13 April 2008

Chicago and Becoming-Emo

I visited Chicago this weekend for "Campus Days". It was good. It appears that a lot of the people who get accepted into the MAPH program were referred to it after applying to another program at Chicago, so the worries I had about the program were all common worries. I feel a fair bit less uneasy about all this than I did a week ago. This is a good thing.

I always felt that the MAPH folk were very forthcoming about their program. One thing that came out fairly early was that several people each year end up being referred to MAPH after applying to the philosophy PhD program (which is the boat I am in), and the placement record for these people is not very good. For every area that isn't philosophy, MAPH has an excellent placement record. Suffice to say, this was not the sort of thing I was hoping to hear.

This year (06/07) has been particularly bad -- the MAPH program had nearly twice as many philosophy students as they had expected to have, and more of the philosophy faculty was on leave than was expected (IIRC, there were two faculty babies, and one professor was sick for a few weeks, in addition to scheduled sabatticals etc). For 07/08 the MAPH class has been shrunken dramatically (100, down from 138) because of this. Chicago has also hired some new faculty for the philosophy department, has added a class on "contemporary analytic philosophy" specifically for MAPH students, and has assigned one of the new hires the specific duty of acting as an interface between the philosophy department and MAPH (his name's Ben Callard; we had a nice chat at the lunch the philosophy department held on monday).

Simply knowing that the issue has been recognized counts for a lot.

From talking to several people, the consensus seems to be that MAPH was admitting a lot of people who wanted to go on to a philosophy PhD, but who had gotten their bachelor's in a Continental department. Chicago is not really a good place for those people. Four years of Derrida & co. does not prepare someone for graduate study in an analytic department; it's just not the same game. And so the students didn't get the support they needed.

Finklestein thinks they can do a lot to improve this; the MAPH professor I spoke to was less optimistic, but then she's not in the philosophy department so I don't know that I should care what she thinks. Finklestein's reasoning was that what was usually lacking in PhD applications was a good writing sample, and this program culminates in a thesis which is easy to cannibalize for that purpose; it is also possible to get letters of recommendation from Chicago faculty during the MAPH year, which can't hurt. He also made the point that for those of us who are trying to get into philosophy programs with a non-philosophy BA (such as me), this is a way to add a bunch of philosophy courses to your transcript. I would certainly like to have some graduate-level classes to point to to counterbalance some of my undergraduate grades. (I graduated magna cum laude, but all of my lowest grades were in philosophy, and all but one with the same professor* -- the exception was an Ethics course I took for a gen-ed credit as a sophmore.) In conversation with Finkelstein, he agreed with me that this year should either leave me well-equipped for applying to PhD programs or should show that I'm just not cut out for this racket. Incidentally, Finkelstein is a very nice man; I tried to buy his book that afternoon, but the store didn't have a copy. (Annoyingly, it comes out in paperback just in time for the fall quarter to start. I may end up reading the whole thing on Amazon.)

The various humanities departments hosted lunches on monday for prospective students to attend. Conant, Finkelstein, Ford, Johnathan Lear, and Haugeland all showed up, which was nice to see. (Haugeland's beard is much longer and crazier-looking than it is on his faculty page; I didn't recognize him at all. Also I've already forgotten how to pronounce "Haugeland".) Conant handed out a (tentative) curriculum list for the next year. Finkelstein's teaching a graduate seminar on "Late Wittgenstein" in the fall quarter. Pippin's teaching a 3000-level on "Kant's critical philosophy" and a graduate seminar on Hegel's "Lectures on Fine Art", both in the winter quarter. There's a class on contextualism in the spring that looks pretty good; the course description mentions Davidson, Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell, and it's focused on contextualism & truth-theoretic semantics and contextualism & the later Wittgenstein. Haugeland's also teaching a course on "Being and Time" at some time or other (heard winter, the paper says fall), which I'll be sure to at least audit. More than enough neat stuff to fill up my schedule. Should be a good year; I look forward to stressing out over writing papers again.

Having heard about the leave problems this year, I was sure to find out who was scheduled to be absent in 07/08. More bad news: Conant will be gone all year. Forster, too, along with three other names I didn't recognize. Less than ideal.

But, Hagueland, Finkelstein, Pippin, Ford, and Kremer will all be there. And the Wittgenstein Workshop looks like it's supposed to continue apace; Kremer's listed as doing it next year. (Conant is also listed, but presumably that's a typo. I figure if the workshop was not going on at all it'd not be listed, but it's on the list three times.) So, still plenty of excellent professors to look forward to having classes with.

The footnotes to this post get pretty emo and are largely about my undergraduate career, so I have hidden them behind the pocket monkey. I advise against reading them if you have something better to do, though it was somewhat therapeutic to write all of that out, and there's some funny bits (or at least a funny picture; it's the hyperlink if you want to just look at that without reading the boring text stuff).

Blogging on topics which are not me should resume shortly.

* In only one case do I know why that professor gave me a 'B+'; I refused to participate in class discussion for a few weeks in "History of Modern Philosophy". The second half of that course was taken up with readings in metaphysics, largely from contemporary figures. I would only speak up when the discussion drifted back to "modern" figures, because that was what the catalog description said the course was supposed to be about. This was a stupid and childish thing to do. But there was nothing in the syllabus about "participation credit"; according to the syllabus, my grade was determined entirely by several short papers and a final exam, plus some credit for attendance (which I had no problems with). I turned in all the papers on time. My grades on them averaged to a 91, if memory serves; I know it was a 90-something. So I figured I was in the clear -- I could protest the way the professor taught the class, and there would be no repercussions for this. This was a very stupid thing to do.

In the two other cases in which that professor gave me less than an 'A', I haven't the foggiest what I did wrong. In his Logic course we never got back our final exams or any of our homework assignments; I got a 98 on the midterm because I misread something in the book**. He said that the homework assignments were going to be counted as completion grades, since he didn't want to have to grade them all (and people were called on to work them out in class the next day anyway). I didn't turn in any of the homework assignments late or incomplete. I do know that I got a problem wrong on the final exam -- it involved several nested biconditionals, and the shortest proof anyone found for it was something like 70 steps. I'd spent an hour or two scribbling about it and ended up with a transcription error somewhere that bunged it all up; I then threw the whole long mess on a truth-table, showing that the contradictory of the conjunction of the premises and the conclusion was false, and claimed that I had proved by reductio ad absurdum that the argument was valid. Which isn't how the reductio rule works in the system we'd been taught, though at 3:30 AM it really seemed like it ought to work. But the problem I got wrong was one of twenty or so on the exam, and the exam itself was worth the same as the midterm, which were added to a percentage for homework and an attendance credit to reach a final grade, according to the syllabus. Again, the syllabus's answer to how my grade was determined seemed to be at variance with the facts. Or else I missed several other questions on the final, despite checking all of my answers twice and never encountering any problems. I rather suspect the professor assigned grades at a whim.

That professor also team-taught a "Philosophy of Science" course with the head of the physics department. The course which was horribly misnamed; two-thirds of it was devoted to the history of science (using "The Ascent of Man" as our textbook, with wonderful lectures from the physics professor on whatever topic we'd just read about), with the last few weeks featuring a whirlwhind tour through logical positivism, Goodman's "New Riddle of Induction", Kuhn, Feyerabend, Van Frassen, and other topics that had I expected to be taught on in the course. The physics professor, Ed Neuenschwander, is a prince of a man, and I don't regret taking the class because of him.

But my grade was determined by a powerpoint presentation on Galileo and a midterm with various weird questions; there were no other assignments. Here are the questions from the midterm which I responded to (it was one of those "respond to N out of these X questions" deals):

*"Why is agriculture a necessary step in the development of civilization?"

*"Describe the role of foresight, and the importance of creating and manipulating symbols, in the Ascent of Man",

*"The Gothic Cathedral presents an excellent study in the advance of human technology and knowledge even before the rise of what we properly think of as "science." Describe the types of social structures, expertise, and technological advances which are necessary to carry out the planning and construction of these wondrous structures"

*"Why is the role of Alchemy historically important in understanding the rise of contemporary science?"

The ones I didn't select were even worse. (One was something like "Why did astronomy and mathematics arise first, historically, among the sciences?", which was neither addressed in our book nor addressed in class; the professor had mentioned that he thought he knew the relation between the two during Neuenschwander's lecture on Pythagoras & friends, but didn't expand on it because he wanted to use the question on the midterm!) I got a B+ of some sort on this midterm (I *think* it was an 88); I received full credit on the first two questions, was docked a few points on the third for using prose which was "too strong" in my conclusion, and was docked several points on the last one for reasons which are not clear to me -- what the book had on the topic, I'd included, and the topic was not discussed much in the lecture on alchemy & medieval science. IIRC, the red ink on that one just said something like "not quite"; I know the red ink wasn't helpful.

Neuenschwander said he liked my Galileo presentation; he came up to me after class to compliment me on how much material I'd covered. I admitted to him that most of my information had come from Wikipedia; we then had a nice little chat about how much information you can find online these days, the contemporary RCC's statements about Galileo, etc. I suspect my citing Wikipedia may have hurt me, possibly; I did double-check everything I read on there which I hadn't previously known, though, and it all checked out. Probably should've listed the various academic sites Wiki linked to, rather than Wiki itself.

Wikipedia was not my only source; I also cited our textbook (which had a very nice chapter on Galileo) and a bit from Jaako Hintikka's autobiography where he has some interesting conjectures about why Galileo was seen as a threat to the Church. (It's in the Open Court "Library of Living Philosophers" volume on Hintikka if you want to read it; just search for Galileo.) I was pretty satisfied with my powerpoint presentation, especially considering I hadn't had to do one in years at this point.

(At least one person (out of the twelve or so in the class) literally copy/pasted their material from Wikipedia. It was obvious that they'd done so; they had trouble reading aloud some of the sentences in their powerpoint presentation, which implies that they likely hadn't even read the stuff before having to present it, and when I asked them about it after class they did not deny it. I guess they were busy with other classes.)

Apart from these assignments, the grade for the class was determined by participation. I don't think there was a class that went by that I didn't speak up; I've never had a problem arguing with professors, and I frequently found opportunities to argue with the philosophy professor,*** or to ask questions of/probe Neuenschwander. I am confident that no one in that class "participated" more than I did. But somehow, I got a 'B'; my only one in all four years.

Incidentally, I fully deserved the B+ I got in my Ethics class; it was at 8 AM, and everyone in the class slacked off hardcore. Nobody needed the course for their major, and the readings were longer and more difficult than anyone'd expected. Nobody did more than skim the readings, and the class discussions were generally not very good (me being no exception). I honestly feel bad about that class; I almost retook it in my last semester, just to apologize to professor Crutcher for not trying the first time, but I had a scheduling conflict. (Ironically, I didn't even get a gen-ed credit for the class; I'd misread the catalogue requirements. I think I thought it counted for my psych/soc credit. I ended up counting it towards one of my minors anyway, so it was all for the good.)

The only other non-A classes I can recall in my undergrad career were Church History II****, Greek I, and Systematic Theology II. I am fine with those grades because the classes were hard. I took Systematic II before Systematic I (for some reason this was allowed), which made things a lot harder than they needed to be. Oh, and I also got something that wasn't an A (I think it was an A-) in "New Testament Theology", because I hadn't figured out that the study guides had the same questions as were on the exams. I was just studying the textbook before each tests for most of the semester. Considering the sheer amount of material covered (600 pages in the textbook, which we read all of, plus supplementary materials and the NT itself), this was nowhere near as easy as studying with the guides. Also I took the course as a freshman. It made a lot of my later classes seem really easy, and none of the reading for any of my later classes seemed bad at all in comparison, until I hit Systematic.

I got 'A's in "Intro to Philosophy" and "Ancient & Medieval Philosophy", both with the professor I dislike. In A&M he returned my second paper on the ontological argument (I wrote one on Anselm's, one on a version he'd given in class) with a blue ribbon on it. Apparently he almost never gives "100"s on essays; I was the first in a few years.

The blue ribbon looked like it was drawn in MSPaint. He had printed it out, trimmed the edges off, and taped it to the front of my essay along with a short letter explaining that he rarely gave "100"s but he thought I had shown an astounding amount of progress in a short time. Here is a picture of the ribbon, taken with my cellphone camera. I only just now noticed that there are nine "10"s; I don't know what's up with that. I guess the "Ten" in the center is the last ten points. You can see that it says "Grade: 100%" at the end of the letter, though.

Two years later, the professor would refuse to write a letter of recommendation for me because I was "not his product"; it was at this point that I decided I'd go to law school rather than study philosophy.

**The question was true/false, and went something like "A premise and a conclusion constitute an argument"; the definition in the book referred to an argument being constituted by "premises and a conclusion" (emphasis mine). It was a take-home exam, and I figured I ought to go with the textbook's definition; I put "false". Whoops.

***I'm not using his name so he doesn't find this post if he vanity-searches. Also, I just tonight found out that he has a blog, which is hilariously bad at places (and which also reveals that he kills time on "Ebaums World", which further justifies me in looking down on him; Ebaums steals content, and also sucks). Look at this: "Since observation locates the mind as somehow in the brain (due to its relationship to the brain).... The mind is in the brain, and the brain is in the world; therefore, the mind is in the world." He did his PhD on the philosophy of mind, as informed by neuroscience, so it's not like he's out of his element, either. Someone I spoke to who'd seen his disseration claimed that his thesis was that such-and-such a part of the brain constituted "personhood", and speculated that his dissertation was accepted because all of his neuroscience details were incomprehensible to his hearers. I'd prefer not to think such things of OU professors, but honestly that dissertation-topic is bad enough that I don't think it matters if his professors understood him or not.

Ooo, another nice bit: "I can only reply that such a view of "mind", therefore, means nothing. But s/he will say, "I'm using the term now, it must have meaning." I will say, "It refers to brain function or to nothing."

The use of a word and the reference of a word is a tangled debate in itself." -- this is how he ends a post.

The professor is broadly contemptuous of the later Wittgenstein. His interpretation of the TLP is exactly the one presented in Russell's introduction to that book, and I half-recall him endorsing Russell's criticisms of the later Wittgenstein, too -- we should look to science, and not ordinary language, to see what our words mean. He did the "switch from 'meaning' to 'reference' without noting it" thing in real life, too; he generally tried to shift to talk of "reference" whenever anyone broached a question about "meaning".

If I drank, that post would have driven me to drink. God damn it, SNU, have some standards.

****I put off editing my term paper for this course until the last day, and then slept for like sixteen hours right before it was due. My paper was not coalescing anyway; I had chosen a bad topic. (It turns out that "John Wesley's relationship to the Anglican Church" is the sort of thing our library had several long books on; I was never able to get through enough of the material to pass judgement on the mess.) Managed to ace the exams, at least, which kept my grade in the class respectable. This was also freshman year, as it happens. Learned a lot of useful things that year....


Ben Wolfson said...

Chicago is probably a better place for the four-years-of-Derrida-and-co folks than most other analytic departments, by a long shot.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I'm inclined to agree, but I think this just goes to show how bad most other analytic departments would be for those folk.

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Currence said...

re: Finkelstein's book.
When I tried to find it at the coop it wasn't on the shelf, but I asked a staff member and apparently they have more copies (somewhere, I'm not sure where they'd keep them). I would have waited to get the paperback, but I wanted the read the book while in his seminar.

re: courses/faculty next year.
Wow, I hope I can take Finkelstein's course on Witt and Pippin's course on Kant, those both sound great. It's too bad that Conant will be gone.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I probably should've asked about it; I didn't see Pippin's stuff on the shelves, so I figured they might just not stock it. I'm actually not positive I found the co-op; I was at a Barnes & Noble I found while walking around campus. Hopefully there's nothing interesting that's unreadable on Amazon.

Didn't realize that you were going to be around next year; I thought you were a senior. Graduating in the winter or somesuch?

Also, the two deleted comments in this thread were both from Tossy. The second was in rare form: "Maybe next time, S-danstein, or next incarnation, make shure to fill out those Appy-apps in......yiddish. oy vey" -- if he keeps this up, I might go back to updating his wildlife sanctuary~ (we all love you, Tossy)

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