An immediate response to the title is: Do we need yet another history of philosophy? Anyone vaguely familiar with their local library’s selections and new arrivals will have seen half a dozen such histories, ostensibly, at least. For example, Anthony Kenny has recently put out a set of volumes, and there has even been the instantiation of a very ambitious attempt at a “History of Philosophy without Any Gaps” by Adamson. Go beyond that, and there are more or less scholarly compilations by Bertrand Russell (much less), Frederick Copleston (more), and Will Durant (less). Smaller chunks of history have been, in some respects, very competently done. I stress the qualifier “in some respects,” a great example being A History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages by Etienne Gilson, which beautifully ties together a number of the ideas with theirs sources (and the relation of the ideas) and philosophers to their intellectual forbearers and inspirations. However, that work fails as a history qua history. Continue reading
“My humanity is one of incessant self-overcoming.”
The Seven Circles of Chess Hell is a chess training regimen developed by Michael de la Maza, an MIT alumnus, laid out in his book Rapid Chess Improvement. I’ll briefly describe the program and then talk about my experience with it and future intentions.
A Reflection on the Introduction of Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” and the State of Academic Philosophy
I was rereading Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning the other day, and it resonated with me much more so than when I read it in 2007. I suspect part of this has to do with the fact that I was studying physics at the time, and, by now, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in philosophy departments and at workshops/conferences/get-togethers with graduate students in philosophy. In the introduction, in addition to recounting some of his experiences as a young chess sensation —perpetually the highest rated chess player in his age group from the very beginning—, he talks about his experiences in Columbia University’s philosophy department from his days as an undergraduate student. His discussion includes the frustration of having to deal with philosophers (i.e., philosophy professors) who constantly deride certain ideas, take on a smug countenance when presented with difficult to verbalize ideas, and switch to a mode of think that is anything like serious whenever faced with an idea that is not easily resolvable in focus, especially vague terms, terms that are moderately or extremely mystical, Eastern in philosophical disposition, and so on. Waitzkin says, ‘Whenever I had an idea, I would test it against some brilliant professor who usually disagreed with my conclusions. Academic minds tend to be impatient with abstract language— when I spoke of intuition, one philosophy professor rolled her eyes and told me the term had no meaning’ (p. xvi). This is the thing that bothers me about the circles I have roamed in, to this point, and maybe things are different in different departments, but I my experience corresponds to this. The student of philosophy very quickly learns what cannot be said around the tenured professors. Admirably, and no doubt partly due to his undergraduate naivety and partly due to his willfull nature, Waitzkin didn’t seem to go down without a fight when such instances arose.
I have not competed in a USCF chess tournament in over four years. In fact, I have not studied chess in over four years. Grad school has a way of stymying such pursuits. Nonetheless, despite not having studied or played much more than an occasional blitz game (five minutes on each player’s clock), I am finding through chess tests, assessments, and online ratings that I might be as much as 400 points stronger than my last official USCF rating, which is 1567 with a 1608 peak. To give the casual reader some sense of how absurd that 400-point jump in strength is for an adult player —especially for one who has not studied in that period—, most adult players struggle to gain 50 points a year with significant study (e.g., two 3-hr. trips to the chess club and 5 hours of study per week of tactics, openings, master-annotated games, and endgames). I’ve had friends struggle to gain a total of 100 points over a few years. Intrigued by this increase in strength, and stimulated by my love of the game, I have decided to compete at the 2015 World Chess Open chess tournament in Arlington, Virginia.
The discipline of philosophy is something to be held inviolate; the classroom likewise. One might be inclined to ask, what is the function of teaching provocative material to an introductory level philosophy class? There wouldn’t be, if the material didn’t have philosophical import. If the material does have philosophical import, then why chose, at the very least, something that is provocative? One important quality that philosophy is supposed to instill in intellectual thought, itself, is a dispassionate nature, whether in judgment or analysis. Continue reading