Thursday, April 15, 2010


I've read in Langer's book on Mindfulness that very few people know what the imperative "pay attention" is really asking of them.  And, in fact, attempting to focus our attention on one things with some sort of laser-like precision is really remarkably counter-productive.

I'm working on trying to figure out what sorts of responsibilities, if any, students have in the learning process and I've hit a snag.  I don't know what it means to 'try.'  I mean I get that if I'm sitting and looking at at hammer and nail that I am not actually tryng to hammer in the nail.  But if I get the hammer, do something in the direction of the nail and someone says to me "you aren't trying" or "try harder," what does that mean? Seriously, if you told someone to 'try harder' and then responded with 'what does that mean?' How would you answer?

So, I, who have never, ever thought of myself as a phenomenologist find myself for the second time in the last few months trying to hunt down the "phenomenology of...."  This time it's the "phenomenology of effort" and last time the "phenomenology of learning" but, seriously, I'm an analytically trained philosopher.  Of course, one of my students who has taken classes with a faculty member who self-identifies as a phenomenologist (the faculty member, not the student) assures me that what I mean by "phenomenology" is not what phenomenologists mean by it.  And, then I'm just, well, baffled.

It's possible that what I'm referring to as "phenomenology" (and I'd argue in a way that is a correct use of the word, even if not historically accurate) is what my analytic brethren call 'qualia' and I have no idea how phenomenologists use the term.

But, it turns out that there's a little (teensy - 8 citations via body of literature on this and it's typically involves the discussion of 'moral phenomenology.'

Anyway, back to figuring out what it means to try.


Well, I'm trying to learn from one of my idols, John Rawls, and instead of solving the problem try to avoid it.  I think that what I've discussed above is interesting and worth discussing, but for my current purposes, I think I've figured out how to avoid the issue altogether.  Phew.


Anonymous said...

... for my current purposes, I think I've figured out how to avoid the issue altogether.

Which issue? About trying, or about what phenomenology is? I was trained analytically (who in USA after 1950 was not?) and I've always had trouble getting what phenom really IS. How phen argumentation might differ from others, I find it difficult to visualize. Some days I think I see it, the next day it's "what was that again?" Still wondering.

Reading this post, I wondered what prompts the original question; what problem you want to solve. I guess I was hoping for more of that. Then suddenly, problem solved by avoidance. OK, but then how do you avoid whatever it was? Not to be critical, just wondering since the whole process from problem to solution seems hidden.

JMc said...

Ah, didn't mean to be cryptic. I just assumed that, well, no one really cared and since I was procrastinating from writing, well, I didn't spell things out and went back to writing.

But, I thought I needed to figure out what it means when we ask someone to try or try harder and then what 'trying' means. I'm wondering when (or if?) 'not trying' is something people can be blamed for.

Anyway, I think that I can avoid figuring this out, for this paper, by focusing on the different educational theories and what they take to be involved in learning - so instead of solving the problem on my own, I can look to these theories to see what their answers are. Maybe.

I do keep getting drawn back to the felt experience of learning/trying/paying attention, so I'm probably going to get back to it at some point. But whether I'm using the term 'phenomenology' the correct, who knows. But I will read the papers on 'moral phenomenology' - at least one of which was written by an analytic moral philosopher (Sinnott-Armstrong)

But I think, for this paper, it's just something that distracted me and is irrelevant for the purposes of the question I'm working on here - whether and when we can, legitimately, blame students for not learning.

Make sense?

Anonymous said...

Yes. It makes more sense now. But I still don't get phenomenology. Shucks. I thought just maybe you'd figured out a way to avoid phenomenology. LOL. But I've figured it out now! If no one can explain it, I probably don't need it. Maybe.

As for students, imho blame for not learning is justified if they are capable but do not use the capability. Aristotelian it is: to be fully what we are. Can't blame somebody with no capability, but other than that, failure to apply themselves probably comes from someplace else, like lack of confidence, outright diffidence, laziness (ugh), narcissism (I'm too good for this) ... or whatever. So is any of that blameworthy? Gets to be psychological. My best teachers demonstrated how THEY did it (whatever it was) and asked OK, do you see how I did it? Not what I did, but how I got there? And bing, hey, it's a process! Oh yeah, I can do process! I could even do math, if I got the process.

Phenomenology might be a process. Who actually teaches phenomenology ... as a process (everybody loves the word "approach" but that's about context and point of view, not procedure.)

So yes. I see where you are.