18 December 2009

i has an m.a.

I officially graduated last weekend. Finished my thesis in late November; I haven't been blogging because whenever I would get the urge to blog (or would begin a post), I would think "Shouldn't I really be working on my thesis instead?", and that killed the fun of it. And then after finishing my thesis, I had to get PhD applications done. Finished those of earlier this week. I am now free of any academical-type obligations, for the first time in quite a while. (It feels strange, like I must owe someone a paper, and just can't figure out who.)

So, now I can blog freely again.

Because it seems like a thing to do, here's a brief recounting of my year at Chicago:

Fall quarter was when I had to take the MAPH "core" course, which was about Theory. I was reminded of the "Theory's Empire" book-event from The Valve often. I did not enjoy this course, and was glad when it ended. I really can't say I got anything from this course, except some painful and awkward introductions to Freud, Lacan, and Adorno (and some other guys I would've been happy to never encounter). It wasn't even good for writing practice; the longest paper I had to write was five pages or something like that. And that paper was about Lauren Berlant and some movie I've never seen based on a book I've never read. Just a mess of a class.

There was an "introduction to analytic philosophy"-type course that was only open to MAPH students; I figured it was a good thing to take. There were issues that lead to the class being taught by a PhD student, Tom Lockhart, but he did a good job of it I thought. I enjoyed the class, and it was a pretty gentle way to get back into the swing of things after having a semester off (and before that, a semester of law school). I wrote a paper on the second part of "Mental Events" for it (and a shorter one on "Naming and Necessity", which was much easier to lay out than the second part of "Mental Events").

Haugeland's Heidegger's "Being and Time" was a good excuse to read the rest of division one of "Being and Time". I fell a day behind in the reading at one point, and caught up by skipping a section I'd read before: the bit about the broken hammer. It turns out that if you read all of division one except that bit, the "present at hand" sounds like a philosopher's fiction: nothing is ever actually given to Dasein like that. It's always something richer, like the ready-to-hand, the living, Daseins, etc.; the "present-at-hand" is paradigmatically what is presented to a res cogitans (i.e., it is nothing but something confused philosophers dreamed up). Now, in the broken hammer passage, this is clearly not Heidegger's view. We can see the broken hammer, and he says we see it as just something present-at-hand. So I spent a lot of this quarter misreading "Being and Time". I like my misreading a lot more than Heidegger's actual view, though, and I think that my misreading makes sense for pretty much all of the rest of division one (especially section 21, "Hermeneutic Discussion of the Cartesian Ontology of the 'World'"). Incidentally, this is the class that taught me how the quarter system works: I suddenly had to scramble for a paper topic when I realized the course was almost over, and ended up having to get an extension for the paper (by a week or two). I ended up writing something about Dreyfus's Heidegger and "Telling" that I don't think really came together, but was kinda fun to work on.

Winter quarter was very cold and dark.

I sat in on Ford's "Action and Practical Knowledge" seminar, which gave me an excuse to read Anscombe's "Intention" and Thompson's "Naive Action Theory", along with some more of Davidson's old action papers. This also got me up to speed on philosophy of action well enough to know some of what was going on at the Anscombe Conference in the early spring. Definitely glad I didn't take this for credit, though; I'm still mulling a lot of it over, and I'm not sure I really get what's so important about Thompson. (I've read the rest of "Life and Action" now, and still don't see it. Though he did say some stuff about gold and Kripke-Putnam essentialism in the third part that lead me to suspect I in fact do not want to get on board with his broader program. I should probably look at that passage again, and post on it.)

I also sat in on Irad Kimhi's "Active Thoughts" seminar. It was utter madness from beginning to end and I couldn't get enough of it. I couldn't tell you what the class was about, but there was a lot of interesting stuff crammed in there. Sitting in on it also gave me an excuse to read more Frege ("The Thought" and "Negation" especially), and some other fun logic-y stuff.

For credit, I took "Intermediate Logic", "Modern Moral Philosophy", and Pippin's "Kant's Critical Philosophy". Logic did not require me to write a paper, or to read very much; this made it an excellent course for the winter quarter. It was also fun to do more logic homework, though some of the completeness proofs were annoying.

"Modern Moral Philosophy" was taught by a visiting professor from Rome, Piergiorgio Donatelli. We read a little Bernard Williams, several Iris Murdoch pieces, two chapters from "The Claim of Reason", a McDowell essay I hadn't read yet, and then a lot of Cora Diamond's stuff. And Donatelli brought up dozens of other figures in the lectures. It was a heady mix of stuff; my lecture notes are a mess (though not as bad as the notes for "Active Thoughts"). I read an article of Diamond's that wasn't assigned for class (her piece in the "Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein") that bothered me in ways I couldn't quite get a handle on; I wanted to write on that, but wasn't getting a grip on it, so instead I wrote about something Diamond said about McDowell, and somehow a quarter of the essay ended up being about Davidson.

I read several Diamond pieces about Truth and Tarski-type approaches to it for this paper; I did not like them very much. She seemed to go after Rorty for the wrong reasons (as Conant did, in much greater length, in his article about Rorty and Orwell), and she seemed unhappy with Davidson's take on truth for no reason I could figure out. (If I recall correctly, it had something to do with there being "many ways something could be true"; I couldn't see how this was a problem for Davidson, since any difference between e.g. moral facts and chemical facts would be paralleled in the relevant T-sentences: they would say that the different sorts of sentences are true IFF different sorts of things are the case. Diamond didn't flesh any of this out so much as say we needed to pay attention to it. I can't tell what exactly I'm supposed to notice, so I don't see why Diamond-on-ethics-and-truth is so great.)

For Pippin's class I wrote a paper on the Transcendental Aesthetic. It was straightforward: Kant says that the transcendental ideality of space and time are established here; what are his arguments, and do they work? I defended the venerable "neglected option" objection, more or less. It was pretty easy to write, which was good because the rest of the quarter had me pretty frayed.

The Anscombe Conference was in the early spring. Thompson is a lot of fun to watch, and McDowell is surprisingly frail and birdlike in person; he looked like he might break if someone ran into him. I made it to most of the papers; most of them were good. McDowell had a paper on Anscombe-on-sensations that was pretty much the paper you would expect him to write on that topic. I will need to find my notes to say much about the rest of the speakers, but I do remember this: Thompson is a genius.

I was supposed to have a draft of my thesis done early in the spring; difficulties finding a workable topic lead to that not happening. I ended up writing about McDowell's criticisms of Davidson in "Gadamer and Davidson on Understanding and Relativism"; most of the paper was devoted to setting the stage, since "Epitaphs" is a tricky paper to get right. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, though Kremer (my advisor) remains unconvinced. One section of the paper ended up getting cut before it was even to the draft stage, what I was trying to articulate in the comments here, because a) I realized that spelling things out would take another paper to do well and b) I'm not at all sure that McDowell makes this argument against "Epitaphs" (and I'm suspicious that he doesn't make it because he knows it's not a good objection; certainly the closest he comes to making it explicitly is very hand-wavey stuff, and he could've made it very straightforwardly. I think Dummett does make it, for instance.). This paragraph probably makes sense to nobody except me, since only three or so people on the planet have read my thesis, but I refuse to cut it! Blogging is for vanity's sake.

Bridges taught a course on "Rationality" and a seminar on "Contextualism" in the spring; I considered both, but ended up taking neither. (I didn't know anyone in the seminar and it felt awkward; the "Rationality" course was not exciting in the first few courses, and was overfull -- I dropped it so someone else could have my slot.) Stephen Nadler (a visiting prof from U Wisconsin-Madison) had a course on Spinoza's "Ethics" which was simply phenomenal; I'd planned on just sitting in on it (and asking some questions about Hegel and Spinoza), but by the end of the second class I knew I had to take this course. Nadler did an amazing job leading the class: we got through the entire book, and discussion was always lively and unforced. I wrote a paper on Spinoza and anomalous monism, which I thought turned out very well, and it was the third Davidson-y paper I'd written in as many quarters. (When I asked Nadler about the topic, I assumed it was probably too banal to write on, and was going to ask for suggestions as to what in specific to focus on in the area; turns out it's not all that well-represented in the Spinoza literature, though Della Rocca does defend the connection, so I got to write a paper that came very easily.) Hands-down the best course I took for credit at Chicago.

Another (regularly) visiting professor, Jocelyn Benoist, was teaching a seminar titled "Intentional Objects: An Inquiry into the Common Origins of Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology"; about half of the course name shows up on my transcript. Benoist lectured about a lot of interesting people I'd had only superficial knowledge of before, like Bolzano and Brentano and Meinong, and some I had never heard of (mostly Polish philosophers, who were all interesting to read). All of it was shiny and new, and Benoist covered a lot of material very quickly. The guiding thread through most of the class was what to do about terms with sense without reference (if Meinong is wrong and there are any), and what lead into that question getting asked in that way. I wrote a paper about Frege and Evans's account of him in chapter one of "The Varieties of Reference", basically just trying to make sense of how Frege could be so cavalier in saying that "Odysseus" has the same sense whether or not Odysseus ever existed. (One nice point Benoist stressed was that Frege's example was not random; this was around the time when Troy was discovered by archaeologists, after having been considered as mythical for centuries.) I read a lot of Frege (and a fair bit of Evans) in preparation for this paper, but something just didn't quite come together in the end; I'm happy with what I have in the paper, but feel like I didn't really finish it. I don't know what I failed to write, but I definitely did not write something that needed writ.

It was a fun year.

And randomly: these conference papers are pretty good listenin'. And the "Coherentisme" paper is actually delivered in English. Hours of Sellarsian fun.


Evan said...

Congrats. Having found you just as you stopped blogging, I'm glad you'll be getting back to business.

N. N. said...

Well done. Enjoy a rest. And then it's time to get started on your dissertation. :)

Duck said...

I believe the expression is "i can haz m.a. plz?" or something like that. (I'm not up on these thingz.) In any case, woo hoo!

Now, you don't exactly owe a paper, but maybe now you might check out that Arthur Collins book on Kant ...

And that Spinoza class sounds awesome. Nadler is the man. Maybe you could post the Davidson/Spinoza stuff. My sense is the comparison is much richer than just saying, gee, they're both kind of saying "there's just one kind of stuff with different aspects." But I wonder what you said, and if Nadler said anything interesting back.

Daniel Lindquist said...

It would be "i can haz" if I did not already have the M.A. But I do have that; what I'm lacking at the moment is just the diploma. You see, the cat was excited because he was being told he could have a cheeseburger. Which is funny because cats do not even eat cheeseburgers normally, but the cat in question is obese!1

The Collins book is on my list of books/papers to read. (And there is an actual list now; I decided I needed to get on top of what I was reading. So far I've mostly just eliminated a bunch of articles from it.)

The spinoza stuff got long enough to be a post. So I'm making it into a post.

Ben Wolfson said...

You mean that Thompson is a genius as a speaker? I ask given the earlier comments in the post.

The more I think about NAT the more I find to quibble over, but it's definitely a useful piece, I think.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Ah, I can see how you read me that way. That's not how I meant it: I still think there probably *is* something important in Thompson's work; I just don't know what it's supposed to be. I need to spend more time with it at some point.

His enthusiasm for Philipa Foot does worry me, though. As does the rigid designation passage in part three. I'm pretty sure that Thompson means for "Life and Action" to have something to do with ethics, and that I want to jump ship before that point. But there seems to be some promising stuff in the prolegomena to that.

He was definitely very impressive at the conference, though. Very quick on his feet. Terrific Q&A session.

Ben Wolfson said...

I still haven't read part three. I suspect that some of the same relevant stuff crops up in "What Is It To Wrong Someone?", though. I talked to him a little bit Saturday morning ("Can I ask you something about your talk?" "Hey, it's your funeral") and he allowed that he might have been a little dogmatic with the lottery-ticket stuff in the Q&A. It didn't seem as if the objectors were really getting their points across—not not across to him, but not articulating whatever points they might have half-had.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I don't remember the lottery ticket stuff; can you remind me?

J said...


Useless--not to say fugly--as tits on a bull, sort of like Thomas Kuhn's writings taken as a whole.

You're the mockery of Frege as well (as is the lil' duckasan gang)

Daniel Lindquist said...

Welcome back ToSsy! I was afraid you'd forgotten me <3