Who Am I?

Man with question mark over faceWhen someone studying philosophy begins a discussion with the question ‘Who am I?’ your instinctive reaction may be to look for the nearest exit. But before you take your leave, let me assure you that my aim in asking and answering that question is much more prosaic than the label ‘philosopher’ might at first lead you to believe.

My name is Eric DeJardin, and I live in the state of Rhode Island in the United States. I’ve been interested in philosophy since I was a teenager, but I didn’t begin to study it formally until I began to work towards a Bachelors degree at Harvard’s Extension School in Cambridge, MA. My classes on the history of philosophy and on logic with Hugo Bedau, Eli Hirsch and Jay Harris were among the most enjoyable and enlightening I’ve ever taken. I had planned to attain a degree from the Extension School, but after completing about half the required coursework the costs of travelling three times per week from Providence, RI to Cambridge, MA became prohibitive. So I put my formal academic goals on hold and began to look about for an affordable — but, very importantly, high quality — alternative.

philosophy_dictionaryAfter discontinuing my studies with the Extension School, my primary engagement with philosophy came via various blogs run by professors and graduate students. Then in November of 2012, I came across a post on the blog ‘Leiter Reports’ that was about (in part) distance learning programs.   The first post in the comments section was by Professor Samuel Guttenplan, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Guttenplan wrote:

“Up until recently – and for 12 years before that – I was Programme Director of London International Philosophy. Quite a few students completing the BA got First Class Honours and went on to postgraduate work at e.g. Cornell, Oxford, London and several other universities. In all cases, I was able to supply a reference based on the student’s record on written examinations, pointing out too that the BA had the same standards and often the same markers as the internal London BA.”

This was the first time I had heard about University of London. I researched it obsessively for four months after reading that comment, and was amazed by what I discovered, viz. an affordable program of exceptional quality with unparalleled flexibility. (It’s that affordable and that flexible, and still good enough for Oxford — are you kidding me?) It’s administered by Birkbeck College, which I knew, from reading Leiter Reports, has an excellent reputation among professional philosophers. But there was that one little bit about ‘no instruction’ I learned about through my research — there are no lectures, there’s no interaction with professors, and no graded work through the course of the year. The only guidance UoL philosophy students receive comes in the form of a Subject Guide for each course, which contains brief introductions to key topics and extensive reading lists (more info on study materials here). Clearly, I thought, this program is not for everyone. But, is it for me?

While trying to answer that question by further researching UoL, I came across Dr. Geoffrey Klempner’s ‘Pathways to Philosophy’ website. I learned that Dr. Klempner provided UoL students with instruction and guidance in the form of essay-length responses to student essays. So, I began to study philosophy with Dr. Klempner, and did so from March of 2013 to May of 2014, which is when I registered with UoL’s BA Philosophy program.

Unfortunately — well, unfortunately for me! — Dr. Klempner announced his retirement from teaching in June of 2014. I learned a lot about doing philosophy from him — and, importantly, about what it means to be a philosopher, and to have philosophical problems — and will always be grateful to him for his guidance and mentorship. And while the student guides, which I had just received access to via the UoL Student Portal, were excellent, I wanted to get as much as possible out of my UoL experience, so I began to seek out alternative means of instruction.

While discussing Dr. Klempner’s retirement with some friends on the UoL Philosophy Program Facebook page, I hit upon the idea of asking the graduate students at Birkbeck if they would be interested in filling the gap Dr. Klempner left. Luckily, Birkbeck liked the idea, and so now UoL philosophy students have access to an affordable and reliable source of instruction, should they choose to use it. And, while I was waiting for Birkbeck to respond to my proposal, I found an amazing tutor of my own!

I’ve learned that the style of study (for philosophy) that is, in my judgment, best compatible with UoL fits me perfectly. I’ve tried to model my approach on the famous Oxford tutorial system: I begin with a previous exam question on a topic I’m studying, and the suggested reading from the Subject Guide. I then spend a week or two researching the topic using the resources supplied by the UoL Online Library, and local university libraries (I’m lucky enough to have access to the libraries at Brown, Rhode Island College and Providence College, each of which is within fifteen minutes of my home) and completing an essay in response to the exam question. When the essay is complete, I send it to my tutor for comments, criticism and suggestions. And then I select a different question and begin the process all over again.

UoL prides itself on providing its students with resources that can stand alone, as it were. And I know some excellent students who have achieved amazing results while using only UoL resources. But if you can combine the resources UoL supplies with access to a university library, an excellent tutor, online lectures and podcasts from independent sources like iTunes, and a forum in which you can easily engage with fellow students (like Facebook or the Student Café on the UoL Student Portal), you can maximize the educational experience UoL makes available. And, since my ultimate goal is to go on to study philosophy at the graduate level, getting access to those additional resources is important to me. But that is, at least in part, what’s so amazing about UoL — no matter what your goals are, you’ll have the opportunity to attain them in whatever way you judge to be best.

Eric is studying for the BA Philosophy by distance learning in Rhode Island, USA.

3 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. Hi Eric, could you please guide me to some good articles explaining how writing philosophical essay studying philosophy (especially as UoL student) helps one grow intellectually and writing professionally on topics of his interest. Regards. Yasir1627@yahoo.com

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  2. Hi Yasir,

    Sorry for the very late response! I’m afraid I’m not sure how to answer that question. The best I can do is point you to some guides to writing philosophical essays. Perhaps from there you can see how writing philosophical essays may develop skills that interest you.

    http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/guidelines/writing.html

    http://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/philosophical_writing.pdf

    Hi Dennis,

    I’ll post the details of the agreement below (you can find contact information there). If for any reason things have changed, please let me know and I can recommend some other tutors to work with.

    UoLIP-Birkbeck essay marking and feedback

    An informal arrangement for the provision of essay-feedback services has been made between
    students of the University of London International Programme (UoLIP) and Birkbeck College’s
    research students. UoLIP students follow self-guided study to work toward an award from the
    University of London, but some students may wish to receive feedback on work at some point
    before the pressured environment of exams, so research students from Birkbeck (which
    administers the UoLIP philosophy programme) will provide this assistance for a fee. Below are the
    details of the arrangement. Feel free to read everything, but Birkbeck research students should take
    note of the information for prospective tutors, and UoLIP students of the information for
    prospective tutees.

    Fees:

    Fees for services will be set at £24 for essays below 1500 words, and £32 for essays between 1500
    and 3000 words. Fees for work that does not fit these criteria can be arranged between the student
    and their tutor.

    Fees should in most cases be paid via PayPal, as the most secure and straightforward method in the
    circumstances. Students and tutors may organise other payment methods if they wish. To avoid
    uncertainty, please ensure that payment is made within 48 hours of the return of the marked essay
    unless otherwise arranged between tutor and tutee.

    Problems:

    Anyone unhappy with their current arrangement can request to be put in contact with someone
    else, which will be arranged conditional on availability. Again, any problems can be reported to
    me, but I stress that this is an informal arrangement. If students make unreasonable requests or fail
    to pay they will not be put into contact with further tutors, and if tutors provide excessively late or
    low-quality feedback they will not receive further students, but at the point of service it is up to
    those involved in the arrangement to resolve any problems. I will act as a facilitator, but I can only
    respond to a reasonable number of queries so please only contact me if necessary.
    Information for prospective tutees

    Making arrangements:

    If you are interested in submitting one or more essays for feedback, send an email to
    kegert01@mail.bbk.ac.uk with the subject heading “UoLIP tutee”. In the body of the email
    confirm your name and email address for contact, provide the title/s of the module/s for which you
    would like to receive essay feedback, and indicate rough time-frames for these (e.g. “I would like
    to get feedback on an Epistemology essay during November, and a Metaphysics essay during
    December”). Your email will be acknowledged and, provided a tutor can be found, I will confirm
    the name and email address of your assigned tutor. You should then email them as soon as possible
    to confirm the following: (i) the subject of your essay – preferably a specific title, (ii) the expected
    length of the essay, (iii) planned submission date, and (iv) desired return date for the essay. Once
    the essay has been submitted and feedback has been received, payment should be promptly sent to
    the tutor via a channel agreed between you (preferably PayPal). You should then receive an
    annotated copy of your essay at the appropriate time – the tutor may choose to include a
    provisional grade, but not that this will be an aid to development, not a guarantee. If you are happy
    with your arrangement with the tutor, you may contact them directly from that point onward. If
    you have any problems that cannot be resolved between you and your tutor, email
    kegert01@mail.bbk.ac.uk and clearly explain your difficulties, and I will do my best to help
    resolve them.

    Information for prospective tutors

    Tutors will mark essays submitted by students and provide extensive feedback. Given the lack of
    face-to-face tutorials, detail will be especially important in the comments. Provisional grades may
    be assigned at tutors’ discretion, but students should note that these are aids to self-assessment
    rather than clear indications of the actual grade an essay would receive. Tutors will be expected to
    respond to queries and clarifications provided that they remain within reasonable limits.
    UoLIP students choose from the following list of modules (the levels are not of particular
    relevance, except that you should note an increasing need for in-depth familiarity as the levels
    increase):

    Level 4:
    Introduction to Philosophy
    Ethics: Historical Perspectives
    Epistemology
    Logic

    Level 5:
    Greek Philosophy: Plato and the Pre-Socratics
    Modern Philosophy: Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume
    Ethics: Contemporary Perspectives
    Metaphysics
    Methodology: Induction, Reason and Science

    Level 6:
    Modern Philosophy: Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant
    Greek Philosophy: Aristotle
    Continental Philosophy: Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
    Aesthetics
    Philosophy of Language
    Philosophy of Mind
    Political Philosophy
    Philosophy of Religion

    Making arrangements:

    If you are interested in tutoring UoLIP students, send an email to kegert01@mail.bbk.ac.uk with
    the subject heading “UoLIP tutor”. In the body of the email confirm your name and email address
    for contact, provide the title/s of the module/s for which you are happy to provide essay feedback
    (please be realistic about your competencies), and indicate any known periods of unavailability.
    Your email will be acknowledged, but you will only hear back from me if and when a suitable
    tutee is found. I will confirm the student’s name and email address, at which point you should wait
    for them to contact you. Once they have provided the requisite information, arrange a time-frame
    for marking and once you have received the essay work through it, providing feedback with as
    much detail as you believe will be helpful. I recommend using the “Comment” function in most
    standard word processors. When you return the annotated version of the essay, provide the
    appropriate details for payment (PayPal is best, though you will have to make sure you set an
    account up promptly as there are some security checks you have to go through before you can use
    the account). If you are happy with your arrangement with the tutee, remind them that they can
    contact you directly from that point onward. If you are unable to assist them with their next essay
    for any reason, please forward the email in which they request assistance to me. If you have any
    problems that cannot be resolved between you and your tutee, email kegert01@mail.bbk.ac.uk and
    clearly explain your difficulties, and I will do my best to help resolve them.

    Like

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