Bridget Groff of Houston, TX sends us this very nice letter about her experience with PEL:
Dear Partially Examined Life,
I am 20 years old. I am a female. I am not very large in stature and my face can perhaps only be described as cherubic. I’m a philosophy major.
I attend a (very) small, Catholic liberal arts college in Houston, Texas. I was raised Catholic and was fortunate enough to receive a Catholic education for my entire life; however, by the time I entered college, I was experiencing what a priest once told me was an “adolescent slump.” Like many teenagers, I was anxious, a little rebellious, and resentful of my Catholic education because, “they’re just, like, brainwashing us, man.” At age 16, I first read Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I can’t remember what compelled me to read it, but I think it was a mixture of teenage angst and an urge to fill some kind of spiritual void. “God is dead”? I could feel the edginess seeping into my marrow already. Little did I know, I was cultivating a dangerous bias. My introduction to philosophy baptized me in a pseudo-enlightened, nihilistic bath of misinformation. I was under the false impression that philosophy stands completely antithetical to theology, and that the sole purposes of philosophy are to disprove faith and kill God.
Once again, I developed a false understanding of what philosophy is supposed to be. I painted in my head a picture of old men in seersucker suits, smoking cigarettes in a hermetical chamber of mahogany.
This changed when I got to college. As a part of its mandatory curriculum, my university requires its undergraduates to take three theology and three philosophy courses. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to three more years of theology classes, and I already thought I had a good grasp on philosophy. Further, at a Catholic university with an entire program dedicated to Thomistic philosophy, I found that most philosophy courses were taught with a slight (sometimes not so slight) Thomistic edge. This bothered me at first, but I soon became enamored by logical proofs for the existence of God. I was fascinated by the metaphysical implications of a human soul. I soon realized that theology and philosophy are, on a certain level, inseparable. What was once a vain interest in philosophy turned into an incredible sense of purpose; I felt like I had found some secret key to knowing God. Slowly but surely, I found myself pulled back into what I’m willing to call a true faith. What sparked this return to Catholicism was not an Earth-shattering conversion experience. It wasn’t God’s voice in my ear or a cold-sweat dream of the beatific vision. It was a logical, argumentative, and systematic process that ultimately led me to decide that God is not dead, after all.
As I continued to pursue philosophy, however, I was distressed to learn that contemporary philosophers largely ignore the notion of God, and that theology has no place in most logical argumentation. I felt completely adrift in my Analytical Philosophy class, and I couldn’t fall back on my Thomistic training. I became doubtful, frightened, and intimidated by philosophy. Once again, I developed a false understanding of what philosophy is supposed to be. I painted in my head a picture of old men in seersucker suits, smoking cigarettes in a hermetical chamber of mahogany. I knock on the heavy wooden door and whisper, “fidelio.” They let me in, offer me coffee and a cigarette, but, as soon as I open my mouth, they realize I’m not one of them. The encounter doesn’t end in a human sacrifice, but they call me a Thomist and I guess that’s bad enough.
It was for this very reason that I was attracted to The Partially Examined Life. PEL talks about philosophy like I’d never heard before. To quote Seth Paskin on Quine‘s Two Dogmas of Empiricism, “Can we… talk about that for a second? Who… who cares? Who gives a shit how many entities there are?” Philosophy no longer wore a seersucker suit but a tee-shirt and Levi’s. Yet, there was still the problem of God! I found nothing comforting in the Frege-Geach problem or Russell’s theory of Definite Descriptions. I found them fascinating, yes, but they were unrelated to the very reason that brought me to philosophy in the first place. Until, on one particularly bad day, driving home in the disgusting Houston traffic, I listened to Episode 73 of PEL, Why Do Philosophy? I was moved by Mark’s story of how some strange sense of faith motivated him to pursue philosophy later in life. I was galvanized by, as Mark puts it, “a sense of mission, that there really is something that we’re supposed to be doing.” I decided that my newly restored belief in God and my interest in philosophy do not have to be at odds with each other. I realized that I am not alone in this pursuit of “something bigger,” and I can find truth in both Wittgenstein’s picture theory and Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God, though perhaps to a lesser degree in the former, (does making a philosophy joke mean that I’m “in”?).
PEL has taught me that philosophy does not have to be daunting, it is not limited to unsmiling old men, and that to study philosophy is not to abandon my innermost convictions. I would like to thank The Partially Examined Life for cultivating my interest in philosophy when I thought I was doomed, and for proving that I, too, can be good enough. I hope to one day do philosophy for a living, though another day I might think better of it.
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