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Frigging Philosophers

December 18th, 2001 - 6:41 a.m.

I'm Currently Avoiding:

Well, everything still bites, but not as much as it did, because I'm almost finished. When I'm *finally* finished it will be much, much better. Part of what was wrong with "today" would be question 1 on my Ethics exam, here reproduced just out of curiousity, because I don't understand it at all, and I was wondering if it was just me?

1. Imagine that you do so well in Phil 2 that you think a letter of recommendation from your TA, A (names removed b/c people searching for things scare me), would really help you gain admission to that philosophy graduate program you've been eyeing. So you ask A to write on your behalf. He's glad to support your application, and even agrees to let you have some input into what's written.

The first draft comes back looking like this:

I am writing on behalf of [your name], who I had the opportunity to teach in an ethics class, blah blah in the fall of 2001. I am very happy to say that [your name] is a good student and would therefore likely excel in your graduate program. Thank you for your consideration.

You take a look at the draft, and while you're pleased that A has said that you're a good student, you were, well, looking for a little something more. You mention this him, but he's totally confused. "What more is there to say?", A asks. Your response is: "A lot. After all, I wrote two strong essays and I nailed the final exam - remember, the one with the hypothetical question about your writing me a recommendation. What a coincidence! Anyway, why don't you go into the details of why you think I'm a good student. It'll give the admissions committee a better sense of why you think I'm a good student." A is lost, replying, "I just don't see how any of that is relevant."

Discussing all of this in the philosophy lounge, the other two TAs from class are right there and overhear the conversation. B says to A: "That student is asking you to do the impossible. Some student!! I can't believe you're recommending them! Well, if I were you I'd insert into the recommendation, "While it is of course not true that [your name] is a good student, [your name] is a good student." That'll teach you to harp on your TA's recommendation! I mean, clearly, that's not a good student you're recommending."

Sticking up for you, your TA responds, "Not only are you clearly mistaken about my student, B, but what you just said is rude!" B just replies, "Mistaken? Who are you kidding? And by the way, I was not rude." Exasperated, A quietly reassures you that that John is always like that, spouting non-sense and the like.

The third TA, C, has been observing all this, and first turns to you and says, "Don't mind B - his heart's in the right place, but that's about it." Turning to A, C says, "Its very clear to me that you want your student to get into that grad program. But I agree with your student that the recommendation could be more persuasive. I think all the student is asking for is for you to state some reasons that the grad program should grant admission. You know, I did an M.A. at that school and remember hearing that the chair of the grad program really likes classic rock." Turning to you, C asks, "Do you like classic rock? Saying so might be a way to ingratiate yourself to that professor."

Just as C was finishing, Professor K walks through the lounge, saying in passing, "I'm not sure that professor does in fact like classic rock. But frankly, its irrelevant. Sharing taste in music isn't grounds for accepting someone into a philosophy graduate program. That's no reason for saying that a student is good. Talk about the papers and the exam - its demonstrated philosophical promise that's relevant."

You're thinking that maybe graduate school in philosophy isn't so appealing after all.

Please explain in detail the various positions taken up by the three TAs and Professor K and their relationship to one another. Be sure to attribute each person's stance to a particular philosopher whom we have read, and discuss both the way in which the stances taken above are expressions of the attributed philosopher's position and how each of the stances taken above is responsive to the one that precedes it.

And you wonder why my day went badly? Does *anybody* understand this?!?! Frigging philosophers.

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