All has been quiet here lately, and with good reason. I’m doing a lot of interesting things:
- I started teaching a high school philosophy class last week, which is a pure joy for me.
- I started actually writing my thesis a few weeks ago, and I’m a little over 3000 words in, and working on the next big sections. Hopefully I’ll be around 6-8000 words by the second week of September.
- I’ve been coaching a high school cross country team since August 1. Also a joy, but of a different sort.
- I’m prepping to teach a freshman orientation class at my university this fall.
All while doing my best to keep the centers of my life focused — just trying to be a present and loving father and husband. I fail a ton, but I’m working hard to make sure the work I do doesn’t hinder or suppress who I am.
This is a good, tiring, slightly overwhelming time for me. I get the sense that I’m moving in a direction that will be highly satisfying for me vocationally — we’ll see where I’m at by the end of 2018.
My other hope is that, while the blog will suffer a little over the coming months, that I pick it back up with full force once things settle down in late November. I love epistemology, but I imagine there will be other areas I want to explore in the future.
I don’t often get to verbalize concepts from my thesis. I mean, I do in writing, but I don’t often get to have verbal conversations where I’m explaining the concepts I’m exploring from start to finish. Last night, however, I got the chance to do so while talking to my mom. We discussed my plans for the philosophy class I’m teaching this semester (starting Monday!), and as I explained my hopes and plans for the class, I realized that my primary goal is the following:
I want to simply prepare the seniors taking this class to be courageous when tackling the most difficult questions about the world and humanity — the questions that philosophers and theologians and everyone else have been asking since at least a few thousand years ago. These are questions that are going to be dealt with in college philosophy courses, in their dorm rooms, internally, and on social media. It does no good for us to stick our head in the sand and give the high schoolers pat answers to these questions that no serious philosopher finds convincing or rational.
This purpose is largely driven by my own experience in college philosophy courses. None of my philosophy professors were seeking to destroy or unravel my faith — it just slowly happened over time because I had never been prepared to answer these questions well. Descartes’s problem of knowledge and certainty that he brings up in Meditations on First Philosophy is an important problem to explore, except when you don’t have someone that can walk you through that problem that you trust.
The same can be said for the problem of religious knowledge (the one that I’m addressing in my thesis). This is where the title of this post is coming from. I got the privilege last night of talking through why I think the way I do about religious knowledge now; especially regarding the separation of knowledge categories between objectivity and subjectivity, and why that split is important. The ease with which I explained the problem (and my/Kierkegaard’s proposed solution to the problem) indicated that I have at least successfully internalized that answer to the point of being able to explain it.
That’s a good feeling.
On its face, my thesis consists of exploring Kierkegaard’s models of epistemology and determining whether it would be a helpful model to appropriate in the present. I think it’s worth it for many reasons, especially because, as I’ve said previously, “Many of us spend more time building up mental frameworks to maintain our certainty that we are right and others are wrong than we do in living out our ethical and religious ideals we claim to believe.”
The deeper reason I’m focusing on Kierkegaard is because he’s helping me do what I mentioned in my recent post on teleological blogging. In other words, for something to be worth our time and energy and focus, we need to be able effectively answer two questions about that thing:
- What is this thing?
- What is this thing for?
My thesis is going to be a long-winded, academic treatment of the issue of religious epistemology, or what we can know about what we believe ethico-religiously. The questions I’ll end up asking (and attempting to answer) are (1) What is religious knowledge? and (2) What is religious knowledge for? I find the model of applying these two questions to a problem helpful, because it forces me to parse down the categories further, and helps me to think analytically and historically. For example, I cannot answer question 1 without first answering the question “What is knowledge?” in general. And then further, how do we justify the claim that we “know” something? What can we know with absolute certainty, and we can we only know approximately? And are those things that we “know” even knowable in those ways? Are there other types of knowledge (knowing “that” something is true vs. knowing “how” to do something)? How do we determine which things we say we “know” belong in which categories?
This is how my thesis gets built. Keep asking the questions until I get to a point of clarity. I cannot honestly say whether I’m even in complete agreement with Kierkegaard. He offers what I think is an extremely useful model through his Johannes Climacus literature, and I hope that it helps me to clarify my own thinking. But even more than that, I hope that it helps me to live my life in a truer way than I did before, and that he serves as a guide for living a more faithful, Christian life.
This, from Austin Kleon, is exactly what I needed to hear today:
It takes time to do anything worthwhile, but thankfully, we don’t need it all in one chunk. So this year, forget about the year as a whole. Forget about months and forget about weeks.
Focus on days.
The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.
I needed to take some time away from my thesis writing and reading — the end of the school year, along with the normal, daily busy-ness that comes with family and work life, led to the need for a little break. However, I’m finding it eminently difficult to get back into the hard work of reading every night. The inertia of the last few weeks is weighing heavy on my will.
So, what’s the solution? Well, I think it’s a perspective-shift. First, I need to actively understand that getting back into the work won’t feel natural or easy. In looking for the path of least resistance, my brain would much rather rewatch The Office than read a book called The Paradoxical Rationality of Soren Kierkegaard. Second, I need to lower the expectations which I have placed on myself I cannot immediately revert back to three hours of reading per night when I haven’t been doing that recently. Instead, I need to use the tactic of simply “one small thing, every day.” Kleon again:
Figure out what your little daily chunk of work is, and every day, no matter what, make sure it gets done.
Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies.
Let’s get back to it, one step at a time.