It’s that time of the year again.
I’m quite sure that everyone is rather stressed for the exams and I understand for I feel the same way too.
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.
Philosophy students love questions. Most of us were introduced to philosophy through memorable encounters with particularly riveting questions – questions that gripped us as soon as we gripped them. Is there a god? What are rights? Do we have free will? Is any action really right or wrong? Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?
But there’s one question that most of us don’t find particularly compelling. Unfortunately, it may also be the question that we are, as philosophy students, most frequently asked:
“What can you do with a philosophy degree?”
I’m going to try to answer that question. But first, I’d like to reformulate the question in the following way:
“Why study philosophy?”
Books, how educational are they today? We all like to read, but the question is: what is the content of the books we read? And on what basis do we select the books we want to read? Why are there so many underrated talented authors who are writing down lines of poetry on scraps of paper and at the back of bills, and no one gives them a second look? Why are so many writers who are worshipped by large numbers despite their works having not much literary worth? Such were the questions I was musing today; I realised that I must board the time machine, and delve into the recent past, to find the answers.
School is a very demanding thing to commit to. Throw a job and an attempt at a social life into the mix and you may begin to wonder how you manage to find time to eat and sleep! However, throughout all the madness, I’ve found three helpful tips that help with time management and productivity. This is key to making the school-work-life balancing act run a little more smoothly.