Friday, September 26, 2008

Life: Epistemological Writings

As a beginning student of philosophy, my knowledge of the various philosophical studies is naturally limited. While, by my nature, I tend towards philosophical thought, I have not read a great breadth of philosophy. I could hardly call myself a student if I knew it all ahead of time.

 Still, in general I think I come to understand the subjects pretty well when presented with them. I love philosophy, and it's something that I'm good at. I wouldn't be majoring in it otherwise. Nevertheless, there's always a learning curve for any subject. Currently, I'm reading an article for my epistemology class titled, "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" by David Chalmers. This paper is driving me crazy. Chalmers is, I understand, one of the great minds of modern epistemology and, as such, his work is quite influential.

Reading a paper like "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" is frustrating to me, because I know that I can understand the topics presented, but the manner in which they are laid out makes them dense and insanely difficult to process for one not used to reading this sort of scholarly writing. For example, Chalmers makes the following illustration to one of his points

"Take Nancy, who attends to a patch of phenomenal color, acting cognitively as if to demonstrate a highly specific phenomenal shade. Nancy has not attended sufficiently closely to notice that the patch has a nonuniform phenomenal color: let us say it is a veridical experience of a square colored with different shades of red on its left and right side"(Chalmers, "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief").
A paragraph like that is so weighed down in vocabulary specific to the register of advanced epistemology, that for a beginner like me it means almost nothing. I'm forced to spend a huge amount of time just deciphering what his terms mean before I can even begin to try and understand what he's saying. Ultimately, I'm studying philosophy to learn philosophy, not to decipher peculiar sentences so the beginning stages of studying the subject can be a tad irritating. I suppose one could call it growing pains.

I understand the importance of specific registers (or jargon) for different fields. Without these linguistic usages a writer would be constantly forced to explain over the terms he was using for concepts. Still, they make these readings much more difficult for a beginner.

Of course, in the end that's part of what schooling is about. Despite my frustrations with Chalmers wording I will get through it and I will understand what he's saying and that skill will serve me in reading what other philosophers have to say, and what a sweet taste it will be when that day comes.

I do think, however, it would be a great idea for schools to offer a class in how to read philosophy that trained one to decipher these difficult texts. No doubt this sort of class would be useful for other majors as well.

Well, here's me looking forward to the day when I can read the works like those of David Chalmers without a second thought.

"The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" by David Chalmers