Grad School Links

Well, this is for me, not for all of you. So, you can stop reading if you like. I’m decided to keep a running compilation of helpful (or so I think) grad school links, for myself and others. Not that this is supposed to be any substitute for lots of in-person advice-asking.

One Form of the “Don’t Go” Speech

APA Grad Guide

Program Diversity

Application Timeline

Application Advice

Watch out for these

Advice about Visiting Schools

A User’s Guide to Philosophy [Programs] Without Rankings

(resources for evaluating programs and applying to grad school that don’t draw on rankings, which are often controversial)

Terminal MA Placement Records

PhD Placement Records

“Life Advice” for Grad Students

More “Life Advice” for Grad Students

I mean, of course…

…I’m a fan of the humanities. And of course you can claim that I have a self-serving bias going on when I say as much. But allow me to provide a statement on behalf of the humanities nonetheless:

It’s not just cutting humanities that I see as cause for alarm, but privileging a certain type of science education over the work of the humanities. “Scientific literacy” pops up in op-eds off and on, and you see liberal arts colleges starting initiatives to strengthen students’ training in science. But scientific literacy usually gets defined in these discussions as training in the methods and “facts” of the sciences. There’s nothing wrong with that type of study, but it’s incomplete if our goal is scientific literacy. True scientific literacy has to come from learning to look at the sciences from a humanistic and social-scientific perspective as well, and to be able to contextualize and critically evaluate the scientific data reported in the media. It’s amazing how quickly that data can become part of our identities. I notice this all the time with, for instance, evolutionary psychology, which certainly has a strong popular presence. Students will come into my class and refer to whichever is the latest evolutionary psychology study that proves that gender differences are fundamental, or that we humans all have certain evolved behaviors that we can’t fight with laws and social apparatus. They don’t necessarily know that they can and should critically evaluate such studies before deciding whether or not to use them to determine what they believe about themselves and how to conduct themselves.

from 3:AM Magazine’s interview with Cecelia Watson

Women & Philosophy

For awhile now, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why I find it so meaningful to have women for philosophy professors this semester.

On one level, the meaningfulness of this is sort of moot: of course I think that women should be included in philosophy, and my professors are women in the discipline, etc. But I don’t think this is quite it. If this were the whole story, I would be more-or-less satisfied to simply know of women in the discipline, right?

This morning, I listened to one of these professors talk about Carol Gilligan, masculine/feminine characteristics, and the way each of us has blended characteristics, to greater or lesser degree.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a different professor talk about social norms for women’s body hair. “Visual alternatives” was a recurring phrase; she and our reading suggested that we have a lack of visual alternatives when it comes to women and shaving. [Your option: shave. Hair is only allowed on your head. And there you need a lot of it, preferably.]

So: I’m smushing these two discussions together to explain why I find it so meaningful to have these women as teachers.

First: I identify with feminine characteristics, on the whole. I was a little bit surprised, earlier this semester, to read Simone De Beauvoir writing, “if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman.'” But after some thought, I realized that although I don’t think I would say this first, “woman” is nonetheless towards the top of my list of defining characteristics. (I also identify with a whole heap of masculine traits (like, hmm, maybe rational) – but I’m speaking in general terms here.)

Then, point two: these women – because they too structure their identity, at least in part, in being a woman – are sort of like “visual” alternatives. They represent and embody and act out the possibility of being philosophical and feminine both. They are role models in a rather literal sense of the term: they model for me the conjunction of the “role” philosopher and the “role” woman.

And I hadn’t realized, until now, just how much I needed these sorts of role models.

Saint Catherine’s Disputation with the Philosophers

Entering Grades

After I sort the blue books

collate the scantrons

do the multiplication, the addition, the recording

when I finally reach the entering I feel as though

the work at hand is incantational.

This cruel alchemy

turns agency and anxiety

into a bell curve of tally-marks

scrawled letters,

and screen-dotting numbers.

If there is a turning-to-gold

it is found in the repetition of their names

HannahKristenEvanHopePeterLukeEricaJuliaSarahMatthewColleenEmilyTylerMichaelTrianaEstherBethanyAnnieJacobZacharyKelsey

And I wish each well

as I archive, sometimes with cringing disappointment,

their grades.

The Opening up of New Worlds. No, really.

That is the most cliche title you will ever hopefully read on this blog. But the expression about “new worlds opening up” really is what I want to mention, today.

One of the most striking aspects of my three years thus-far in school is that I’m forever having these ephiphianic moments, in which I notice for the first time a whole terrain or landscape of thought/life/whatever that I’d never seen before. Never thought of before.

Mostly this has happened in two general contexts.

One, Christianity. It is my delight to continually realize how “big” Christianity is. How many ways there are to be a Christian. How many variations of the Christian tradition there are. Sure, sometimes this diversity is divisive, etc. But here I merely want to say: I’ve been glad to realize that Christianity is in fact bigger than the christianity of my childhood.

Two, life in general. (That’s a nice specific category for you!) I guess I’m mostly referring to the grown-up world. I keep being surprised to realize how much there is to feel. Surprised by how fierce love is. Surprised by the incredible amount of “stuff going on.” Surprised to realize the fine shading present in scenes of profession and event, where previously I’d been seeing only a high-contrast black and white print.

This morning, for instance, I’m thinking about teaching. I’ve been playing teacher for the last few days.

And I’m suddenly and newly aware of all sorts of things about teaching that had never occurred to me before.

The vulnerability of teachers to students. They could just walk out, you know.

Or, the crisis of meaning that comes with lecturing to people who could care less, people who are texting as you deliver your carefully prepared thoughts.

The difficulty of saying something to them that will be meaningful, something that they’ll see as interesting and pertinent to their lives. And then the problem of reconciling this with the blah-material about your discipline that you’re supposed to drum into their heads.

The tension between grace and tough-grace. So she’s sleeping. And he he’s failed the last three quizzes. Do you forgo correction and emphasize concern for their welfare? – something must be wrong! Or do you take patterns of disappointing behavior for just that: patterns that might benefit from a corrective (and I think correction can be grace-full) word or two?

Eh. I have homework to do.

Let’s just end with: It was hard.

And I’m newly opened to what’s going on when my professors stand in front of me and teach.

Newly sympathetic.

Medieval Order and the Palpable Obscure

Hello all. I might as well begin addressing you, my dear readers, since the category now has referents.

Today we have a reflection on this morning’s Western Civ section. We’ve been talking in Western Civ about the dissolution of Medieval culture in Western Europe, and what I’ve been most struck by is the trajectory of order to chaos – we go from Jesus with a protractor, laying out the world, to Jesus torn and bloody as a third of the population dies. (Forgive my historical simplifications, please.)

This is particularly striking to me, since, well, I love the Medieval mind. Even more than this, I love the idea of an ordered world – a lucid world, the philosopher’s dream. And as order slips away from the Medievals, I’m mourning along with them. I’m sympathizing because my own world – happy and healthy and materially-ordered though it may be – has developed a rash, as it were. Everywhere I turn I’m finding more spots to the world; I can’t keep track of them; they create nuances and loopholes and they mar what I’d hoped would be a neatly beautiful image.

This confusion became doubly poignant for me when we briefly spoke about William of Occam and nominalism. If you can’t see the big picture, if the ordered world isn’t within your grasp – you just point to objects, like a child. What presents itself in front of your face is what you get; there’s no extending beyond and piecing together. (Okay, okay, I may be slightly exaggerating.) And despite all my dreams about being able to get at the essence of a thing, idea, or situation and really “name it well”, the world of “the way things really are” is not my world. I’m within existence, per Kierkegaard, and I don’t see the relationships and I don’t see the essential characteristics and I definitely don’t see the forms. But I’ve got to bumble my way through the messy world nonetheless, keep away from the sticky walls when possible as I burrow on through the tunnel. And for whatever reason (custom? God-given desire or task? love particular to me? sheer oddity?) I keep on giving names, making labels, even though they’re not sufficient. Even though I change them. Even though they fall off after a few minutes.

So then I wrote a poem about it in my Western Civ. notebook.

Back to addressing the audience: I’m not sure how you all feel about the inclusion of poetry here, but for some reason the impersonality of this blog and the fact that you can just stop reading at any time if you’re bored means that I don’t really mind putting in the occasional poem here or there. Maybe that’s annoying. I doubt that they’re really terrible; I also doubt that they’re of much interest to anyone who isn’t thinking about what I was thinking about when I wrote them. But they’ll probably keep appearing nonetheless.

My poem is a simple haiku (yes, that’s redundant). I’m on a haiku/cinquain kick lately; I think the restrictions force me to produce somewhat better work. (It’s Miltonic in origin, please note. I’m reading Paradise Lost and the poem draws its central image from the section in which Satan leaves Hell and passes through chaos on his way to Paradise. Milton actually uses the phrase “palpable obscure” at one point, which I loved – that’s exactly what’s so maddening about obscure things, I think – they’re palpable!, you can just get in touch (ha) enough with them to have a vague sense of what they are – but they’re “merely” palpable, reason in its visual domain can’t get at them. Thus: obscure. We’re blind, living feelingly instead. (Imagine if Plato’s prisoner had felt the sun! What then?! Imagine the implications for the trajectory of Western philosophical history!))

So have a poem. Then have a Rembrandt sketch.

Will I be able

in the palpable obscure

to christen chaos?

Philosophers as Lovers

This is going to be a spit-out wondering. What am I wondering about? Philosophy and love. Not the love of wisdom – that’s the obvious thing to wonder about – though I suppose what I’m proposing is like an extension of philosophers as lovers of wisdom. (And, lest you’re one of my teenage siblings, neither am I talking about the romantic side of a philosophically inclined person. Sorry, young tykes, this is not a post announcing marriage as you so keenly wish your sister were about to do.)

Now, I realize that I haven’t yet told you what I mean by this title “Philosophers as Lovers.”

Let me try this: I just finished reading The Elusive God (by Paul Moser). One of Moser’s later chapter is titled “Philosophy Revamped.” In it he sketches what I take to be his vision of Christian philosophy. In a nutshell, he claims that Christian philosophy is to be subordinated to the central command and force of Christianity, love. So the project of philosophy is subordinate to (the church’s?) project of love.

Appropriately so, I think! But I started squirming at a few points in Moser’s chapter. Looking back, I think that some of those squirms derive from the fact that Moser was largely speaking past me. All things considered, I am a naive little undergraduate philosopher, comfortable with having an identity outside the academy, well aware of philosophy’s shortcomings, in tune with the fact that I have obligations to love that (ought to!) trump my philosophical projects. And Moser wasn’t writing to such people. So keep that in mind, if you’re reading this as a review of Moser’s book.

But back to the squirming. What was bothering me? I think it was the fact that I see the discipline of philosophy as itself a form of love.

I don’t think that philosophy is sufficient for redemption. You’re not going to undergo the volitional changes (learning how to love God, obey God) necessary for redemption simply by virtue of being a philosopher. Philosophy will probably hinder you from this, frankly, because it’s all about what you know.

And I think that the redemptive love God calls us to is far and beyond the love that is the discipline of philosophy. I’ll go on to talk about philosophy as a kind of loving, but I’m well aware that my need to relate lovingly to others is different and above this philosophical love.

Maybe this philosophical love is uniquely vocational. I suspect that it is: certain people are called to this form of loving. But now that I have my caveats in place:

it’s still loving.

When I do philosophy it’s not (necessarily!) a self-interested business. It’s not just about me and what I want to know, think I know, etc. Philosophy done best is outward oriented and interested in the nature of the other (Spinoza and company aside…). I consider myself to fall within the tradition of analytic philosophy, and when I’m most fulling doing analytic philosophy I feel like I’m burrowing around in the world – exploring only a tiny, tiny corner, perhaps, but carefully feeling and examining and rolling in that bit of the world nonetheless.

And doing this well requires that I love what I’m probing, that I have an interest in and a curiosity about and a care for the place I find myself within, abstractly speaking.

I haven’t worked out exactly what this looks like, this philosopher-as-lover vision that conceives of philosophy as loving the world via close examination of the world.

But I have a few ideas, that I’d like to spit out here. All are discovered in things I’ve been reading lately.

-One source of inspiration has been Norman Wirzba‘s Food and FaithI don’t have my copy with me right now, so I can’t give you quotes, but I found Wirzba’s chapter on place to include some sort of extension on my ruminations here. Wirzba admonishes us to know the places in which we inhabit, in order that we might understand these places and thereby care for them not only better, but more lovingly. And I want to say that if philosophy doesn’t lead us to care better/more fully for the world, even in a tremendously abstract way, then something is going wrong.

-Also Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which is, *gasp!*, driving me bonkers right now – but this isn’t a book review). Relevant quote: “Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why” (emphasis not mine).

-And finally, but certainly not least, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. In speaking of Mark Van Doren as a man influencing Merton so as to prepare Merton for the good seed of scholastic philosophy, we read, “The truth is that Mark’s temper was profoundly scholastic in the sense that his clear mind looked directly for the quiddities of things, and sought being and substance under the covering of accident and appearances.”

You might wish to object that there’s nothing necessarily involving love, there – one can look into the quiddities of things without love. But isn’t the first impulse to do just this a sort of love-impulse, or at least love-born impulse? When I probe into being and substance, I do so out of care.

A distant cousin of redemptive love this may be. But it seems to me to still be love. Something to dwell on, at least.

And since you can’t mention quiddity without Hopkins and his love for Duns Scotus coming to mind, a Hopkins poem, to close:

—–

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Cabbage by Flint-Hill

With Confidence

I play in a clarinet choir. We rehearse once a week – just enough to keep me happily engaged in music but not overwhelmed with practicing. Our first concert is tomorrow – we’re playing as one of a number of chamber ensembles. One one piece I’m the sole first clarinet, and on the other, I play Eb. Needless to say, I have some pretty important lines. I carry the melody. It’s important for me to play loudly and self-confidently.

I’m not so great at that last part.

I’ve always prided myself on being good at blending into an ensemble – it’s important to me that I am in tune, and that I sound “one” with those who share my part.

I also got comfortable, hidden away, not having to work hard at breath support and playing out, and not worrying about messing up.

No longer.

It’s become a weekly thing, for my director to demand that I play louder – that I scribble out the “piano” and write “forte” instead. One week when I was being especially timid, in a moment of scolding me he said, “That’s why I put you on this part – so you couldn’t hide!”

I inwardly cringed. Oops. Yeah, he put his finger on something there! I may not have gotten much glory in hiding, but I certainly didn’t get shame, because someone else was covering for my mistakes.

Since then, bit by bit, I’ve been playing out more freely. I’ve been making mistakes. Loud mistakes. But there’s also been some loud beauty. Some confidence. Some melodies floating up and out.

And the ironic thing, with Eb at least, is that the louder I play, the better it sounds. When I try to play quietly and keep from being noticed, my pitch goes way out of wack. But when I play out… things fall together. Having confidence in an of itself makes my playing sound better.

This is a lesson I’ve been trying to apply in all of my classrooms. As a student, it’s easy to hide. For me, hiding can be a form of pride – when I don’t have something ‘oh-so-perfect’ to say, I just don’t say anything at all, lest I appear like a fool to my classmates.

But in my case, it’s counterproductive. If all of my classmates acted this way, no questions would be asked. No discussion would be had. Learning would be hindered.

So I’ve started to share more. I’ve started to ask more questions. I’ve decided that the risk of humiliation, and the risk of being a bit obnoxious, are risks worth taking. Because the act of simply taking a deep breath, and speaking out – that in and of itself makes a big difference. It’s the difference of engaging with studenthood, instead of letting its greatest joys pass me by.

by MinivanNinja

The Call to Wonder

For human beings originally began philosophy, as they do now, because of wonder, at first because they wondered at the strange things in front of them, and later because, advancing little by little, they found greater things puzzling – what happens to the moon, the sun and the stars, how the universe comes to be… Just as we describe a free person as one who exists for his own sake and not for someone else’s, so we also describe this as the only free science, since it is the only one that exists for its own sake.

From Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Bk. I: II

I declared a philosophy major today. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal – college students have majors, it’s just part of the being-a-college-student thing – but I’m so excited anyways. It’s what I’m going to study. I now have a department. I now have an adviser that I chose, not one that was assigned to me. I’m dedicating to knowing things, and knowing how to know about things, and knowing what I can’t know.

I guess today I set out on the path of wonder, and I’m overjoyed by the prospect of my journey.