The Death of My Grandmother

Despite the fact that I've spent years preparing myself for the day of my grandmother’s death, and despite the fact that I've frequently thought about what I would write when the time came, I find myself now emotionally confused and without words.

I'm both sad and grateful for her passing. I’m obviously sad because I was quite close with her, but I’m simultaneously grateful because I knew that she was suffering. Her health really started to deteriorate a few months ago. The last time I saw her she was bedridden and mostly unresponsive. I say mostly because she would sometimes make certain facial expressions when we spoke to her. Most of them suggested to me that she was in pain.

It hurts me not to know what the last thing she remembered about me was, when she remembered anything at all. Was it my visiting her? Was it even about something recent? Maybe it was a memory of me when I was little. Maybe it was the memory of taking me to the park to feed the ducks. Maybe it was giving me piggy back rides. Or maybe it was calling my friends’ houses to tell me to come home because it was late.

Perhaps it’s selfish of me to care so much about what her last memory of me was. What really matters is that her last memories were pleasant. Maybe her last memory was of her youth. Maybe it was of her falling in love. Or giving birth to my father. I know it might sound odd to say this, but for most of my life, I never saw my grandmother as having her own life. Her life was always connected to mine. She was my grandmother. She was my caretaker. She was my cook. And honestly, it was a very privileged position for me to be in. Because she did such a good job taking care of the house and children, I never had to worry about any hardship. Indeed, it's an understatement to say that my family was extremely lucky to have had her.

My grandmother was possibly the sweetest and most virtuous person I've ever known. I don’t have any memory of her displaying any vices. Moreover, she never seemed to question her role in life. She never asked why it was her job to take care of the children, and to cook and clean. She just did it. She also never complained about not being able to do what she wanted with her life. There was no wishing to live life again, no regret for having done this or that. She was entirely selfless. All her actions and everything that she did was for the welfare of her loved ones.

I will miss her. My family will miss her. And I dare say that without her presence, the world is a little less good.

On Moral People

It is a common belief that human beings are by nature equipped with a moral compass. Whether given by God, a product of evolution, or a socially useful, human-created convention, it is almost impossible to deny that a sense of right and wrong is closely connected to the human experience. All throughout the world, people adhere to moral rules or at least acknowledge that there is such a thing as good and bad, though specific opinions differ. As a result, it would not be absurd to say that moral people are abundant.

Having said that, a distinction needs to be made between two different kinds of moral people: the decent, and the extraordinary. The former are those who behave morally because they have been instilled with the habit of behaving morally. These people do not really understand why certain actions are just and others unjust, but because they have had good upbringings, they have a disposition to act well. Moreover, since they do not question the fundamentals of their moral beliefs, they are not particularly apt at adapting them when circumstances require it. Most good people fall into this category.

In contrast to the many decent people, there are a select few who use their minds to go beyond what they have been taught in order to explore the moral frontier. These extraordinary individuals do not let popular opinion dictate their sense of goodness nor do they see much value in tradition. Another trait that distinguishes them from decent people is their strong sense of duty to do the right thing. While the majority act morally due to habit, the few act morally because they truly feel that it is required. I have been lucky enough to have met a couple of these people in my life and the experience can only be described as awe-inspiring and humbling. If anyone has not yet met such a person, they should keep their eyes open, for the extraordinarily moral are more valuable and precious than any jewel or metal.

Kant once said that there is nothing good in the universe without qualification other than a good will. I do not know whether or not his claim is ultimately true, but I can understand why he was tempted to make it. There is something admirable and noble about someone acting according to an acute sense of morality that distinguishes it from other human traits that we may find good. Honesty, friendliness, and intelligence, for example, can all be used for bad, but not a good will. Perhaps it, and it alone, shines brighter than any star that we can observe, or even imagine.

The Humboldts

Wilhelm von Humboldt (philosopher) writes the following passage about his brother, Alexander (geographer):

I consider him to be, without exception, one of the greatest minds that I have ever encountered. He has connected ideas and seen the chains between things, that without him would have remained undiscovered for generations. His tremendous depth of thought, unattainable insight, and the rarest combination of quickness, combined with his iron diligence, widespread scholarship, and infinite research spirit will produce things that others would not have even attempted. Of all the people that I have met in my life, only my brother seemed to be capable of establishing the link between the study of the physical and the moral world, of bringing forth the true harmony of the universe as we know it, and of easing the next step to take, if the task of preparing the study of the physical world for such an endeavor exceeds the capabilities of one people.

Ich halte ihn unbedingt und ohne alle Ausnahme für den größesten Kopf, der mir je aufgestoßen ist. Er ist gemacht Ideen zu verbinden, Ketten von Dingen zu erblikken, die Menschenalter hindurch, ohne ihn, unentdekt geblieben wären. Ungeheure Tiefe des Denkens, unerreichbarer Scharfblick, und die seltenste Schnelligkeit der Kombination, welches alles sich in ihm mit eisernem Fleiß, ausgebreiteter Gelehrsamkeit, und unbegränztem Forschungsgeist verbindet, müssen Dinge hervorbringen, die jeder andre Sterbliche sonst unversucht lassen müßte. […] Das Studium der physischen Natur nun mit dem der moralischen zu verknüpfen, und in das Universum, wie wir es erkennen, eigentlich erst die wahre Harmonie zu bringen, oder wenn dieß die Kräfte Eines Menschen übersteigen sollte, das Studium der phyischen Natur so vorzubereiten, daß dieser zweite Schritt leicht werde, dazu, sage ich, hat mir unter allen Köpfen, die ich historisch und aus eigener Erfahrung in allen Zeiten kenne, nur mein Bruder fähig geschienen.

My 29th Birthday

Last week I had the wonderful experience of celebrating my 29th birthday with my friends here in St. Louis. It was a joyful gathering of both my philosophy friends and swing dancing friends, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. A few of my philosophy friends were kind enough to allow me to host my party at their house, which was fully equipped with ample seating, dining space, and a fire pit.

We started the evening with a couple of rounds of Catch Phrases, which is a Taboo-like game. Then we took a food break to enjoy all the delicious eateries that my friends brought to the party. There was apple pie, cheesecake, animal crackers, fruit, hummus, and two birthday cakes. This was actually the first birthday where my friends bought me a cake. I normally just go to a nice restaurant to celebrate, so I am not used to the traditional birthday celebration. When we were eating one of my friends told me to start opening my cards. So I did. There were a few humorous ones, which I enjoyed, but the last one I opened turned out to be a card that informed me that my friends had bought me a ticket to the Nevermore Jazz Festival, which is a large swing dancing event that takes place in St. Louis in November every year. I did not go to the last one, and I was not planning on attending this one either because it is too expensive, so one can imagine how touched I was when I received this gift. I have to say that I almost cried. It was one of the sweetest presents I have ever received. I feel so lucky to have met such nice and interesting people here.

While my birthday party was a wonderful event that could not have been better, the general mindset that I have had recently has not been so positive. Becoming a year older has only exacerbated my fear of not living a full life and I have no idea how to stop worrying. I know if anything changes, it must be my mindset, since it is impossible to get back lost time. But the question is how?

For those of you who do not understand why I have this fear, let me explain. Self-development is one of the highest values that I hold in life. I define self-development as the passionate development and exercise of one’s capacities, talents, skills, and/or intellect. I strongly believe that being all that one can be is a necessary ingredient to living fully. I, however, did not always believe this. Prior to my senior year of undergrad, I had no idea what it meant to develop one’s potential, nor did I care. I was living in a less-than-fully-human state of intellectual darkness. It was not until I read John Stuart Mill that I realized what it meant to develop oneself.

I am glad that I experienced my intellectual enlightenment; I would never go back to the way I was before. However, there has always been a part of me that wishes I had experienced it much earlier. I feel that if I had, I would be more accomplished in my life. But perhaps I needed to have the life I did in order to be where I am now. At least that is what others tell me. And there is some truth to that. It is because I know what it is like living in the dark that I am so convinced that self-development is necessary for a full human life. But still, it is hard to be fully convinced.

What follows from this mindset is that a part of me always lives in regret. I cannot stop wanting to have lived my youth differently. I know it is a waste of time and I do not want to live this way, but it is so hard not to because there are numerous things that remind me of my aging. I am balding, my body is getting weaker, and there are occasions, like my birthday, that remind me that another year has passed. With each day, I have less and less time to catch up to the other version of me that did not live in the dark for so long.

What makes things worse is that I also compare myself to excellent people who I am exposed to on a regular basis. Nothing makes me feel more like a failure than to hear that so and so did X before the age of Y. It is amazing the things that human beings can accomplish, given the right direction.

So this is the current predicament that I find myself in. I am self-developing but not self-developing enough. I am young but not young enough. I am smart but not smart enough. Perhaps one day I will be fine with just being me.

But today is not that day.

Ferguson and the Police-Civilian Relationship

In light of the recent events in Ferguson, I thought that I might say a few words on the police-civilian relationship.

First of all, it should be noted that what happened in Ferguson is a tragedy no matter whose story is right. If Michael Brown’s story is correct, then it would be the murder of an unarmed civilian. If the police’s story is correct, then it would be the unnecessary killing of a civilian who fought against an officer. Though all the facts have not emerged, and perhaps may never, neither story supports the claim that it was necessary to kill the civilian. And even if it had been somehow necessary to have killed a civilian, it still would have been a tragedy.

Many say that there has always been racial tension between the mainly white police force and the mainly black residents of Ferguson. Those who believe in the existence of such a hostile relationship will indeed assert that race played a role. And I am sympathetic to that view. To be clear, I do not know if it did, but having seen statistics on how blacks are targeted by police overall, I would not be surprised.

Besides the racial component, there could be another reason why there is tension between the police and civilian population, and that is because the average person’s encounter with the police usually involves getting a ticket. Consequently, although their purpose is to “protect and serve,” the police are often viewed as an external punisher. To make matters worse, there is the militarization of the police. To be clear, I do not know whether or not heavily armored vehicles and high caliber weaponry are necessary to fight domestic crimes, but I am fairly certain that it exacerbates the relationship between the two groups. When civilians see an overwhelming and intimidating show of force, it only strengthens the idea that the police are not there to serve the public.

I once spoke with a Norwegian person who used to work at a prison. He said that one day this large man was getting out of control and so he and three other men had to tackle him, but because that man was so large, they had trouble keeping him subdued. In response to this, I asked, “Why didn’t you just use a taser?” He replied, “He’s a human being; he’s not an animal.” His response took me aback. I had never thought about the dehumanization effects of using a taser. Ever since that conversation I have been wondering whether or not using a taser (and similar weapons) affects the subconscious of the user and the victim. If so, it would only worsen the police-civilian relationship.

My Parents' 40th Anniversary

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing and participating in my parents’ 40th anniversary concert. It was a beautiful evening that helped me appreciate how special it would be to be with a person for that long. I'm sure the other 250 people that attended also felt the same way. My mom did not spare any effort in organizing the event. She rented a church, she spent thousands of dollars on flowers and food, and she had a friend who made a gigantic sign that said "40." Furthermore, being that my mom loves the performing arts, she organized 20 performances for the night. There was singing, there was dancing, and there was even a ventriloquist!

At my mom’s request, my sister and I gave the introduction. My sister did it in English first and then I translated it into Chinese. I must say that this part of the concert went better than I had expected it to. Honestly, I was quite reluctant to speak Chinese in front of all those people because I was afraid I would make mistakes, but it actually went really well. Every single time after I spoke, the audience clapped and cheered; they were so impressed that my pronunciation was good. Both my sister and I were taken aback when they reacted like that. It was really funny. As the introduction progressed, I became less nervous, and I even cracked a couple of jokes, which landed perfectly.

After we were done giving the introduction, it would be another two hours before I had go back on stage for the finale. My mom wanted the entire immediate family to sing a song together as the last performance. I suggested we sing Seasons of Love from the musical Rent, and she agreed. I would have to say that it turned out ok. I wish we sounded a bit better, but it was the experience that was important. I have never sung with my family before so it was a special occasion. We actually rehearsed 5 times before the anniversary.

The fact that my parents have been happily together for over 40 years is amazing. In a time where half of marriages end in divorce, their life with each other is much-desired proof that it is still possible, and that it is still sensible to be a romantic. Moreover, they still seem happy. In fact, they’re always out partying. They’re either singing, dancing, or performing together. They probably party more than all three of their children combined.

The last thing I want mention is that one time I went to some type of performance with my parents and I remember the way my mom was looking at my dad when he was on stage singing a solo. I could tell by the look on her face that she was proud of him and happy to be with him. All I could think of when I saw that was “Wow, it’s so wonderful to have someone love you.”

Political Beliefs Workshop

Last month I hosted a series of workshops whose purpose was to help people better understand their own (as well as other people's) political beliefs. It was a project that solely resulted from my own initiative, and to my surprise, was a large success.

The reason why I decided to host these workshops was twofold: one, I like discussing the fundamentals of politics; and two, I believe I have a civic duty to contribute to a healthy democracy. Allow me to elaborate a bit on both of these reasons. First, I love political philosophy. Thinking about what makes a just society brings me not only joy but intellectual achievement. It is what keeps me up at night and fuels many of the best conversations I have. The workshops provided me with a way to share my love of the subject. Regarding the second reason, I believe I have a general duty to help others. And given that it would be better to help more than less, the way that I contribute to society should be partly determined by my skills. Furthermore, since political philosophers are especially well-equipped to contribute to a healthy democracy, and since I am a political philosopher, it follows that I ought to contribute in that way unless there is a good reason not to (which there is not in this case). As to why political philosophers are especially well-equipped for that task, the argument goes like this. A healthy democracy requires a citizenry that engages in productive, civic debate. Productive, civic debate requires, among other things, logical thinking, and an understanding of the fundamental ideas of politics. Both of these qualities are possessed by political philosophers.

With these reasons in mind, I decided to create a group on I had no idea if anyone would even join or if anyone would even know that it existed. But as it turns out, meetup sends out notification emails to people in the area whose interests match the interests of the group, so I actually got a number of members in the first few days. As of now, I have 22 members in my group. Out of those members, around 6-7 people attended each of the workshops.

Here are the 3 lessons that I have learned from this experience:
  1. Non-philosophers are not used to philosophical discussion. I found that the participants were tempted to talk about everyday politics and legislation instead of the abstract principles that underlie the specifics. Thus, I had to guide the discussions by asking the questions. 
  2. It is very easy to go on tangents, especially in a group. I spent maybe around 20% of my time focusing the discussion by bringing people back to the issue at hand. 
  3. Discussions work best when there is structure. For my first workshop I did not pick a topic; it was more of a general background discussion, and that conversation went everywhere and nowhere. Consequently, I picked one topic for each of my subsequent workshops, and they went much more smoothly. I also sent out a handout to everyone beforehand. 
The lessons that I have learned regarding discussion management will undoubtedly prove useful in my future teaching career, and I have my participants to thank for this. None of this would have been possible without them. They were interested, engaged, civil, and sincere. I could not have asked for more. I hope I see old and new faces at future workshops.

Initial Reflections on Christianity

I recently read selective passages of the Bible in order to attain a fuller understanding of the religion and its criticisms. As a result of this, I have come to some initial reflections that I would like to state here. But first, let us take a look at two passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

God tells Moses to tell the following to the Israelites in Leviticus 20:9-13:

If anyone curses their father or mother, they must be executed. They have cursed their own father and mother; that person’s blood is on their own heads. If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with a neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be executed. If a man has sexual intercourse with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness. Both of them must be executed; their blood is on their own heads. If a man has sexual intercourse with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be executed. They have acted perversely; their blood is on their own heads. If a man has sexual intercourse with a man as he would with a woman, the two of them have done something detestable. They must be executed; their blood is on their own heads. 

Paul says the following about gentiles in Romans 1:26-32

That’s why God abandoned them to degrading lust. Their females traded natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations. Also, in the same way, the males traded natural sexual relations with females, and burned with lust for each other. Males performed shameful actions with males, and they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies. Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve others who practice them. (Bold added) 

Just to clarify, the reason why I began with these two sections was because they were cited as examples of how cruel and violent the Bible was. I do believe that the passages are cruel and violent, but I do not necessarily believe they are representative of the entire book. On the contrary, I am fully willing to admit that the majority of the Bible says good things.

The first thought that I came to after reading those two passages was the fact that there are a couple of possibilities of how those passages are reconcilable with an all-loving and all-good God. One possibility is that the passages are simply false. Another possibility is to claim that it is, in fact, a good thing for all those people to be executed. However, the Christians who I spoke with do not seem to want to accept either of these possibilities. They seem to want to assume that the entire Bible is really the word of God, and that it is not good to execute those groups of people. The problem with this position is that it seems to contradict the idea of an all-good God. And I cannot imagine a context in which this contradiction would not take place.

In response to this issue, Christians I know have defended the religion by pointing to certain passages in the New Testament that suggest that some of the laws in the Old Testament should no longer be followed. But this response does not address the issue that I have raised, for if God is all good, then why would he have said the cruel things he did to begin with? Do Christians believe that before Jesus it was actually good to execute those people? If not, then why did God say to do it? It seems to me that an all-good God would not have said those things in the Old Testament. Furthermore, this defense does not address the issue that God tells us in the New Testament that gentiles are deserving of death. This problem alone already suggests to me that Christianity is not entirely coherent, which I take as a sign of its (partial) falsity.

The second thought I had after reading those passages was that even if there were many clear contradictions in the Bible, many people would still probably be Christian simply because of the fact that they want to be. And I do not necessarily have a problem with this. Even if it were proven that Christianity were false, I would be okay with people being Christian if it gave them comfort and made them more moral.

The last thought I had was that if the people who are Christian now were of a different religion and they were exposed to the contradictions in the Bible, they would probably find it sufficient to disregard Christianity as the one true religion. In other words, I doubt that the vast majority of people are willing to read other religions with the same charity as they do with their own, which suggests that if people of one religion were to read the holy text of another religion and find it less convincing, it would probably be because of their bias and not the implausibility of that other religion.

To end this entry, I would like to say that I wish more religious people recognized that their religious beliefs are largely due to where and when they were born and raised. Christians should recognize that if they had been born and raised in Pakistan, they would most likely be Muslim. And if they had been born and raised in ancient Greece, they would probably believe in Zeus. Since the truthfulness of a religion does not depend on accidental factors such as place and time of birth, it follows that the recognition of such contingencies should lead to modesty of conviction. In other words, religious people should not be so convinced that their religion is the true one, unless they have done the necessary research to justify that conviction, which most probably have not.

A Good Will

A couple of very interesting and beautiful excerpts from Kant.

It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will. Understanding, wit, judgment and the like, whatever such talents of mind may be called, or courage, resolution, and perseverance in one's plans, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable for many purposes, but they can also be extremely evil and harmful if the will which is to make use of these gifts of nature, and whose distinctive constitution is therefore called character, is not good. It is the same with gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honor, even health and that complete well-being and satisfaction with one's condition called happiness, produce boldness and thereby often arrogance as well unless a good will is present which corrects the influence of these on the mind and, in so doing, also corrects the whole principle of action...(4:393).
A good will is not good because of what it affects or accomplishes, because of its fitness to attain some proposed end, but only because its volition, that is, it is good in itself and, regarded for itself, is to be valued incomparably higher than all that could merely be brought about by it in favor of some inclination and indeed, if you will, of the sum of all inclinations (4:394). 

The Racial Segregation of Interests and Activities

I have very White interests and engage in very White activities. I am a philosopher, I am a hippie, I swing dance, I listen to symphonic metal, and I do improv. For some odd reason, all those things are dominated by White people. This unusual fact about me I have known for quite some time. The reason why I am writing about it now is because I do not think I have written about it before, and because two recent events reminded me of it. The first event was attending a service at a megachurch, and the second was attending an air show, both of which are worth mentioning in their own right.

Regarding the first, let's just say that I was quite shocked by the whole experience. First of all, the building itself was huge. It was its own structure with its own parking lot. And it looked like the size of a supermarket. Inside there was a coffee shop, a gift shop, and a daycare center. The actual room where the service took place looked like it could have been a theater for a show in Las Vegas. There was stadium seating, professional camera equipment, two extremely large flatscreen TVs, and a fog machine. Though I spent most of the time in a state of shock, I did not fail to notice the fact that the churchgoers were almost all White, which, quite frankly, fit the stereotype of megachurches that I had in my mind.

Contrary to the first recent experience, the second one was almost exactly how I imagined it. What I did not expect was older-looking planes taking up most of the air show, and the Blue Angels only flying at the end. The aerobatics portion of the show featuring older planes was quite impressive, but after watching two of them it became a bit boring. Consequently, I spent most of the air show talking with my friend who invited me. During the 3 to 4 hours I was there, I spent some time looking around to see who attended, and not to my surprise, almost everyone was White. I believe I saw one Indian-looking family.

Both of these experiences led me to ask the following two questions: Why were the churchgoers and air show attendants almost all White? And why does there seem to be a racial segregation of interests and activities? It seems to me that part of the answer is because people are affected by their surroundings, and because there is some tendency to conform and be with one's own group. Geographical racial segregation leads to social racial segregation, which leads to interest/activity racial segregation. The whole answer is surely more complex and nuanced than that, but this general and abstract explanation seems plausible to me. (It should be said that both of my friends who invited me to have these two recent experiences were White.)

So is this a bad phenomenon? The answer is that it depends. If we are talking about the fact that people are influenced by their social circle, then no, I do not believe it is intrinsically bad. That said, I think how this phenomenon exists today is bad, and the main reason is that it shows a lack of the manifestation of individuality. People are inherently different from one another. People, if placed in a room with different styles of music playing, and with no present or past external influence from others, will diverge on which genre of music they like. Some of them will like classical, some country, and some hip hop. This fact of human beings is race-independent. And if this is true, why is it that almost everyone who plays and listens to symphonic metal is White? Of course, it would be false to say that there is no manifestation of individuality. There are certainly some people who diverge from the path of their racial and social group, but not many.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that people must aim to eliminate social influences to realize their individuality—that would be impossible; rather, what I would like to see is self-reflection and courage. I would like to see people question their beliefs, interests, and activities. Do you really like whatever it is that you like because you think it is good? Or do you like what you like because your friends like it? How much do you fit into the stereotype of your group? If you fit the stereotype quite well, it could be a sign that you are not manifesting your individuality. And if there is not a stereotype for your group, how similar are your interests and activities to the interests and activities of others in your social group? If, after people self-reflect and discover that they should manifest their individuality more, I would like to see people have the courage to take the initiative. If you are of one race and you have always wanted to do an activity that is dominated by another race, have the courage to do it anyway. Go their classes. Go to their events. Join their Meetup groups.

The reason why I think the manifestation of individuality is preferable to the non-manifestation of individuality is because external influences are limiting. I am of the opinion that many people would find more pleasure and happiness in an activity that is not dominated by their race. However, a more important reason is that self-reflection is a means to social progress. It is often the case that unjust practices continue to exist due to unreflective people, who either directly or indirectly perpetuate it. Rather than the result reason, many people's beliefs, both just and unjust, are the result of convention. If we are ever to free ourselves from the shackles of irrationality and prejudice, we must first free ourselves from the shackles of blind conformity.

Grading My Future Class

In preparation of my ethics course next semester, I have been spending a lot of time trying to decide how I am going to grade my class. I have narrowed it down to two options: one is to grade three papers; and the other is to grade one. The reason why I am having trouble deciding between the two is because I do not know how paternalistic I want to be as a teacher. In my previous experience teaching English, almost none of my students wanted to be there; they simply had to because their visa required it. Thus, everyday my students came to class to barely participate and turn in homework that was written with very little effort. Personally, I am tired of teaching students who do not care.

This being my past experience, it makes sense for me not to want to force my students to be productive, even if they would benefit in the long run. And it is not only because I find it unpleasant, it is also because I want to respect their autonomy. I am generally anti-paternalistic. I think that if some student decides not to work, then it is simply his fault. As long as a student does not disturb others, I think they should be able to do what they want to do. If they do not want to come to class, that is fine as well. That said, I do want my students to learn, so I originally planned to highly recommend that my students write two previous papers before the final one. I thought this was a good way to circumvent paternalism. However, after proposing this idea to other philosophers, two of them pushed back—in fact, most people I told pushed back. They basically said that if the papers were not mandatory, many students would not write them; and thus, they would suffer. So their arguments were basically that it is ok for me to be paternalistic, but since I am generally anti-paternalistic, these arguments, though initially appealing, were not ultimately convincing. Some professors ban the use of laptops in their classroom because they distract the student. Some also make attendance mandatory. I disagree with both of these policies. Again, as long as those students are not making it harder for other students to learn, they should be allowed to do what they want. If they do not learn as much, then that is their fault.

During this process of trying to figure out what to do, I imagined how I would have done in a class taught by me. For those who know me, it is an understatement to say that I used to be a different kind of student. My philosophy was to do the least amount of work in order to get a B in every class. I did not see the value of learning and only saw college as a means to make more money. Since I suspect many students that I will be teaching will share this attitude, I thought it would be helpful to try to put my shoes into an average student's shoes. And I have come to the following conclusion: if the 18 year old me were to take my class, I think he would get a B-, assuming that he would not write both of the highly recommended papers. I am comfortable with that conclusion. Would he have learned as much? No. But again, that would simply be his fault.

After I concluded that thought experiment, I felt vindicated for my plan to only grade one paper. However, it then occurred to me that if I truly wanted to respect my students' autonomy, I should leave this decision up to a vote. My students should decide for themselves whether or not they want more papers to be graded. After suggesting this idea to a few of my colleagues, I again received push back. They thought that the majority of the students would vote to have just the final paper, and that the other students who would lose the vote would come complain to me. This is certainly something I do not want, but it seems to be unavoidable. It is impossible for all the students to get what they want. So even if I were to decide in the beginning, nothing would prevent the students from complaining. The benefit of leaving it up to a vote, however, is that the blame is not on me, and I would be respecting their autonomy.

Wikipedia and Philosophy

The vast majority of Wikipedia paths lead to philosophy.

It turns out that if one searches almost anything on Wikipedia, and then clicks on the first link in the definition that is not in the parentheses, one is eventually led to the Wikipedia entry on philosophy. Here are a few examples:

pizza → oven → HVAC → mechanical engineering → engineering → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

dance → art → human behavior → behavior → organism → biology → natural science → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

love → affection → disposition → habit → unconscious mind → mind → cognitive → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

What does this interesting finding say about philosophy? The reason why I am currently pondering about this is because I will start teaching philosophy to undergraduates next semester, and I thought that it would be fun and fruitful to share this fact with my future students. In the process of trying to guess what my students would say, I realized that I was not even sure if there was an answer that I was looking for. What would my answer be if I were in their shoes?

It says that philosophy is the abstraction of all things.

It says that philosophy is the study of the understanding of the nature of anything and everything.

It says that philosophy is the beginning of all knowledge.

I am not satisfied with any of these answers, and perhaps there is no right one. Nonetheless, I hope that it sparks a flame of curiosity in my future students.

Lost Love

There is a very old man in my building who always eats TV dinners by himself. Even though I know nothing about him, I tend to imagine what his story is. I wonder to myself why he is eating what he is. When I do that, I cannot help but think that his wife of many years has passed away and so there is no one to make him home-cooked meals anymore. And perhaps because of his generation, or perhaps because his wife was so good to him, he never learned how to cook. So he eats TV dinners.

Every time I see him slowly walk to the microwave, every time I see him eating by himself at the table, I wonder if he is thinking about his lost love. Perhaps he thinks about his wife every time he eats. Although I feel grief for him, I cannot help but feel just a little bit jealous as well. I feel jealous that he was able to live a life in love with another human being. I feel jealous that someone else was so good to him. I cannot help but want the very same thing.