Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Daring to Do Philosophy

It is a rather bold thing, to claim, as this blog's title suggests that one is a philosopher. My formal training in philosophy ended with my major and undergraduate degree. Later, I received a JD, practiced law for nine years, and then went back to graduate school to obtain a masters degree in library and information science. Currently, I am the director of a small law school library and enjoy the title of Professor of Law. However, none of this qualifies me as a philosopher.

I recall the account of Prof. Paul Hedengren, one of my philosophy professors, that while he was in graduate school at University of Toronto, one of his professors accosted him for having the audacity to do philosophy, rather than appropriately limiting himself to the study of the great philosophers in history. Apparently, philosophy is the relegated to the dead, and the rest of us have no business in the subject; otherwise, we risk playing the role of the "sorcerer’s apprentice."

To understand what philosophy is, it is helpful to understand what it is not. While still an undergraduate at a religious university, a woman sitting next to me on an airplane struck up a conversation and asked me about my major in school. When I told her, she queried, "how can you study philosophy at a school like that?" I reflected on her question and answered, "If philosophy's role were limited to confronting religion, I suppose you would be right, but it challenges all thinking of its times."

This blog will serve the general purpose of challenging thinking of our time. It does so best when it tests the individual who engages therein; hence, my need to share my thinking, which will often be inadequate to the task, with others. Philosophy is an activity in which all of us should engage. I encourage your comments and participation.


  1. The original post was accidentally deleted. I did not save a copy; so here is a replacement.

  2. Paul: Love the blog nascent. I promise I will be a regular reader. If you feel turnabout is fair play, why then, here you go: wmreger.wordpress.com. There are days when I feel that you left Illinois far too soon, so maybe through the miracle of blogging, I can correct your mistake in moving away (that's a joke, son, I say, a joke). Is it fair to say that philosophy is the pursuit of those who become aware? That's your homework assignment. Get back to me.

  3. William: Your blog inspires me. You are a dedicated writer.

    You may have meant self-awareness, but I prefer a broader definition. I love a philological approach. The word "aware" comes from the old English "gewær" meaning "wary or cautious." It suggests attention and perhaps aversion to danger or risk. There is danger in unexamined thinking. There is always danger in ideology, worldview, etc.

  4. I suppose I did mean "self-aware" but not in the sense of focusing awareness on the self; rather with the sense of being aware of one's true character and one's place in the world. Wariness or caution do not reflect what I mean, but attention does. I want to reject the notion that the world is full of danger or risk. I don't feel comfortable with the metaphor of war (between good and evil, light and darkness) that is often used. I prefer the understanding that attention leads to right action, to love/concern for others, to recognizing and embracing quality wherever it is found. That is at the root (I believe) of true repentance, and it is the driving force of what I mean by awareness. All this struggle to find words to clarify has reminded me that philosophy is very much a word game. Without the proper terminology at hand, I am way out of my league perhaps. But yes, to put it simply: pay attention.

    Now write more so I can get into your head.

  5. I think we will find "self-awareness" far to limiting. I had something else in mind. More later.