2011 Fall Proseminar End of Semester Statements
For our last class, I'd like to invite each of you to make put one or two ideas from the semester in front of the group for discussion. Please respond in a screenfull or two of text to one of the following prompts:
1. Something new in philosophy that I found this semester and thought interesting (and why).
2. Something new about philosophy that I found this semester and thought interesting (and why).
3. A particular philosophical argument that you found especially good or bad or just challenging.
(You can suggest a prompt to add if you'd like. Also, feel free to use the email utility on the Course Website if you prefer not to post this to a wiki page.)
First, I felt that the most interesting subject we discussed this semester was the section we covered on theoretical hypotheses. Giere proposed that science uses models as a way of investigating reality, and models are, in a way, an investigation of data rather than what is really at work. To me, Giere abstracted science more than we typically do in modern day. Scientists can have an attitude that they are investigating what is real while philosophers investigate the abstract. I think it is important for modern day scientists to realize that they are interpreting the world as it is presented to us, just as philosophers are.
Second, I thought this seminar class was most beneficial to me because I learned about diverse aspects of philosophy, and how our skills as philosophers can be applied to many aspects of our lives. For instance, we have learned that philosophy has contributed to the development of culture, and how philosophy can contribute to understanding how our culture might still be developing. We can use philosophical tools in our ethical decision making, in understanding evolution and psychology, and in our general interpretation of the world as it is presented to us. These aspects of philosophy are important to me because I am not planning on pursuing a career in philosophy, but will rather attempt to integrate it into my career and life pursuits.
The subject that really stands out to me is really a combination of the three prompts given. Through our reading and discourse in the seminar I was forced to think on things that I never would have thought on otherwise. Physicalism and determinism, and both their implications for the state of the soul, were two major topics I had avoided contemplating until this class. They are also both topics that I find particularly challenging to address because of their possible implications on my religious and spiritual life. Even now, after multiple discussions on related issues, I am still unsure of where I stand. All logic and discourse leads me to believe that physicalism, and therefore some sort of determinism, is almost certainly true. It is simply hard for me to accept this, though. Something in my thoughts yearns for some other explanation for things. This doubt has, however, had positive outcome. It has forced me to reassess many aspects of my life, and philosophy, and seek out what my motivations are for living the way I do. In essence, having to contemplate tough philosophy has shaken me from my intellectual slumber and rekindled my quest for truth and wisdom.
While there were a lot of really interesting topics that piqued my interest this semester like the first week's study of consciousness and meditation and our talk about phenomenology, the theory that I will remember most and continue to research is the 'Darwinism as an algorithm' theory. I find it fascinating that there is a fairly solid and sturdy argument for there being an underlying mindless algorithm that explains our existence and evolution. I think it plays really well into the 'good reductionism' that we were talking about in that it gives a fundamental explanation of our existence but, in my opinion, doesn't really take away from what I think my life or the life in general means. I also just finished writing a paper for Calhoun's class on Aristotle's foundational causality, so my mind has been naturally travelling in that direction. Anyways, this is something that I will continue to read about and start conversations about.
I think that the article my mind keeps coming back to is the bat consciousness one. Personally speaking, I don't yet know what to think of consciousness, let alone our ability to know it through reason, experimentation, or induction. Research wise, I was able to dedicate a lot of time researching Stoicism, which was always a philosophy which beforehand I had an interest in but never dedicated any real time or resources to exploring. The challenging thing about Stoicism, though, is in trying to decide if you need to adhere to the metaphysics of a philosophical system in order to comfortably adopt its ethical structure. In a lot of ways, Stoicism has enough parallels with Naturalism that it's fairly simple to make it work in a modern-naturalist culture. Yet their Aristotelian origins, specifically in their belief in a telos, is harder to bring across. That said, the most useful things we've covered in this seminar were the subjects on method. I'll admit that beforehand, my general approach to philosophical writing was a lot more like literary criticism then proper, philosophical analysis.
As for which argument I found "just challenging," the phenomenology segment still isn't working out in my mind. While I don't think it would be a focus for me in my career, I think I need to spend some more time reading and thinking on the subject before I get a hold of it.
The last class about postmodern philosophy and postmodern theology was really enlightening. I am always concerned about Christianity’s influence on people along with culture because I know, from first-hand experience, just how much harm can come from it. Before learning about this, I didn’t question the stereotypical image in my head of stern, closed-minded people who studied and/or practiced religion. I’m glad that I was able to discover this sort of dynamic approach to religion and I can only hope that the movement grows and gains popularity.
It was interesting to learn and talk about thought experiments. In the past, I hadn’t contemplated what makes a good thought experiment and what makes a bad one. I just assumed that the classic ones were simply reused. I liked that it was something creative and didn’t have to be a somber thing, though it could in certain contexts. The Thomson essay on abortion was particularly fascinating. I think it’s hilarious that she made up a thought experiment with people seeds of all things. Philosophically, I have a problem with trying to predict what will result from a certain thesis or question. Thought experiments are a good way to exercise and hone in my attention on the implications of an action or a statement. The what-if questions come more naturally to me than the whys and hows and thought experiments help me take advantage of that.