I am a philosophy student that doubts philosophers; I can't write papers, or at least trying to make the connections emerge from details is damn near the hardest thing I've ever done. I have the right ideas (that I am sure of) and I can talk philosophy (intersbujective exp. confirms this) but my papers fall into detail etc. (No one has ever said, WOAH this paper should be published). But even when, one night, I curse the very subject matter and damn it all to hell, I wake up the next morning prepared to try again. But still, at night I try to cast the dead weight from my shoulders in despair. Question: if one's temperament is philosophic should they steer away from academic philosophy? Question 2: Should the person who falls in love with wisdom only to damn her at night continue to make the effort, indeed, should one rule out a life-long marriage with the enticing specimen?

Hmmm. You might try writing a paper as if it were meant to be heard. This constraint can often lead a writer to clarify, to simplify, to stay on the main thread of an argument, to supply examples where necessary, without getting lost in the details. A good test of the degree to which you have a hearer in mind (a smart, savvy student of your calibre, but who has not read yet the material that is the focus of your essay, is the best model of hearer) is to read your paper aloud, to yourself, and to listen very carefully: is the issue posed at too abstract a level for your hearer? does the point come across directly? is the sentence so long that it's point is difficult to discern? Are you indicating for your hearer transitions between ideas by linguistic devices (eg. "first, next .." or by section heads) that are easy to identify? Try this out and see if it helps.

What is virtuous about a partnership in marriage (not necessarily the legal construct - the idea of committing to a life together)? What characterizes what is virtuous in leaving such a partnership (even) when the partners love each other and want one another to flourish but one partner doesn't see the partnership as a whole flourishing? To put it another way: How is it that most of the parts of such a partnership can individually appear to be so esteemable, and even to outweigh the less esteemable parts, and yet the whole be judged lacking?

This is tough to answer in the abstract, but I'll give it a shot bysupplying a bit of hypothetical context. First, I think it matters agreat deal which specific parts of the partnership are esteemed, andwhich not, in the calculation of the value of the partnership as whole.For instance, it may be that both parties value highly going out toeat, discussing politics, spending time with family and working out atthe gym. Additionally, both parties like one another and there is peacein the home. However, as it happens, there isn't a lot to laugh aboutin a day either, within the partnership domain, i.e., not a lot of joy.How to assess the quality of such a partnership? Here there isno objective standard, to be sure, for much depends upon thespecificity of the feelings, desires, and values of the individuals,along with their own idiosyncratic histories, much of which is not soeasily tracked by introspection. So: on one scenario, daily laughtermay be valued somewhat by both parties, and the value of the many...

I am stuck on a decision that I hope one of you can help me with. I am graduating in June (2006) and everyone is telling me to go to college. I am currently protesting college - thinking that if I self-teach myself (by reading many books), then I could possibly gain more knowledge than if I am sitting in a classroom with many other students. I am stubborn with this idea. I assume that with a teacher in a classroom full of students, (s)he is teaching the subject, not the people. (I hope that makes sense.) I am not too sure if my thinking is something I should go by, or if I should just grow up and go to college. Any opinion would be great.

When college works as it should, it allows you to imagine alternate possible ways of living your life in the "real" world, as you experiment with different disciplines, and are thrust into the orbits of sometimes unlikely people who might serve as mentors and role models. These could be your teachers, or, more often than not, your fellow students. It gives you a terrific opportunity to become acquainted with people from cultures very different from your own, to acquire a new repertoire of tastes from books to food to music. But mostly, when college works as it should, it gives you that precious, precious time, in and out of class, to muddle through, and, in so doing, to figure out who you are and what you are like, first, for yourself, and then, crucially, in relation to the community to which you belong.

I recently considered getting a nose job. Whenever I told people this, they were horrified and started ranting and raving at me about superficiality, shallowness and vanity. The most frequent comment was, 'It's better to have a beautiful mind than a beautiful face.' What confuses me is that this seems just as shallow as only caring about physical appearances. So much of the world is based on physicality and aesthetics - why is finding a beautiful face more significant than a beautiful idea more shallow? In fact physical beauty can sometimes be a great inspiration for thoughts and ideas. Recently I have begun to think that judging people on physical appearances is no less shallow than judging them only on the contents of their minds. Is this valid at all? Should I go back to the 'better clever than ugly' camp? Thanks for your time.

I agree completely with Oliver on this one. But perhaps, perhaps, one worry your friends have is the following: that wanting a nose job is just the beginning of a whole cluster of potential future wants, in the wings, waiting to emerge, from a chin job to a tummy tuck, to ... that is, they might view this currently single desire for a nose job as the start of a slippery slope of wants, ending who knows where! And, if this were true, then they might worry about having a friend who was off-balance in weighting the crafting of the body over the crafting of the mind. And this would indeed be a justifiable cause for worry. But I don't see why this should be true, in your case, and I do think that people can sometimes be too quick to slide down that slippery slope in their reassessment of others, and even, at times, of themselves. In fact, if your wanting a nose job meant that you were ceding your right to be viewed as a serious person, then surely the very thoughtfulness of the question you've...

Other than the fact that it is your job, why do you practice philosophy now? Bob West

I actually think that the idea that one "practices" philosophy is an intriguing one. While I agree with Alex that one doesn't practice philosophy as one might practice religion or playing piano, there is certainly a habit of the mind that one has, as a philosopher, that is nurtured by thinking hard about things as part of the daily-ness of one's life, fine-tuning one's arguments and turns of phrase so as to articulate ones position as clearly and eloquently as one possibly can. In this sense, the practicing of philosophy may be a bit like practicing a martial art -- learning techniques of defense and offense while remaining centered, focused, and comfortable standing your ground simply on the strength, beauty, and elegance of your argument/move, but flexible enough to concede in the face of a stronger, more beautiful, more persuasive move! But now I believe I have exhausted the analogy! One more thought: I see in the practicing of philosophy an exercise in freedom at the most fundamental...

Why are some emotions looked down upon? Why isn't it just as good to be happy as to be sad?

Interesting question. One answer is that certain parts of our culture associate sadness or sorrow with the possession of a depth of character, and happiness with a certain superficiality, that is, with a character that only sees what is on the surface, or on what is most easily accessible to a person. This is in turn often associated with the material, whether it be how things look (beautiful cars, bodies, houses) or with what one can acquire with money (rather than with one's soul). But there is another weighting one can give to happiness and sorrow, one that we find in several places, including the Buddhist tradition. On this account, while it is true that sorrow or suffering is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, so that the person who experiences sorrow is more enlightened, shall we say, than the person who merrily goes through life without experiencing sorrow, it is a sign of greater enlightenment to accept the facts of the human condition that cause one sorrow (sickness,...

According to Goethe, the only people who are truly happy are those who are like children, who are made blissful by the smallest things, and if you try to see life as it is you would be doomed to despair. What would fulfill the requirements of being like children, and how would that make you happy?

The image of the happy child is often invoked as a model for adult happiness (you mention Goethe; Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra , in the section on the three metamorphoses, for instance, does so as well). While this seems an overly romantic view of a child's world, the model as such has at least the following components: 1. Children, it is said, lack a complex inner life, so that their responses to events are immediate, near-instinctive, and without the quality of angst that can often accompany adult retrospective analyses of actions taken, nor the having of second thoughts about the wisdom of having taken such actions. There is a kind of freedom that an adult could well experience in virtue of being able to act to a situation by assessing it swiftly and with clarity at the outset, without the conscious intervention of a range of beliefs and desires that typically precede (and stultify?) adult action. 2. Connected to the first component, children lack the baggage of the past, and...

Is every type of happiness or pleasure explainable (possible to articulate through reason or logic)? Should I be distraught that I am unable to articulate clearly some of my pleasures? And does an unexplainable pleasure (if it exists) suffer from its unexplainable nature or flourish because of it?

Approaching your question a little differently, one might ask a further, pragmatic question, to wit: what difference does it make in your life (to your happiness, to your sense of well being, to your life projects) to experience pleasures/passions that remain inarticulate or not fully articulable? If the inability to symbolize a passion, or to capture it in a string of sentences causes you a measure of suffering, then it makes sense to attempt an articulation of it or to ask why that matters to you (therapists -- of the psychoanalytic persuasion, among others --make their money engaging in just this form of labor!) On this more pragmatic approach, the issue would be less whether one "ought" to be more clearly representing ones pleasures to oneself in order to experience them more completely (in some sense), as an embodiment of the maximally good life, but rather whether the existence of specific non-fully articulable pleasures/passions seemed to you (or to you in relationship) to be preventing you...

Why do some words like "gorge" sound ugly, and some words like "exquisite" sound pretty?

However, following up on Richard's point about meaning, consider two similar sounding words: a) gorgeous (for gorge) b) excrement (for exquisite) Does 'gorgeous' sound as ugly to you as does 'gorge'? Does 'excrement' sound as pretty to you as does 'exquisite'? I think that while there might well be words that sound pretty no matter what they mean, there is often an attaching of meaning (or content) of a word to its experienced aesthetic quality (ugly, pretty).

This is a question about the role of education. I wonder how far is education away from institutionalization? Sometimes teachers think they are helping their students to gain the ability of being free, while in fact they are putting their students into prison by telling them what is the content of freedom. Hope this was not a vague question. And if I am very interested in this question, whose works you recommend to read?

Albeit idiosyncratic in some ways, there's a little book byJiddu Krishnamurti, entitled 'Education and its Significance for Life' (1953)that you might enjoy. Krishnamurti was deeply concerned about humanfreedom in the psychological (rather than political) sense, connecting a lossof freedom with the creation of (and subsequent imprisonment by) a false senseof self. He was critical of institutions of any sort, particularlyeducational institutions, as places that contributed to this imprisonment. He started many 'alternative' schools all over the world (K schools) as spacesthat would encourage rather than stifle individual freedom.