reading list, as I wanted to buy the books, order them from the library? Aha, welcome to 2019! Reading materials are simply posted with the digital space every module has on the university system. I felt stupid. I nearly missed the reading materials when they were finally posted, because I had not set some parameter somewhere that meant I did not get informed, etc etc. Anyway, it took some late hours, but I read everything, for all 3 modules in time. Wow. My poor brain suddenly got stretched out again. Did it hurt, I hear you think? I am not sure. It is a mighty strange feeling. But addictive. I suddenly realised that most of my work comprises educating and guiding people, not getting new ideas myself. Well, of course I knew that, otherwise I would not have started on this whole escapade, but you get my drift.

    So I went to university, the first week of February.  I can get there by public transport, but husband insists on taking me by car, which is lovely and much quicker. 

    How did it go? I will tell you, in another post. I also need to tell you about what it is that I set out to do, in taking up this research master. Also another post. For now, I can just say this: No one laughed. No one even looked at me twice. The whole place was friendly, well organised, warm, bright, shiny and clean. I immediately felt at home. 





  • Amuses

    Back to the beginning

    Today, I received confirmation that I am to be enrolled on my coveted graduate course on Language and Logic. Great stuff. Now I am back in the world where the professor is God. I already went through an initiation procedure. Granted, the professor in question was very nice. He was just a bit worried about me wanting to do something practical – “this is not what we normally do ” 🙂

    The situation below depicts life until I have completed my own research. Which will take until my retirement – only 10 years away ….

  • Amuses

    A beginning

    The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long pass, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

    From: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan