John Jay Chapman on Josiah Royce

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He was spherical, armed cap-a-pie, sleepless, and ready for all comers…He was very extraordinary and knew everything and was a bumble-bee–a benevolent monster of pure intelligence, zigzagging, ranging, and uncatchable.  I always had this feeling about Royce–that he was a celestial insect…Time was nothing to him.  He was just as fresh at the start of a two hours’ disquisition as at the start.  Thinking refreshed him.  The truth was that Royce had a phenomenal memory; his mind was a card-indexed cyclopedia of all philosophy…His extreme accessibility made him a sort of automat restaurant for Cambridge.  He had fixed hours when anyone could resort to him and draw inspiration from him.

Letter to a Philosophical Inquirer

As I suppose most philosophers do, I get fairly common requests from folks who are fascinated by philosophy asking for reading lists and advice. I thought I would share my latest response to such a request.

Dear (Inquirer),

 

   Reading serious philosophers is demanding, but it is ultimately worth it.  But you have to read with a notebook and a pencil, working to write out what you take passages to mean, providing illustrations (literally, pictures), asking yourself questions, making notes of connections with other texts–whether that philosopher’s or other philosophers’.  You cannot read passively.  You have to push back against the text as hard as you can.  It will whip you soundly, but if you are game, and keep coming back, the volleys will last longer and you will begin to understand more and more.

   Suggestions:  Plato’s Socratic dialogues, particularly the Euthyphro, the Euthydemus, the Ion, the Charmides, the Apology.  Read Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.  Read St. Thomas (Aquinas Ethicus is free online and a great place to start.)  Read Descartes’ Meditations.  Read Rousseau’s Social Contract and Emile.  Read Kant’s Prolegomena.  Read Kierkegaard’s The Present Age.  Read F H Bradley’s Ethical Studies.  Read Russell’s Problems of Philosophy.  Read Wittgenstein’s Blue Book.   These are all wonderfully written, central works, that are written for an educated reader, but not necessarily someone with much formal training in philosophy.  If you can find someone to read with, that is a huge help.  Best if it is someone you can talk to face-to-face, but online is better than nothing.

Expect to be baffled.  Expect to be confused.  As I tell my students, philosophy requires a high confusion threshold.  To read philosophy, you have to be willing to be confused, know you are confused, but nonetheless to read on.  Much of what is necessary in philosophy is the right intellectual habituation, and you can only get that by frequent active reading and frequent conversation.

Best,

 

Kelly

 

Getting Them Hooked

I begin Kant’s Prolegomena in my Intro to Phil class today.  Having students read the book is a stretch, but I rather like the way I excerpt it, and I think it provides a fitting capstone for the course (we also read Plato’s Theaetetus and Descartes Meditations)  As you might guess, the Ariadne’s thread through this maze is the notion of knowledge.  Today, we start Kant by talking about rationalism, empiricism and the antinomies, with emphasis on the antinomies.

I can’t read the Prolegomena without thinkng about a quip from my colleague, Roderick Long.  “‘Prolegomena’ is Greek for ‘gateway drug'”.

Hort on Questions and Questioners

Another fine bit from Hort’s The Way, The Truth, The Life.  It captures something I wish I could bear more presently in mind when I teach.

For every questioner who is not the merest sophist, if indeed we dare make that exception, is concentrically manifold, self within self; and the question which alone he is able to present in words is but a rude symbol of the question in his mind, as this again is but a rude symbol of the whole search within.

Education–George MacDonald

There are in whose notion education would seem to consist in the production of a certain repose through the development  of this and that faculty, and the depression, if not eradication, of this and that other faculty.  But if mere repose were the end in view, an unsparing depression of all the faculties would be the surest means of approaching it, provided always the animal instincts  could be depressed likewise, or, better still, kept in a state of constant repletion. Happily, however, for the human race, it possesses in the passion of hunger even, a more immediate saviour than in the wisest selection and treatment of its faculties.  For repose is not the end of education; its end is a noble unrest, an ever renewed awakening from the dead, a ceaseless questioning of the past for the interpretation of the future, an urging of the motions of life, which had better far be accelerated into fever, than retarded into lethargy.

We have here, I think, something like the contrast between the way students see (have been taught to see) their education and what they should see.  What they want is unsparing depression of their faculties and constant repletion of their animal instincts, a kind of upside-down ascesis.  What they should want is noble unrest, hunger, wakefulness–a fever that urges them from their beds rather than keeping them abed.

The Vocational Teacher

From josh’s blog:

7 Sep ’12 11:01:58 AM

A teacher who feels called to a vocation will feel all the more unhappy at inviting any student freely to leave what education is to be had rather than take it; like a priest who says, sorry, my child, if you can be saved, it’s not by me.

Indeed.  Inviting someone to leave is not always the same as wanting them to go.

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