Thursday, December 20, 2007

How I Became a Philosopher: Installment One

How does one become what one now is, or at least what one thinks one is? That seems to be a philosophical question. So how did I become a philosopher (assuming I am one, for the sake of argument).

This is not easy to answer. First, one must understand what a philosopher is. I tried to do that in On Jesus (0n the way to arguing that Jesus was a genuine philosopher). I wrote:

I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility. The last proviso is added to rule out those who may fancy themselves philosophers but cannot philosophize well enough to merit the title. Even a bad philosopher must be able to philosophize in some recognizable sense. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics).
Well, well. If this is so (which is a matter of philosophical debate), then what lead me to become a philosopher? The answer is not simple, since it ensnares me in puzzling over the exigencies and vicissitudes of a half century on earth. But here is my first (and perhaps last) installment.
I flunked a typing test. This was not, perhaps, the pivotal factor or condition, but it may have been necessary. I had taken three philosophy classes during my first year of college at the University of Northern Colorado, although I went there for their journalism program. By the third class (taught by Frank Morelli) I got the bug in my gut. I liked writing these papers (as abysmal as they were), and I received some commendation. (This wasn't Harvard, after all.)
But I continued in my journalism major the next year at the University of Oregon (or "the mail order school" as one wag on this blog put it). Back in antiquity (1977), a journalism major needed some facility with an ancient technology: the manual typewriter. One can now find these in museums or, I suppose, near the bottom of garbage dumps. I was never a good typist. To be more blunt, I was (and am) a terrible typist, sometimes making multiple errors per word. But to get into the University's journalism program, one needed to type something like twenty-five words per minute with only a certain number of errors.
So, I practiced and practiced. I took the test--and failed. The next year, I changed my major to something more practical: philosophy. I could type as slowly and badly as I wanted in that major, so long as the final product was acceptable. Having read some Francis Schaeffer by this time, I had confidence that Christianity could hold its own in the world of ideas and that being a philosopher and being a Christian were not incompatible. In fact, I had a sense of mission and calling about this. Flunking the typing test gave me a strong existential push in this direction.
Now, given computers, my typing skills are irrelevant. My philosophical skills--such as they are--are not.


Anonymous said...

This is encouraging. One who fails a test or two (or many) can go on and succeed in the realm of academics! Failures can be stepping stones toward success (or away from math, in my case).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight"--Prov. 3:5-6.

D. A. Armstrong said...

I find it funny how the Lord works. I was going into computer science, but then suddenly I changed schools because private tuition is not cheap, changed to a business major. Then I dropped out of college for a while. Only to return about 6 months later as a secondary education major. Then I dropped out again. I finally finished my bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies at a Bible college, where I had my first class concerning apologetics. That lead me to philosophy, in which I studied on my own for a year then started my MA.