By now, many of us have completed our 2015 University of London (UoL) exams. We’re hoping for good results. But that’s only because there’s a sense in which we don’t know how well we performed. That is, we have doubts about how well we performed. In this case, our doubts are in a sense forced upon us by the nature of our situation. For we desire good grades, we’ve completed our exam essays, and there are criteria that our essays must satisfy to earn good grades. But we have insufficient information to determine precisely what criteria our completed exam essays in fact satisfy. Thus, we’re left with our doubts and our hopes (at least until July!).
Doing a master’s course is a great learning process. The four core modules form a great theoretical basis which Moodle and all the readings turn into a practical discovery and global exploration. The subsequent elective modules are more demanding as academic writing comes in! If, like me, you have not done such serious assignment writing before, it is really tough to write six essays in two years and not get desperate because of fear for wrong referencing, paraphrasing, quoting or not fitting within the strict word limits. Still, it is an ideal learning process for the project report of 10,000 words that I am about to start as soon as I get ethical approval locally and from LSHTM.
Well, unless you’ve been trapped in a Yotel for the last three weeks, (or if like me you’ve been studying like a mad thing for your LLB exams then you are forgiven), you’ll be aware that there’s been a fight. Now this was not just any schoolyard brawl, nor even any other professional fight, it was billed as THE fight of the 21st century and even the media began running out of superlatives. The indomitable Emmanuel “Manny” Dapidran Pacquiao (first and only “eight-division world champion”) went glove-to-glove with Floyd Joy Sinclair known to us as the seemingly undefeatable Floyd Mayweather Jr. in what was the richest fight in boxing history.
Exams are only weeks away. Perhaps many of you woke up earlier than usual this morning so that, after the usual chores, you could continue revising a subject that you began working on last night. I did. But as is often the case in philosophy, this very ordinary scenario raises some fascinating and remarkably difficult questions. One of them is called ‘the problem of personal identity’, which we could put, at a first pass, like this: How do you know that the ‘you’ who awoke this morning and continued revising is one and the same person as the ‘you’ who was revising and then went to sleep last night? Let’s call this the Basic Question.
I realize that this problem – or even the suggestion that it actually is a problem — may sound ridiculous to many of you. But I shall try, as Bouwsma said a philosopher must, to ‘quicken the sense of the queer’ – that is, to explain why it is in fact so wonderfully problematic. And later, I shall try to explain some of the practical implications that follow from how we ultimately answer questions like the Basic Question.
Questions about study habits and practices are very personal questions. They’re not personal in the impolite sense that to raise them evinces a bit of social ineptitude on the part of the enquirer. Rather, they’re personal in the sense that what ‘works’ for each of us will be determined by largely subjective or person-relative factors: What are our goals? What resources do we have access to? What sort of preparation have we undergone? What learning-strategies have we found to be most effective? What extra-academic obligations do we have? And so on.
Given that studying is so deeply personal in that latter sense, this post will only be about how I approach studying. Specifically, it will be about how I approach the study of philosophy as a University of London (UoL) student. My aim in sharing my approach to studying philosophy is threefold: first, I hope that it will provide those who may be interested in studying philosophy both with an idea of what it’s like to study it at the university level, and what it’s like to study it as a UoL student; second, I hope that others who are studying philosophy, or other essay-based humanities subjects, will glean some ideas from my approach that might help them with their studies; and third, I hope that others will share their ideas on studying with me (perhaps in the comments section of this post!) so that I might learn from them.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
The Walrus and the Carpenter – Lewis Carroll
Well for many of us in fact it is far from the time to be discussing cabbages and kings; with exams looming I’m imagining that most of our befuddled minds are wondering just what the heck we are going to talk about and are we able to do it in the required 45 minutes. So rather than add to anyone’s confusion by blogging on the 17 ways you can increase your memory overnight from that of a small invertebrate to Einstein on steroids, or the 743 absolute must-know contract cases, I thought I would pleasantly distract you with a few news stories that in fact do have anthropological, historical and legal significance but err on the lighter side of information provision!!!