Saturday, March 28, 2009

Summer Funding

So, I recently found out that I will be fortunate enough to receive summer funding this year. I hadn’t necessarily expected it, which was a concern because (a) I knew I had to make some kind of income over the course of the summer and I didn’t know what I could or would want to do, and (b) not taking classes in the summer is an impediment to one’s academic progress. I feel much more at ease knowing I can continue satisfying requirements for my Ph.D. while also earning some extra cash to continue feeding and housing my family. It’s good news all around. (And I’d probably write a more enthusiastic post about it if I weren’t both descending into sickness and mentally exhausted from writing papers on difficult topics for almost a week straight now.)

There is only one official graduate course in philosophy being taught this summer: Naturalized Epistemology. I’ll take it because it’s there, but I don’t even know what that means, to be honest. Epistemology has to do with knowledge – what it is, how we acquire it (if at all), and what makes it different than, say, belief. From what I’ve heard, naturalized epistemology somehow ties epistemology more closely to psychology. I am somewhat attracted to psychology, so I am hoping it will prove an interesting course. We’ll find out.

To fill up the other nine credit hours I’ll be required to take, I more or less have to set up my own programs of study with professors of my choice (provided they are available and willing). I know what two of these will be. I will be joining a fellow doctoral student in studying under our department’s head logician, who also does a bit of work in practical reasoning, which is what we’ll be studying. In particular, we’ll be looking into the issue of acting for reasons. The other, more truly independent studying I’ll be doing is going to be on mental action. I have a growing interest in exploring the nature of thought as it relates to the will, and I have not studied anything that deals specifically with mental events as willful, volitional actions. I have been told it is a largely unexplored area in philosophy, which excites me because it’s always good to find yourself drawn to something that will give you a unique voice. I’m looking forward to this “class.”

I have yet to decide what my final independent study should be. I have a few ideas. I have had an increasing desire to study philosophy of time, but I don’t know of anyone in the department that could be of much help in that area. I’m also curious about doing something with memory. That’s not exactly a branch of philosophy, though, so I’m not sure who to talk to or where to start. Perhaps someone who specializes in the philosophy of psychology or cognitive science. I am probably drawn to the topic of memory primarily because I think it bears upon us as acting agents, and so plays into issues of free will and moral responsibility. That would be my primary interest in studying memory, though I think I could find it intriguing even on a more general level.

Finally, the topic I might be most likely to do independent study work on is that of event disambiguation. I made up that term, so far as I know, but the idea is not my own. Basically, I am curious about how we differentiate between events. (This probably stemmed from my initial curiosity about time.) In free will, for example, many discussions revolve around the time when a decision (which is an event) took place, or the precise moment when a person performed some action (another event). I worry that when we refer to a certain event, there is actually a great deal more ambiguity in what that refers to than we might initially think. If an event is something that has temporal extension (i.e. it takes time to occur), then how do we know the exact limits of that event? We think it begins when the event begins, but that’s not really very clear. It seems that any breadth of time wherein one moves from an event’s absence to an event’s already being underway is eligible to be called the “beginning” of the event. But how large do we make that chunk of time? I don’t think we can cut it off right at the “actual” beginning, because I think the best you can do is choose a chunk of time that has the event already having started or that includes some duration of time where the event has yet to begin. There is no particular place to locate the beginning – the beginning is just the chunk of time that both includes the event and includes time prior to the event.

OK, if you’ve read this far, you’re amazing. Or you’re my mom. Or maybe JoAnna. Thanks, you two. I realize this is the most boring post ever from everyone else’s point of view, but this one was for me. So there.


  1. One source you might want to cite about mental events as volitional actions:

    McFerrin, Bobby. "Don't Worry, Be Happy". Simple Pleasures. Capitol, 1998.

  2. Also, deliberate ambiguity about incipience is at least as old as Genesis; I'm told the Hebrew in Gen 1:1 is literally something like "When the beginning", using a fractured grammar deliberately to avoid trying to make a specific reference to whether it was a moment or a period.

  3. I love you Ben. You are always a delight somehow. I have to admit to having a rough time holding on to the wild rides you give us through your thoughts at times, but is does turn out to be worth it.

    Cheers for your amazing brain!!!

  4. Hey, having my name credited at the end was worth the read. Haha. I'm quite intrigued... for as much as lay man can be. I just think it's awesome that you are so smart to do independent study on this level. And I'm happy to hear you will be earning an income. I'm sure that takes off some stress. I hope so and I hope all goes well.