The Philosopher’s Plight

On Term Papers and Intellectual Integrity

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible philosopher. Putting aside the minor fact that prior to this semester break I hadn’t completed a single non-introductory philosophy module over two years of study, my recent classes have cast further doubt on whether I’m even cut out for the craft of philosophy — you know, critiquing an argument and all that jazz. It’s fair to say that I’m the type of person who is easily intrigued by thought experiments, paradoxes, and profound questions about the nature of humanity and everything that surrounds it (if there is such a thing). But the reality of the philosopher’s craft, which my minor has to some degree introduced me to, might prove my academic Achilles heel. (Not that being a slow reader is any drawback at all…)

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Poetry of the Dangerous Classes

After striking the cranium the bullet was moving at 900 feet per second, a pathetically sluggish, glacial pace compared to the synaptic lighting that flashed around it. Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time, which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have abhorred, ‘passed before his eyes.’

— Tobias Wolff, “Bullet in the Brain”

I want to talk about one of my favourite short stories today: “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. (Please click on the title to read it and then come back; otherwise this post isn’t going to be very interesting. And be careful — graphic imagery ahead!)

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Old Acquaintance

When you read a book about memory, be it a memoir or novel, do you ever make up some happy ending and start to dread every passing remark by the narrator about what actually happened? They’ve got to be teasing you. There’s no way they’re unaware of the hope they inspire with their recurring monologues about What Could Have Been, their casual hints at a blooming love affair that never made it past the stage of fantasy. It’s torturous! So your only solace is wishing hindsight away.

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Just Deserts

On Meritocracy and Mouse Poop

[I]t is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Let me ask you a personal question. What’s the grade you’re most proud of in your life? For myself I couldn’t pick a favourite. But a very strong contender would be an Ethics test I took in my penultimate year of secondary school, graded by the single grumpiest and hardest-to-please teacher I’ve ever had, Mr H.

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A Simple Truth

For as long as I’ve known about it, I’ve been a fan of the idea that “the truth resists simplicity,” as John Green once  eloquently put it. It’s not just a clever phrase because, as his brother Hank observed, it’s a simple truth about the rarity of simple truths, but also because many of society’s evils can be traced back to an ignorance of the fact that all simplicity is constructed, that there’s no entity in this universe with just one essential trait. Our species has an unshakable habit of essentializing the other — whether they differ from us socially or biologically — and we’re all guilty of it. Simplifications are especially harmful when directed toward living beings, but at the end of the day our brains know no way around them.

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