In these dark times of endless politics, partisans and polarization, let’s step away for a moment to rest on our last common ground: philosophy students really need to be quiet.
I feel that I am well-versed in this most annoying subject, because I am a philosophy student myself — if you didn’t guess from my picture. From my proximity, I have developed an expertise in every species of these students. Most are no problem at all. But there is one kind — the one — we all imagined right away.
Picture them now: argumentative, conceited, white, the absolute worst, a man, recycles five-six Latin terms, becomes satisfied when asked to explain what they mean — I could go on. He is rational (he says). He uses logic. Of all the student-stereotypes, he is perhaps the most unbearable. Rest assured, he is penning a Facebook comment for me right now, still invigorated by this morning’s The Ben Shapiro Show, fingers quivering over the “f a l l a c y” keys. He has scoffed, I estimate, twice since he started reading this article and assumed I have been taken in by the post-modernists — a fate worse than death.
I know these "free thinkers" all too well because I used to be one. Or, if we’re being honest, I am still in recovery.
I started my degree in literature, but was disappointed. I wanted to understand the absolute truth as written by grand old white men, and read nothing else until I was buried as one. I moved into philosophy, where I hoped to find a higher truth impervious to in-class discussions and 200-word reflections. Instead, I was welcomed into a clan of droning doppelgängers — pallid, big-foreheaded. There is something special about that X-Y chromosomes and Kant combination. Perhaps looking like the philosophers you read is an inspiration to act like them. Do you remember that time Aristotle made fun of women's studies?
In ancient Greek (forgive my irony), “philosophy” means a love of wisdom. The first Western philosophers invented the politics, science and ethics Westerners use today. Studying philosophy can feel as broad as a panacea, like it will help you just cut through the noise — as though, through studying it, you will become wise. For years, I waited for some philosophical deliverance to a higher plane where I’d win every argument and everyone would finally agree with me. As you all knew the whole time, there is no such place, and if there was, no sane person would want to be there.
Many philosophy students fall for this notion of how philosophy should be studied. And we know the ones who do. On their behalf, as a former philoso-fiend, I apologize.
I feel I am using my classes best when I am the least certain of myself, and the most willing to listen to others. I know I am relapsing if I begin to think the professor ignoring my hand is a free speech violation (but they always call on those students, don’t they?). Know the warning signs: if he would call a scarecrow a "straw-man", or if he whispers “the marketplace of ideas” lustily in his sleep — beyond any doubt, he’s the worst.