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Journeyism 2

 

Meeting You Where You Stand Today

We have to make a start … 1Philip McShane, Futurology Express, Vancouver: Axial Publishing, 2013, p. 12..

As with any new topic, we start from the ground up. Actually, from where we stand, we’re trying to pull ourselves out of a hole2For Benton and Quinn (and others), our shared “stand” is our more or less compatible and developing orientations grounded by the “stand” we expressed in Journeyism 1. We hope this now-obscure point will become a little clearer to you by the end of the series..  So the joke runs: when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

The challenge is to discover where you stand regarding your university experience and how you approached your field of study. What do we mean by “where you stand” and “how you approached”3You and possibly other stakeholders have invested a great deal of time, energy and expense in your post-secondary education. Are you (as well as the overall educational enterprise and society at large) getting sufficient return for all this effort? How do you evaluate that?? How is this relevant to your university experience? The opportunity is here, now, for you to explore these questions in a fresh way.

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.4Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 1103a.33.

And so we hope you will actively participate, as well as contribute some reflections5We also hope you will come to reflect “honestly,” in a fresh way. What we mean by “honestly” will become clearer as we move forward through the series. However, the basic issue is spelled out bluntly in Journeyism 9, footnote 7. along the way. It’s also likely you’ll need to break a habit that has victimized every student since elementary school: being hurried past the struggle to understand for the sake of “covering the material.” This insidious classroom routine “educates us out of our mind”.6The drudgery of forced short-term memory work for the sake of passing exams haunts us at every turn in our formal education. Such experiences may provide relevant data in forthcoming exercises. In this series we observe a leisurely pace7We will have more to say along the way about “how to read,” the adequacy of which includes the importance of reading patiently and on pace with your effort to understand. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard once observed, you only begin to read seriously when you take your eyes off the page. See Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1970, 14, 21, 39, 47, 83 on the challenges of reading adequately. that respects the struggle to understand.8See footnote 16.

Empirical Exercise

You are invited to conduct a preliminary investigation by participating in what we call “Empirical Exercises”.9The name of a series of exercises undertaken by Benton’s philosophy students between 2005 and 2012. Note that what we mean by ’empirical’ is different in meaning, and should not to be confused with, the traditional philosophic meaning of the term, “empiricism”. What we mean by “empirical” will become clearer as we proceed.10“When culture is conceived empirically, [fill in your subject name here] is known to be an ongoing process, and then one writes on its method.” Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, New York: Herder and Herder, 1972, p. xi. You might say this series is your laboratory and your field of study is a source of specimens.

What observations can I make about the process I undertook in order to progress in my field of study?

We invite you to generate some personal data with respect to your intellectual growth during your undergraduate years. How did you acquire what the institution deemed “sufficient competence” to earn an undergraduate degree?11The degree, BA, is sometimes (humorously) referred to as meaning “Barely Adequate”. How might that claim of “adequacy” line up with your experiences?

We suggest that a good way to start is to revisit your field of study in your university’s syllabus to initiate wonder about your experience as an undergraduate. For instance, when you look at the range of topics that make up the curriculum, do you wonder how you managed to “cover” that complex material from Year One to Year Four? What does “cover” actually mean? How much of that diverse material did you believe, memorize, understand? Can you distinguish the meaning between each of these activities? Do you wonder why some topics were included and others left out? How did you go about performing routine tasks such as research, interpretation, evaluation, and so on? Did you find the subject matter worthwhile? Why?

It’s hard to embrace a solution to a problem one does not even know exists.12Brown, P., Duffy J. eds., Seeding Global Collaboration, Vancouver: Axial Publishing, 2016, p. iv.

Does this rather overwhelming series of questions remotely suggest that there might be a fundamental problem with academic routine that has gone unnoticed? We’re hoping this bit of prompting will help get you started. For further encouragement, we present John Benton’s reflections on his undergraduate experience between 1973 and 1977 to illustrate how curiosity, perseverance and luck made it possible to discover a problem exists.

“I remember how my courses were casually presented and randomly ordered. We were exposed to an enormous flow of content (data) accrued by many scholars working in isolation in increasingly specialized areas. The field seemed to lack a unifying principle. Peers working in other subjects made similar observations.13On a much more advanced level of reflection, there is greater coherence to tracking individual progress through Mathematics and Physics, but it is necessary to dodge this large issue for now, and further note that the domain of Mathematics and Physics, too, is not immune to various disorientations of procedure within the hierarchy of sciences. We hope to gradually identify these disorientations as we go along. Nonetheless, we were kept busy doing what was deemed necessary to graduate.14You might pause here to contemplate what your graduation means, or could mean, in “practical” terms, beyond the prospect of future employment, toward personal academic growth in your field of study.

By the end of year four, my curiosity was focused on academic structure. How does one discern a principle from which to unify the complexities of a tradition of literature, as well as the reflections of a scattered labour force of scholars?15In brief, “A (fill in your subject here) mediates between a cultural matrix and the significance and role of (its subject-matter) in that matrix.” Bernard Lonergan, (1972), p. xi.  Are grades the definitive measure of personal growth and progress in a subject16See Journeyism 24 for discussion of genuine “adult growth.”, whatever ‘growth’ and ‘progress’ mean? How does one evaluate its collective benefit to the community, to human culture? Four years of accrued evidence convinced me there were problems with conventional academic routine that had been overlooked. How does one pin down these diverse questions towards a coherent solution?

Eureka! Shift happens …

In the spring of 1977, good luck and perseverance paid off with a “eureka” moment. I chanced upon a book called Method in Theology.17Although theology was the field of study, the author was ultimately interested in “method” for its interdisciplinary value: “I am concerned not with the object that theologians expound, but with the operations that theologians perform.” Lonergan, 1972, xii. In other words, what is being scrutinized is process. I read the first few paragraphs of its Chapter 1 on the topic of method, emphasizing a shift to an empirical approach. The author had not only identified the problem, but also had formulated a concrete solution irrefutably applicable to any line of inquiry.

By July of that year I was fully committed to a focus on process in my field of study”18This shift in reflection is given introductory treatment in “Chapter 1. The Move Beyond Spontaneity”, Introducing Critical Thinking, Benton, J., Gilles-Drage, A., McShane, P., Vancouver: Axial Publishing, 2005-6, 4..

It took me years to get to grips with what I have expressed in the last page or so. It took me so long not because I am mentally deficient, but because I am human. Human understanding is little and a slow-growing thing. Basic humility is an … acknowledgment of that fact and its concrete consequences.19Philip McShane (1977), Music That is Soundless (2nd ed.), Washington: University Press of America, 27.

“Taking on this problem (of working toward an empirical approach), is both humbling and, for a time, disorientating, but in a healthy way that respects the struggle to understand. It is the worthwhile result of curiosity, perseverance and luck. For it would not have been possible without a nudge from someone or something to focus my attention.”

With an encouraging nudge from us, an open mind, and a willingness to take the time, might you begin to notice similar elements in your experience as an undergraduate?

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Taking A Fresh Look at the Function of Philosophy

The topic of method brings to light two fundamental problems in the Philosophical tradition. Therefore, we need to say something about the function of Philosophy.20It is apparent that the subject, Philosophy, suffers from a perception problem both in the academy and on the street. For those who are cynical toward formal study of the subject, Philosophy, and its practical application to “the real world” we would ask, “what does the expression PhD stand for?” Would it surprise you to hear the ‘Ph’ in PhD stands for Philosophy? If you Google the term you get: “Ph D is an abbreviation for “Doctor of Philosophy,” commonly called a doctoral degree.” (Google, accessed 9/21/17). Again, we would ask, why does Philosophy appear in this prestigious title? There are a lot of people graduating from, and working in, universities worldwide whose professional reputation, claim to relevance and contribution to society hold the title, “Philosopher of …”. Why? If the title “Philosopher of such and such” is an anachronism and the subject irrelevant, then wouldn’t it have disappeared from the curriculum? The sad fact is, the Philosophical tradition has been losing the struggle to answer two fundamental questions: “How does human knowing work?” and, “How does human decision-making work?” Historically, this has resulted in confusion for critical thinking in all of the natural and human sciences21In this regard, “Philosophy” and “Critical Thinking” function identically..

Perhaps you are among those who, having had exposure to the Philosophic tradition, are “at odds” with our take on its current state. Since we are only starting out, some of the things we claim at this point probably don’t make much sense to you, and you may find our line of inquiry odd. But what is even more odd to us is that our empirical approach to this most fundamental issue of human knowing and decision-making is strangely unpopular in Philosophy.

If you will bear with us it will become evident that the only way forward in any line of inquiry is to take an empirical approach. In good time we will invite you to undertake a balanced focus on both our thinking selves as “knowers” and “decision-makers” and the subject matter under investigation22See Journeyism 5, footnote 1., as well as its relevance to putting our global minding in order. But we’ll not get ahead of ourselves. For now, the challenge is to encourage you to discover that one of Philosophy’s basic tasks is to ask questions about procedure in any area of study. Along the way, the need to resolve these two basic questions cannot be avoided.

We will return to the Philosophic tradition later in the series23See Journeyism 18 and Journeyism 19, “Transforming the Philosophical Tradition: Part 1 and Part 2”.. By then, we hope you will have begun to formulate your own empirically-verified view of yourself as a “knower” and “decision-maker,” thereby furnishing a basis upon which to judge the Philosophical tradition for yourself.

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2 Comments

  1. hazzang825 on July 15, 2019 at 5:15 am

    What observations can I make about the process by which I studied my subject(s) in my academic discipline? In other words, how did I go about performing my tasks in order to achieve what might be deemed progress in my area of study?

    At first I thought I should just get good grades on tests. Usually the midterm and the final exams decide my grades. I thought getting higher grades meant progress.

    I am now learning Dentistry. Over the years, the purpose of this study has become quite clear, to help people eat, talk and smile.

    Fundamental questions are, Why am I learning this? Why are we learning in this order? So I asked my kind professor and she taught me.

    Here is the flow of what we are learning.

    First we need to become a scientist. What we have to deal with is a human body. It is a living thing so we learned biology. It is composed of molecules so we learned chemistry. And so on. We learned basic sciences.

    Then we learned more about the healthy state through psychology, anatomy, etc. We also learned about pathology, the abnormal state of human body.

    After the basic sciences, healthy state, and pathologic state, now we are learning how to help teeth recover from the pathologic state. Since teeth usually don’t recover by themselves, we need to create something similar to the natural state.

    Despite the fact that the tooth is small, it is delicate. And if we fail to reconstruct properly, then it will fail eventually.

    After this I began to understand more clearly what I have to focus on as opposed to just memorizing.

    • Terrance on July 17, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      Hello hazzang825,

      Thank you very much for your great comments.
      You help shed light for us and for readers on new subtleties and on the scope of the project.

      Please free to contact us any time with more comments or questions.
      All the best in your endeavours,

      Terrance Quinn and John Benton.

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