Probably the most fascinating part of the trip to Italy this fall was the city of Matera. It’s an ancient city carved into the side of a magnificent limestone ravine. The homes are actually caves, although from the outside you might not realize this. The town was forcibly vacated — that is the residents were forced to leave — in 1954 because they were living in such poverty and in caves after all. But now it is revitalized as a historic marvel and tourist destination — although still a bit off the beaten track.
Evening in Matera
Although this was a highlight, the entire trip was somewhat like this. There were tourists but they were mostly Italian, occasionally German, only rarely American. It was early fall, so passed the summer crowds, some rain, always a bit moody and isolated, but beautiful.
I traveled with a group of women roughly the same age but all quite different – no other philosophers, no other college professors — lawyers, teachers, women employed in or running various businesses, retired women like myself.
And, of course, traveling is separates you from the mundane. It is addicting I think. I have traveled a lot in 2015 and have thought about it a lot as well. One thing that I find rather disturbing about it is the way it becomes a topic of conversation among a certain class and people of a certain age (my age apparently). People “collect” places that they have been as a kind of marker of their — their what exactly? Sometimes it seems that their trips are a mark of their worth – I have been to x, y, and z — more exotic is better — greater worth of course. Is this a way of illustrating one’s wealth? One’s refinement? One’s open mindedness? One’s adventurousness? All I think. A certain amount of travel allows you entry into the conversation and then there is a little dance as people gauge to what extent you are worthy of further comparative travel talk. Some of this talk is a means to find out new places to go and new ways to get there –this is when it is at its least obnoxious I think. But then there is sometimes a desire to trump others — better travel — and the standards by which it is better may vary so the conversation can get tricky.
I don’t really like these conversations but then I do like to travel and puzzle over my own motivations. Some of my travel has been just for the sake of movement — exotic places haven’t mattered that much as just breaking routine and being elsewhere (this is another topic) — but lately I do find that there are things that I just want to see — places that I haven’t been that I just have a desire to go to. I could do without the conversation though.
But then at least there is something to talk about at holiday parties where you don’t know anyone.
Pollino National Forest
That’s my foot and that whitish area in the fifth metatarsal with the little arrow pointing to it is a stress fracture. I am now at the end of 6 weeks of wearing a boot and being on crutches. I walked on the poor bone for a month before submitted — an absolute necessity in my view since to have dealt with it earlier would have meant cancelling a hiking trip to Italy (which I will blog shortly) and a trip to Durham both of which were greatly anticipated and worth the pain the required walking entailed.
But that being said, the stress fracture has not been an auspicious beginning to my retirement. First, it is one of many things at this stage of life that has one musing about the fragility of the body. I didn’t do anything special to bring the injury about. I was just running. But “just running” on an ankle that is no longer very flexible because of injuries at other stages of my life — wounds carried with me — means that too much repeated pounding occurs in one spot of my left foot. Second, I am feeling somewhat housebound in any case since returning from my travels. I stay home while everyone else goes off to work. Now on the one hand I rather like this. I have my own little realm that I can use as I please, with no one interfering for most of the day. I can work at my own pace in as distracted or as focused a way as I like. And I have managed to do quite a bit of work. But on the other hand, the sorts of stimulations that the public work place provides are missing. I can’t help but feel somewhat dull. If moving about were easier, I would be moving about more and I look forward to the moment when I am able to do so.
Any benefits? I suppose an appreciation of the fact that it is not permanent. And maybe some patience – I have to move very slowly and plan what I am doing and where I am going. I tend to drop things and knock things over. I have to be patient with myself mostly and I supposed there is some virtue in learning that.
When I first had the idea that I wanted to start a blog it was shortly after a trip to Kyoto where I had walked along the philosophers’ walk. The name of the blog came to me while I was reflecting on that walk and how philosophy and walking have always been associated with each other. And then there was an idea that I had that as a philosopher I might use the blog to comment on a variety of things that I came across in the media (press, internet, and so on) and so in that way it would be like walking along and talking with those reading the blog – whoever they might be.
But that was long ago when FaceBook was young and the idea of blogging seemed fresh and new. My students were one group of readers that I had particularly hoped to reach with the blog. One of my goals when teaching introduction to philosophy has always been to try to show how philosophical ways of thinking could be useful, not just in philosophy class but in the world and I had hoped the blog might provide a way of modeling that idea.
It never really worked out like that. One reason is simply the nature of my job. Working on teaching takes time and while there were moments that I devoted solely to that task, I have to admit that there was less time spent in that way than I believe would have been optimal. I was distracted by my own philosophical interests and by administrative tasks at the college. Both kinds of work were really enjoyable and challenging for me in different ways and while I would promise to revise my courses and even sometimes do a bit here and there, the blog did not feature prominently in my revisions and I posted only rarely.
But now I am retired from my teaching position and this weekend I walked another Philosophers’ Walk – this time in Heidelberg – which reminds me that I am not retired from philosophy. I had forgotten that my original inspiration was the first such stroll until today. And so perhaps it is time to start the blog up again.
New feminist philosophy journal!
Four fantastic feminist philosophers are editors of a new philosophy journal!
In the best of times I find teaching critical thinking tremendously frustrating. I do not teach it at all for long stretches as a result, but the five-five schedule of a full-time community college teacher means that I return (frequently) to courses that I find frustrating in order to avoid the insanity that can result from teaching multiple sections of the same course. Three sections of the same course can produce (in me at any rate) something that resembles sleep walking in the classroom and a constant state of déjà vu (didn’t we go over this last class?).
In any case, I believe in critical thinking. I feel like I am doing something valuable as we work our way through the importance of giving reasons and all the ways that our thinking can go wrong even when we do so. The class finishes with a discussion of how to think critically about science and this semester’s class ended with a convergence of ideas and events that illustrated many of the most important ideas in the course.
Last week students were to write one page arguments either for or against the hypothesis that females are more nurturing and compassionate than males. The assignment was connected to a discussion of fallacies and they brought their papers to class and exchanged them to search for fallacies in their fellow students’ papers – many of which, so I discovered while grading them, they had also committed in their own papers. The assignment worked fairly well (although the original papers were not very good – at least that made finding the fallacies easy). But what was even better was that the exercise coincided with the release of an article on sex differences in brains and their purported link to behavioral differences published in PNAS. The results were picked up and reported in a variety of media outlets – actually “misreported” would be a better description. and the final unit of our semester on scientific method.
First, the current discussion providing an opportunity to illustrate a particular problem that had occurred in their own papers – the difficulties that arise from dichotomous thinking about nature and nurture when talking about sex differences in behavior. Second – the numerous critiques of the science provided a great opportunity to discuss a variety of issues connected to “scientific method”: choice of research question, the use of background knowledge in research design, the question of what counts as a significant difference in statistical information, and the general complexity involved in the production of scientific knowledge. There have been a number of excellent commentaries on this research that can be used to highlight these issues. I offer several of them here: Cordelia Fine’s critique of the paper and I also recommend her Delusions of Gender, Berit Broggard’s post on the New APPS blog, Sophia K. Scott (critiquing the science specifically), and a more humorous take by Dean Burnett from The Guardian.
I have used sex difference research as an ongoing example throughout a critical thinking course before – mostly research on differences in mathematical ability – and I strongly recommend using one or two specific examples as the core examples for a critical thinking course. It is particularly challenging as students have to confront their own persistent beliefs that gender differences must be hardwired.
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