2012 Fall Proseminar Professor Blog

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August 29, 2012

What an interesting group we have for this class! I thought we had a good introductory discussion about philosophy using that prompt. Thanks for tracking all of the things we put on your "to do" list. A couple of notes for next week:

With the Deleuze reading you may feel pretty lost. This is a continental French postmodern philosopher, so the writing is less analytic than, say, Hadot. Just let it wash over you and try to pick out a few things he's saying that seem important. Really, that kind of works with this sort of text early on. With the Hadot reading, take some time to look up terms like "stoicism" and some of the figures. Try jotting down a couple of dates if you don't have this Hellenistic period down yet. Of course, we're after his main thesis, so don't get lost in the historical detail. Just pick up enough to follow the argument.

I didn't emphasize this last night, but you should be using lots of online resources (see the wiki page) to "tenderize" your readings. Spending a few minutes googling or reading an article about your topic often makes the text much easier to digest. (I have "purist colleagues" who would give you the opposite advice -- that you should have a "pure" relationship to the text and not read secondary sources.) You decide, but I really think using secondary material like wikipedia and internet encyclopedias of philosophy is a really good strategy. Don't substitute it for the text, of course.

Also, I usually mention that you have about a six hour workload outside of class for this course. That's normal as far as I know. So please keep track of your prep time. I assign alot of reading, and I want to know how long it's taking you to do and how much your getting from it. It's this whole accountability and teaching thing I'm into. Crazy. But I don't want the course work to take much longer than that either. Maybe you should schedule that reading time in your calendar now. It's going to be wonderful.

I'll bring desert next week, but I would like most of you to post to the wiki with questions, favorite quotes from the reading, objections, links to resources you found helpful in understanding the readings, etc. Post to the in-class notes for next week. That's what good seminarians would do.

Ok, I need to get ready for another class. Please come by the office (Rebmann 203) in the next few weeks to talk about something philosophical or just to get more of an introduction going. I'd enjoy finding out more about all of your interests, and it helps me connect topics and suggest readings for you. Just email me with a time if you aren't too busy.

Looking forward to next week already.

Alfino

September 5, 2012

Thanks for a really good class. I have the sense that we're appreciating the luxury of the class size. After the practice clicker quiz, you might still be somewhat unsure about next week, when they start counting. But remember that the goal here is just to get the reading level up. If you're following the "focus" paragraph on the schedule and understanding the readings, you should do fine on the quiz. If you think a question is to picky, let me know. As far a getting the reading done, I suggest you actually schedule that in your calendar and plan on having a nice treat, like an ice cream sandwich, after completing each reading session. I find that if I don't schedule reading time, everything else in life conspires against it.

Marco, please contact Margaret Fischer Fischer, Margaret <mfischer3@zagmail.gonzaga.edu> for a clicker.

Sarah, sorry to miss you last night. There's an mp3 from the evening. Please see me if you don't feel caught up.

September 12, 2012

3rd class: Science and Scientific Revolution

Thanks again. We've got a nice group here. I think we're doing a good job of seeing our common purpose as philosophers through the diversity that we have as a group. That could really work in our favor as more of our differences of viewpoint emerge (As I hope they do). The workload is challenging, I agree, and it doesn't feel great to miss clicker questions, but I encourage you to take a diagnostic attitude toward the course and your work in it. Figure out when this reading is going to happen and when it does, try to figure out what you need to take away from it. The most common report so far when I ask students to do this is that they don't get to six hours. Beyond logging the time, you've got to make sure you make some notes about what was important about it or that when you're sitting around, you can recall the arguments and claims. At least the main ones.

Where you all are really excelling as a group is in taking our reading knowledge and working with a philosophical problem about it. In other words, in doing philosophy. I think our discussion of the limits of science illustrated that. You all have good philosophical instincts. We'll be doing more of that next week, since with ethics and politics the critical discussion seems to start right away.

Thanks for trying a wiki post on Singer. I gave you the prompts. Lots of people don't like him.

Thanks to Blue for dinner.

Alfino

September 19, 2012

4th Class: Singer and Internationalism

Thanks for a good class, gang. I hope our "coached discussion" was worthwhile for you. I had some second thoughts about the question I asked you to bear in mind, "Are we getting anywhere?" It does have some negative connotations, since it's the sort of thing you think when you're in a discussion that isn't getting anywhere. Maybe a better question would be, "Given my philosophical superpowers, what can I contribute to this discussion (what "moves" can I make) that will help the group find understanding and insight?" I think this moves us toward Socrates' image of philosophical discussion as like midwifery, like delivering a baby. I don't think our topic next week lends itself to doing this exercise again right away, but I hope you'll take some time to think about your "reflective persona" in discussions.

The reading load shouldn't be too bad for next week, but you will certainly want to read secondary sources on Hume's epistemology before reading the excerpts. They'll read much faster that way. We'll reconstruct his epistemology, so bring some notes on that from your reading. I'll try to come in with material on Hume's importance in philosophy today. I'll look forward to your reactions to the Scottish Enlightenment material. Thanks to Daniel and Kate for posting to the wiki. Please put some resources or responses up. Quotes pasted from helpful secondary sources will be useful as we get to Hume.

I'm really liking our group alot. Thanks for putting your ideas out and risking some candid interaction.

I'll bring dessert next week. If anyone wants to add to that, get the message out so people can decide to eat ahead or not.

Alfino

September 26, 2012

October 3, 2012

6th Class: Thought Experiments

Very nice class. Thanks so much. I thought we got our work done while preserving a pretty relaxed atmosphere. I'm really grateful for the candor you're all showing about not only your views, but also the things you find difficult in encountering others' views. A couple of times tonight we wound up talking about the difficulty of bridging different kinds of viewpoint or assumptions. That's a subtle thing to be reflective about. You could say this gets at how identity (if you connect identify to deep commitments we have whether about sexual orientation or religion or politics) comes into play in philosophical life and work. As philosophers we want to be able to "put on" any argument, but our views are anchored to a great extent in the conditions that also define us. What a unique oportunity for collaboration we have as a small group of philosophers who have already identified deep commitments to each other that cover the political, social, and metaphysical spectrum.

Hope you didn't mind the break from the reading quiz. I will limit the clicker quizes to specific texts in future classes and make the focus prompt clearer. I miss last week's blog and focus paragraph, and I apologize for that. I had to catch a plane to a conference. But I wound up speaking to an audience of alums that included current philosophy students at my alma mater, George Washington University, in DC, so the remarks might be relevant to our seminar. I'll post the text of the talk to the wiki. Let me know what you think.

In some ways, we have the ideal class. But at our size our success really depends upon everyone bringing something to the table. So please dovote yourselves to next week's readings and topic. About the only thing I can think about to complain about is that more of you should stop by to talk about your work and your grading schemes. So please do that if you haven't. Quite a few of the ideas you all came up with tonight could be the basis of a literature search or paper, which is pretty exciting when you think about it.

Thanks to Matteo for the salad and guacamole and chips. That worked great for me, as has everything to date. Elizabeth has volunteered to bring something next week. Thanks.

October 10, 2012

7th Class: The "story" of Modern Philosophy and Kant as Turning Point

I hope the "compressed story" of the quest for certainty in Modern European Philosophy of the scientific revolution was still ample enough to get across the intensity of preoccupation with foundations of knowledge, especially what looks in retrospect like an extraordinary standard of certainty, absolute certainty. It would not be too much to say that in Modern Philosophy we are watching the "train wreck" of medieval metaphysics encountering modern scientific results, which tend to involve more use of inductive structures than the pre-modern model of science. You can see this, for example, in the way thinkers like Locke are still holding onto some kind of substance, when the next "version" of empiricism in Hume suggested a way of thinking which had pretty much eradicated concepts like that.

The key though, is to keep in mind the way Kant transformed the problem. By locating the source of certainty of knowledge in mind, he continues an aspect of rationalism, but he limits the legitimate application of these structures of mind (such as the categories that we looked at) to the sensible manifold. So he's really changed the game. We're no longer talking about how "ideas" or sensations "connect" with reality, we're locating the certainty of our knoweldge in the necessary structures of the mind. As we saw last night, though, Kant is a spoiler in the history of metaphysics. Questions about God, Freedom, and Immortality involve, for him, the missapplication of mind to things outside its domain of valid application, the sensible manifold (roughly, experience of my identity in time and space). So we can speculate about that, but we can't have certain knowledge about that sort of thing. We'll drop in on the aftermath of Kant later in the term, but if you're already suspicious about the neatness of things like the twelve categories of understanding, give that evolution is usually sloppier than that, join the club. More about that later. Kant is a huge turning point. I hope it helps to see it highlighted.

Ok. Let's talk about personal identity another time. I think we've got a plan for prepping for the Methods Test and I've thinned your reading to just two chapters of Siderits. No clicker quiz next week.

Alfino

October 17, 2012

8th Class: Methods Test, Buddhism, and Personal Identity

Very nice class. Sorry to lose two after the test, but the rest of us did pursue a pretty good discussion of Buddhism as a philosophical position and the theory of Buddhist "nonself," aided in this case by the comfort of sofas for our non-selves. I thought we did a reasonable job of bringing out some comparisons between Buddhist positions on the self and other philosophers, like Hume. I'm not sure how many of us decided that the self was only conventionally real, but you're all welcome to do more work on personal identity (the philosophical problem, not necessarily your own).

Looking ahead, I've once again trimmed the readings and focused you on a few sections for class preparation. Check out the course schedule for details.

Busy mid-term week, so I keep this short. Good luck with all your work and stay (or get) healthy!

Alfino

October 24, 2012

October 31, 2012

10th Class: Postmodernism

Thanks for another really good class, gang. Good energy, especially in the second half when we all tend to get tired. I hope you all got a sense of how postmodern philosophers generally look at things. Our discussion indicated that you were all seeing how far reaching and problematic some of their claims can be. I tend to think of them as the cultural critics and "conceptual artists" in philosophy. Recall that Deleuze told us at the start of the semester that philosopher make up concepts.

So, I'll mention it again: The reading load is tappering in the course because I'm hoping that you are making time for your own work in the course, particularly the research and formal writing. I would say this in a class of 20, but with just the 7 of you, we really have an opportunity to take a process approach to this. So get an appointment if you haven't talked about your work with me yet and then use that appointment time to get some things together. As early as Friday?

I'll email you when fresh pdfs of Dennett are available. Have a great week.

Alfino

November 7, 2012

Thanks for a good class. I thought we developed a good appreciation of what Dennett thinks is a radical point of departure for philosophy in light of Darwin. As we saw, a big part of his argument is based on the idea that natural selection is an instance of a more general kind of algorithmic process which might explain variation in biological and non-biological nature. One thing I'd like to emphasize is that you don't have to see these alternatives (between naturalism and contintental thought, for example) as things to make an absolute choice between. This isn't a team sport after all. But it does makes sense to think of evolution or the problem of subjectivity as in the "problem landscape" of philosophy today. For me that means that these are results or perspectives that we ought to take into account no matter what metaphysics or idea of philosophy we ultimately move toward.

As you know, we're emphasizing your work more in the coming weeks, so please get that organized and consult with me about it, especially if it's not happening. I really want to see work that represents your best philosophical thinking to date!

I've adjusted the readings for next week, as we discussed. Please start them early!

Thanks to Kate for offering to bring food next week.

Have a wonderful week!

Alfino

November 14, 2012

November 21, 2012

November 28, 2012

What great evening. Thanks so much. It's always interesting to see where your interests take you in philosophy or in connecting philosophy with other concerns when you can choose the investigation (in the research assignment) or make a philosophical argument on a topic of your choice (in the formal paper). Many of you have yet to bring things together, but it sounds like you have time devoted to the task. The sketches of topics and interests are very promising. I was looking at notes from class and I was struck by how much sense your topics make in light of what I've come to learn from each of you about your interests and motivations over the semester. Of course, looking at them apart from your identities, it's a a pretty random assortment! Please spend the time and use your massive inventory of philosophical methods and skills to write the best papers and do the best research of your lives! You have plenty of time and I'm available by email and office visit if you want to run something by another philosopher.

I'm really looking forward to our dinner party next week. Can I ask you to reflect on your idea of philosophy (what it can do, what it can't do, how it relates to other disciplines, for example) at this point in your philosophical careers? Is it different than when you started or is it still taking shape? Also, and optionally, what's your view of free will?

Thanks for the dinner volunteers. We'll mix our reports on the nature of philosophy and free will with a generally convivial time to mark the occasion.

Alfino

December 5, 2012