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Blog - Blogue

  • Philo-sophia: on philosophy and love

    Thursday, October 02, 2014
    Iva Apostolova


    Philosophy has been described as many things: conceptual engineering, pursuit of the truth . . . But above all, and in translation from its Greek origin, it means

    love of wisdom.

    And when you think about it, philosophy is a lot like any other love relationship.

    You do philosophy, you don’t just study it. You do philosophy for the sake of philosophy, not for the sake of getting results or proving anything.

    One of my philosophical gurus, the American Pragmatist William James, once wrote that philosophy is not a discipline but an attitude and a temperament. Philosophy cultivates useful skills such as analyzing and debating. But above all, it is a way of looking at things: it requires a loving gaze and a loving action toward the text and the interlocutor. Because it is only together that you are trying to bring something out: the truth. And just like in any other love relationship, in philosophy you have to believe that your interlocutor has the best intention and is putting forth her best effort to convince you of her view.

    And just like in love, there are no winners.

    It’s not about winning an argument or a discussion. It’s about owning it, nurturing it and gently pushing it as far as it can go. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about being open and remaining open. In other words, it’s about acceptance. And just like love, it is not for the faint of heart: it takes passion, dedication and patience. It's about the passion to pursue and the dedication and patience to weed out the biases and misunderstandings which, willingly or unwillingly, we bring to the discourse.      

    Just like love it takes a leap of faith and the willingness to grant second chances. If you are doing philosophy, sooner rather than later, you will have to give it your best shot and own it despite possible scathing criticism. Don't worry about feeling rejected! Yes, it is about your views and yet, it is not. It is about preserving the ‘togetherness’ of the dialogue.

    Sustaining a healthy love relationship is hard. It requires maturity and strong character. A strong character is first and foremost a consistent character. If nothing else, philosophy teaches consistency. It always strives to integrate two seemingly incompatible things: passion and knowledge.   

    Doing philosophy is about analyzing without losing the unity of meaning. It’s about making the complicated simple without taking away from its essence. And just like in love you lose yourself in the passion or in the knowledge, or both, and yet you are the most you you’ll ever be. 

  • 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!