P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 12
5 August 2001
I. "Doing Philosophy: Thinking Independently" John Paolini
II. Pathways Admissions Closed - Call for Mentors
III. "Saturday Night Latin" Michael Brett
I. DOING PHILOSOPHY: THINKING INDEPENDENTLY
At 74 years of age, I can see how I have confused the study of philosophy with
the study of the history of ideas because of my personal history. I did not see
that, as Heidegger put it, "Distentiality, averageness, and leveling down, as
ways of Being...for what we know as 'publicness'...[it] controls every way in
which [we are] interpreted, and it is always right...it is insensitive to every
difference of level and of genuineness..." ('Being and Time' p.165). We are
'disburdened' of our being. We are afraid to lift up our heads, take ourselves
seriously and resist being pushed back down by peers, colleagues and family. So
the first thing in doing philosophy is awakening from the safety of publicness
and to risk our selves.
In college, Temple University in Philadelphia, I majored in Philosophy. I was
looking for wisdom. My working class background lacked guidance for living and
working in the professional world. I never had the thought of not going to
college. I was programmed for moving "upward" in society. I knew that that was
a different world than the comfortable world of Italo-Americano South
Philadelphia. I also knew that it was a colder world outside the neighborhood.
My father and I shared one single idea. We could think of no good reason to
sacrifice our children for our country. Governments make war. It is not our
affair. We also were sure that war was immoral. Killing is not an option. In
this spirit my father sent me off to a "Bible School" to become a pastor. I was
never a good fundamentalist. I next went to Temple University for a liberal arts
education and then to seminary. While I was in Bible School I salivated for a
liberal arts school. I was right. That was one of the best parts of my life.
My father was a toolmaker and his own man. I have not been as emotionally
independent as my father but I was cursed by inheriting his habit of thinking
his own thoughts and reaching his own conclusions. Despite the fact that he
bought the fundamentalist religious package he never did quite fit in with that
group. People liked him because he was genuine. As you can see the study of
philosophy could not help me in the Methodist ministry. The only necessary
subject to study for that would have been to study practical political
thinking, that is, "How to fit in and get ahead." As I look back any thought
outside the "box" would mean problems.
Philosophy did not teach wisdom as I conceived it. I was not taught how to
succeed in the real world. What I was taught was being suspicious of
conventional wisdom or as Al Schutz called it "recipe knowledge." What I was
taught was not want I wanted. I wanted to fit in. If a person does not fit in
most people think he has a sexual problem, is mentally ill, or is of a lower
social class. I was not any of these. I was never taught conventional thinking.
Philosophy could have taught me to think my own thoughts better but I chose the
ministry. That was a retardant to thought.
One of my professors, a wonderful man, was a Marxist; the other a pragmatist.
This materialist orientation reinforced my doubts about theism. I never did
learn to fit in the church. I did not change much from my father who
embarrassed me as a child. In my sixties, I was told by the head of the social
work program that I was a troublemaker.
I found philosophy fascinating. But I was not taught to do philosophy. While I
was encouraged to think and to think well, the fact remained that my teacher
was called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee and lost his
job by not answering their questions. I learned that thinking could get me into
a lot of trouble and that expressing myself was worse. Still "the apple fell
close to the tree" and expressing my thoughts and arguing them had been part of
my programming. The way around this problem was to stick close to established
ideas in the history of philosophy.
In my middle fifties I resigned from a good position as a hospital chaplain. I
plummeted into downward mobility. When I was sixty-two years of age, I earned
my MSW degree and became a medical social worker in an agency in which I fit in
not at all. Compared to the others, I had too much education. I was seen as a
loose canon and was constantly reminded that I was not a professional employee
and had to be micro-managed. It was an intellectual and emotional slum but I
was able through self-deception and feeling powerless to last there more than
five years bent over backwards. Finally I could "dumb down" no longer and was
forced out. Again I found another argument against thinking.
I began to audit philosophy classes at our local Community College. There a
student said that his life goal was to, "do philosophy." It took me a long time
to understand what he meant.
I will not discuss how to do philosophy. I am still learning.
I know that I must risk my competence to look foolish because I don't use the
tools of the trade skillfully. One reason is that logical positivism bored me
silly. I avoided the tools of symbolic logic because I felt that for me what I
needed was not there. It was dryer than fundamentalism and blander than
liberalism. I was never introduced to the nurturing juices of phenomenology and
existentialism. Yet for testing out speech and ideas it is a help.
The other bit I have learned is that the problem chooses me and not I the
problem. Choosing the problem is done existentially. It comes from the effort
of living with at least a minimum of good faith.
For instance one of my problems is that being brought up as I was I have a
great appetite for religion. Yet I must say that the church for me is simply a
self-perpetuating organization. It is outdated in its concerns, like the "March
Of Dimes", a program from before World War II that battled against Polio. It now
searches for a new reason to exist as a political tool. It is not concerned with
ultimate reality. I am like the Gnostics who detested hierarchy and were
disappointed with the church's orthodoxy and the whole model of theism. They
called the god of the church a "demiurge" that usurped ultimate being. The way
Philosophy helps is to bring me into a tradition of those concerned with the
problems of existence and who have searched out and interrogated some of the
(c) John Paolini 2001
II. PATHWAYS ADMISSIONS CLOSED - CALL FOR MENTORS
Last week, the following notice was placed on the WWW application forms for the
Pathways and Associate Diploma programs:
Owing to the high volume of applications,
we are unable to enrol any more students
on the Pathways/ Diploma programs at the
present time. Please use this form to
register your interest or ask questions
about the programs.
DO NOT MAKE ANY PAYMENT
You will receive a reply with the latest
information when places become available.
I have been forced to take this drastic step because of the increasing backlog
of essays and course work from my own students on the Pathways and Associate
Diploma courses to which I have not yet been able to respond. Unfortunately, we
do not have the Mentors available to take care of the new intake.
The situation would be eased if we could find more Mentors of suitable calibre.
The Mentor program is open to all Philosophy graduates, anywhere in the world,
who are about to undertake or who are currently undertaking a course of
postgraduate study in Philosophy.
Mentors receive free guidance and supervision for their studies towards the
Fellowship Diploma of the Philosophical Society of England. Mentors also have
free access to all six Pathways programs.
If you know anyone who might be interested in the Mentor program, please ask
them to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
III. SATURDAY NIGHT LATIN
Nulla placere diu, vel vivere carmina possunt, que
sribuntur aquae potoribus.
- No verses can live long, or live, which are written by
water drinkers. (Horace. Ep Book 1, 19.2.)
Novi ingenium mulierum; nolunt ubi velis; ubi nolis,
- I have known the disposition of women: when you wish a
thing they are unwilling; when you are not desirous of
anything, they want it all the more. (Terence. Eunuchus,
iv, 7, 42)
Meum est propositium in taberna mori;
Vinum sit appositum morientis ori,
Ut dicant cum venerint angelum chori,
"Deus sit propitius huic potatori!"
- It is my intention to die in a tavern;
let the wine be placed near my mouth as I expire, so that
when choirs of angels come, they may say, "God be merciful
to this drinker." (Walter Mapes, 1137?-1205? Goliae
Nulli non sua forma placet.
- To no woman is her personal appearance displeasing.
(Ovid. Ars Amat. Book 1.64)
Nunc patimur longae pacis mala; saevior armis. Luxuria
incubuit, victumque ulscitur orbem.
- Now we suffer the ills of a long peace; luxury more cruel
than warfare has overshadowed us, and avenges a conquered
world. (Juvenal-Satires 6, 292)
Nimia est miseria pulchrum esse hominem nimis.
- It is an extremely wretched thing to be an over-handsome
man. (Plautus. Miles Gloriosus, i, 1, 68)
Nil temere uxori de servis crede querenti.
- Do not rashly give credence to a wife complaining of
servants. (Cato. Dist, 4, 45)
Missa est. Ite!
(c) Michael Brett 2001
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