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  • Doing philosophy where it hurts...

    Friday, August 29, 2014
    Iva Apostolova


    I’ll never forget the odd feeling during my first year of grad school when one of my professors opened his seminar on Analytic Philosophy by saying ‘If you don’t tell me where it hurts, I can’t help you.’

    What a bizarre thing to say to a bunch of graduate students who were ready to take apart ‘On Denoting’.

    And yet, I could not shake the feeling for a long time.

    The professor became my thesis advisor and a dear friend. Being now on the other side of the barricade myself, I can’t help but come back to that same odd feeling every time I stand in front of students for the first time. I feel a mixture of anticipation, fear, and sympathy for the poor souls who are about to enter, often unsuspecting and unprepared, a world much stranger than fiction.

    A world full of metaphysical monsters and conceptual impossibilities, a world of marvel and pain. A world in which reality is subject to definition and re-definition.

    Philosophy is the strangest discipline to study. It is the strangest occupation to hold. Philosophy hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, you're not doing it right.

    Imagine examining the most intimate and internal sensation one has—the sensation of pain— and examining it from both a first and a third-person point of view... Well, that’s what philosophy does.

    Philosophy is not knowledge about life, or built-up on the so-called ordinary life. It is a way of life. A self-examining, self-defeating way of life.

    Philosophy takes courage and doggedness. Courage to make mistakes and admit them; courage to jump between life and text, text and life; doggedness to persevere despite the contradictions life—and our beliefs about—life are mined with.

    To study philosophy takes mental discipline. Staying coherent and consistent with one’s ideas is hard. Very hard. Sometimes verging on the impossible.

    But it also takes compassion. A disciplined compassion, if you will. To understand is to feel, to feel with others – to try to understand them as well as make yourself understood. And this takes guidance and mentorship.

    I’d like to think that in a philosophy class, everyone guides everyone. There are no well-defined roles. Which puts everyone on the spot and tests everyone’s limits without making anyone feel out of place. And this, as an educational experience, is priceless!


  • This is the one thing you need to do this vacation . . .

    Monday, August 18, 2014


    There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.

    And in this part of the world, summer is a time for vacation.

    Most of the year we are committed to our busy lives. We’re going flat out, we’re in “high gear”.

    At the height of the siesta season on our “Discover Wisdom” blog, it’s appropriate to take a look at how to be wise about our time off.

    What makes for a great vacation?

    Rest and relaxation are part of it.

    Sipping mojitos by the lake in a hammock is lovely.

    Excitement and fun can also add to it.

    Whitewater rafting . . . mountain biking . . . or perhaps shopping or checking out a library . . . Depending on your partiality.

    But what’s at the heart of a really good, soul-livening rest?

    What makes the difference between “a good/fun time” and one that refreshes? Enlivens? Enriches?

    A real vacation teaches us to “be”, not only “do”. That’s at the heart of it.

    Vacation is not something you consume; it consumes you.

    It’s a state (not like “Florida”, like “hungry”).

    Busyness is in vogue in a big way. And our overriding emphasis on “doing” has caused “being” to be greatly overlooked.

    Josef Piper argues that:

    Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.

    Vacation is a great time to balance the scales.

    During this year’s vacation, take time to do nothing.

    Really, do nothing.

    See, this is me doing “nothing” in a hammock with my twins:

    But actually, I was taking a selfie.

    Or to be precise, 10-12 selfies to get the picture just right. Then cropping it. And editing it. And then posting to Facebook. Then browsing Facebook for a while...before reading the newspaper and after having browsed various blogs.

    Not quite “nothing”.

    Not what can be counted as true “leisure”.

    In the non-act which is leisure one simply soaks in one’s surroundings. “You” begin to take the back seat to what’s around you. You begin to “take things in”.

    It’s an inexpensive, but pleasurable, vacation.

    “Wonder” is what creeps up on you when you get the hang of it.

    In Piper’s world, we do not rest in order to be able to work, we work in order to rest. We are built for vacation. For leisure.

    We work when we have to, but leisure is the good stuff. It’s where “we” happens, where insights occur and a layer of depth gets added to human living.

    Wonder acts upon a man like a shock, he is "moved" and "shaken", and in the dislocation that succeeds all that he had taken for granted as being natural or self-evident loses its compact solidity and obviousness; he is literally dislocated and no longer knows where he is.

    Having a bunch of toddlers around, I get to see wonder at work in high gear all day (and night) long. They’re not fettered by distractions, by preoccupation with constructing a presentable “self” to the world. They’re in the world, bopping along, taking it all in, in one extended act of leisure. Continuously on vacation.

    I was camping with my 3 year-old a few weeks ago when he got up to go pee during the night. Being 3 and usually asleep or in the light-flooded city sky during stargazing hours, it was his first encounter with a truly starry night. I did not need to tell him to look, to take it in, to be still and appreciate it.

    The “Wow, look daddy, stars. Pretty!” was like watching whomever it was that first saw the new world see shore for the first time.

    Wisdom is what is at the heart of vacation. We see, then we understand. As we sit back and let go of the steering wheel in our lives and begin to be attentive to what’s going on around us in a new way, certain sparks that get pushed under the surface for the bulk of the year come to life.

    Honest gratitude, clear thinking, hopeful aspirations . . . this is the good stuff. This is what wonder brings and what wisdom is made of.

    We spend most of the year pretending we know things. We operate in the utilitarian sphere. In order to be good “doers”, we need to stick to the world of “bricks and mortar”. We must be pragmatic.

    Vacation time is upon us for a few more weeks. We can expand our horizons by taking time to do nothing, to contemplate, to let the mysteries of life surprise us. It is a time to practice the “knowing which is inspired by love”: contemplation.

    Summer has come. The terrible, bitter cold that eats away at our midriffs and sneaks in through our wrists and up our arms all winter long has given us a too brief respite.

    If you can’t afford weeks of rest in the Muskoka’s or a trip out East to stuff your face with lobster, don’t feel left out.

    You can still get in on the fun.

    Get outside.







    Joseph Yawney is Director of Public Relations at Dominican University College and has a Master's in Philosophy from DUC in the area of virtue ethics. He lectures across the province of Ontario to high school students introducing them to philosophy through socratic dialogue.

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