“To get Them to see Those Interests Through Academic Eyes”
[This was written as my final paper for my AP English Language and Composition class]
There is something of a luxury in [doing] metaphysics. You must have some time on your hands [to do metaphysics].
— [Redacted], in class, 4/25
“Why do I have to learn this?” “When will I ever use it in the future?” Many students moan and wail identical or similar remarks when met with a class or topic they don’t care for. Even I myself have made such remarks. When we ask such questions, we inadvertently suppose that learning ought to be conducive to pleasure or pertinent to one’s future. Are we justified in making these suppositions though? When students make such comments, they suppose that learning ought to result in pleasure or be practical. Such a supposition is nothing more than the fallacy of the modern American student. To my indictment, students will object that my accusation is mistaken because educational institutions are nothing other than institutions whose role and purpose is to equip students with the skills they need to be able to adequately compete within the economy, or that enjoyment really should be the ultimate end of learning. However, the teleology of learning has neither economic nor hedonistic ends; on the contrary, learning’s ultimate object is, or, at least, ought to be education which has as its essence knowledge. This is not to say that learning has as its telos the accumulation of just any information. For, while all knowledge is information, not all information is knowledge — think squares and rectangles. The difference? Knowledge has epistemic merit to it. Therefore, it is my conviction that the quality of learning genuinely depends on the topics and texts studied to a real extent. To clarify, the question of “To what extent?” does not necessitate that the extent is quantified instead of qualified. In other words, it is not necessarily a question of “How much?” Hence, I qualify rather than quantify the extent to which the quality of learning depends on the topics and texts studied. Furthermore, I hold my now stated thesis to be the case because first, it is not the case that every framework can arrive at every piece of knowledge by itself, therefore indicating that there is a real difference between frameworks of learning and thinking, and second, it is, therefore, not the case that any text or topic could give the subject every piece of knowledge that exists, and third, some of this specific information not only has more epistemic merit than other information garnered by way of other frameworks, texts, and topics but also gives the subject who is accumulating such information a specific and special relationship with the world. The value of this all is that such a relationship with the world determines the effective quality of learning. These three points contain all the real differences that could possibly be described. They contain all the real differences because the first point describes the essential difference between frameworks, i.e., it describes the essence of each framework that differentiates them all from different frameworks; the second point describes the causal difference between each text and topic, i.e., it describes how the essence of a text or topic viewed through a certain framework allows it to cause different information to be gained the subject; and the third point describes the effective difference between frameworks, topics, and texts, i.e., it describes how the specific knowledge each framework, text, and topic offers to the subject who holds them leads the subject to obtain different effects. The essential, causal, and effective differences between different frameworks, texts, and topics demonstrate the dependence of the quality of learning on the framework of learning chosen by a subject has a real and genuine existence, therefore confirming my thesis, in that, the dependence will have been proven to exist to a real extent as claimed.
In his an excerpt from They Say/I Say, “Hidden Intellectualism,” Gerald Graff, professor of English and education at the University of Illinos at Chicago, argues that the intellectual communities that exist within the Academy often look down on “street smarts” which are commonly looked down upon as tangled up in unintellectual pursuits that have to do with that materialistic and pointless culture post-modernity brings us. Interestingly, Graff, though a part of such academic communities himself, goes against the standard academic sentiment by arguing that even if street smarts can get caught up in unintellectual and poor reflection, all that needs to be done to make street smarts conducive to intellectualism is “to see those interests[, that those with street smarts have,] through academic eyes” (Graff 64). What Graff readily admits is that his argument entails the concession to academic communities that “street smarts are not enough,” for it is only once one makes students with street smarts “required … to think and write about [their interests] … in a reflective, analytical way” that such street smarts can lead to knowledge (Graff 64; emphasis mine). For the most part, I totally agree with Graff here, for his claims have rendered the first reason for holding my thesis to be the case demonstrated: certain frameworks of thinking are not enough on their own to be epistemologically-conducive, i.e., conducive to leading the subject who holds them to knowledge. This is what Graff’s inadvertent concession to us demonstrates because it shows how that unacademic framework of thinking known as street smarts requires an analytical and reflective method that is naturally contained within academic frameworks of thinking. Therefore, when we take certain frameworks of thinking on their own, we can see that, for example, the street smart subject needs some imposed requirements, some incentivizing push, for their mind to head toward the generation and then subsequent accumulation of knowledge. The essential difference between the frameworks of thinking that are unacademic and academic, then, is their epistemological-conduciveness. Q.E.D.
Are there any arguments against what we have put forward? Well, there is a single potential argument against what we have put forward and that is the argument that while street smarts may not have the analytical method necessary for making certain conclusions, there is no reason why street smarts can’t acquire shuch a method through blind reasoning. Graff details such developments, “in these discussions with my friends about toughness and sports … and in my reading of sports books and amgazines … I began to learn the rudiments of the intellectual life: how to make an argument, weigh different kinds of evidence, move between particulars and generalizations, summarize the views of others, and enter a conversation about ideas” (63). While this argument may convince some prima facie, I am not convinced of its validity. The issue I have with such an argument is that the reasoning really is blind. Let me explain. If street smarts can acquire the rudimentary activities and skills of intellectual life, then its acquisition is only obtained by way of blind reasoning. Not only are those who are street smart without their vision, but they are also without direction. Blind and aimless, what the street smart subject needs is to be given sight, something that can only be obtained by way of reasoning that is not blind and has direction, i.e., that reasoning found within academic intellectualism. In other, more concrete words, the street smart subject can argue about things, compare things, analyze things, etc., but what the street smart subject cannot do is direct itself out of street smarts autonomously, hence why they need to be given direction by of the clear vision intellectualism bestows upon the street smart subject. In other, even more concrete words, the street smart subject’s focus on street smarts has a limited focus and no amount of blind reasoning is going to throw them beyond such limits, hence why both Graff and I agree that they ought to be required to go beyond the bounds of their myopia and gain clear sight “through academic eyes” (Graff 64). Q.E.D.
My first reason for holding my thesis to be the case, the fact that there is an essential difference between frameworks of thinking, has been demonstrated, and through its demonstration, we have been led to my second reason: that because certain frameworks have certain topics, and thus texts, that are relevant to them, where others topics and texts are not, it is, therefore, the case that not all texts and topics can lead to information with epistemic merit, i.e., knowledge. Let us justify my entitlement to the inference I have just made. It must be the case that certain frameworks of thinking are defined not only by their methods but also by the content most relevant to them, for if this was not the case then there would be no distinction between unacademic frameworks, i.e., street smarts, and academic frameworks, i.e., intellectualism, but there is such a distinction, therefore it is the case that certain frameworks are also defined by their content. The content of a framework is regulated by the methodologies of reasoning and thinking, these methods being the subject of the second and third paragraphs above. The content of a framework is concepts. These concepts are found within relevant texts and topics. For example, relevant to the intellectualist framework of thinking is the topic of logic and the texts of Aristotle that discuss them, whereas the topic of fashion and the literal iMessage texts of Kim Kardashian are what is relevant to the street smart framework of thinking. Graff tells us that the topics of street smarts include, but are not limited to, “cars, dating, fashion, sports, TV, or video games” (Graff 61). On the contrary, the topics of intellectualism include philosophy, literature, economics, science, etc. Let us understand that conclusions regarding meta-epistemology, especially rationalist meta-epistemology that has almost inexplicable concepts, almost certainly cannot be reached by watching the Iron Bowl. Any argument to the contrary is not only prima facie absurd but is also very intuitively dishonest, in my opinion at least. What we can understand from this example is that certain topics and texts, such as those of the vulgar culture we have today, simply cannot lead the thinking subject to obtain information that has epistemic merit. Okay! Fair enough, Evan! What is your point? Why does this matter at all? To answer these questions let us turn to my third reason for believing my thesis to be the case.
Now, to make my third reason, which cannot be summarized better than it already has in the first paragraph, thus requiring thorough explication. In the fourth paragraph, we looked at the content of street smart frameworks of thinking and intellectual frameworks of thinking. The latter obviously has more epistemic merit than the former. If you dispute such a claim it would only be because of advanced and complex cultural analysis, but I’d still hold that though sociologists and cultural analysts obviously take cultural objects and social events as objects of analysis, they, one, nonetheless have academic frameworks and methodology regulating their analysis, and, two, are not actually appreciating the cultural object in its entirety in that viewing it from the view of street smarts completely changes its content. For example, looking at Kim Kardashian’s texts with Kanye from the perspective of the sociologist is viewed as an interesting object of analysis because, one, it calls mass attention as a spectacle (think Debord) arresting social attention and directing paradigms of social thinking toward bolstering semio-capitalism, and, two, because Kanye is narcissistic God or something — bless up ye, I know you got me. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of sociologists, in this hypothetical situation, would not look at the actual contents of the texts themselves. Those spectacle lovin’ street smart subjects, on the contrary, look at the texts and the spicy and scandalous relationship between Pete Davidson and Kim. So, again, it seems that there really is no epistemic merit to the “actual” content of the objects of those interests the street smart subject has. That is my first argument for the content of the street smart framework of thinking not having any epistemic merit. Here is my second: culture is self-insulating. In other words, culture regulates itself and only has relevance to itself. Many people have made cultural references I simply do not understand and they find my lack of socio-cultural awareness outrageous. Now, they find it outrageous not because I am lacking some essential knowledge of reality, but because I am not aware of “the culture.” They care about “the culture” because “the culture” values itself, so to speak. It isn’t that it is viciously circular in its axiology, its theory of value, per se. Rather, it doesn’t give any real reason for its valuing other than itself. It has no property of goodness, or virtuousness, or justice, etc. It is just what is socio-culturally the case — absolutely relative, always changing, and slowly killing itself. On the contrary, philosophy, for example, is of much value in that it isn’t valuable because thinking is fun, or it is outrageous not to know about meta-ontology, but rather because it allows us to understand all other topics and texts. Concepts are the building blocks of the world, and concepts are philosophy’s primary object. We can see that the epistemic merit that the culture holds is infinitesimal compared to the epistemic merit of intellectualism. But, again, why does this matter? Simple: having information with epistemic merit changes not just how you relate to culture but also to the world, i.e., everything that is the case. In his essay, “In Praise of Dead White Men,” Lindsay Johns recognizes this inadvertently, “The dead white men never had to face the evils of slavery or the physical and emotional oppression of racism. Thus, their minds were freer to range over the great philosophical questions, metaphysical quandaries … cosmological dilemmas … they have been allowed to address man in relation to the macrocosm” (3). Not only does one, by way of the intellectual framework of thinking, get to address a man in relation to everything that is, but they also get to change their specific relation to the world. For example, the idea of axiological intuitions — big words, I know! Axiological intuitions are those intuitions you have of emotions. Some examples of axiological intuitions would be “I’m in love with her,” “she makes me feel so happy,” “her beauty is unparalleled, she is ethereal,” etc. Such a concept seems trivial, but, for me, the concept is breathtakingly extraordinary. One really can claim private justification for their feelings! I know that for people who are not into meta-epistemology this really may seem like nothing, but I think the proof for what I am arguing here is itself demonstrated by my own amazement. Simple, simple things like being able to claim that you really do know your feelings to be the case are turned from everyday trivial thoughts to awe-inspiring, silencing, and humbling truths. No feelings other than maybe those feelings music and love induce are better. This is exactly why Harold Bloom, in his, “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.,” is pointing us in the correct direction when he asks the question, “Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?” (2). The answer to his question is this: no reason at all, one shouldn’t read if it does not change their relationship with the world in some meaningful way.
To conclude, let us understand the relevance of all that has been said to the question of quality. To repeat my conviction, I hold that, first, only certain frameworks can obtain access to certain information, and second, that only certain content of frameworks can obtain access to epistemically meritorious information, i.e., knowledge, and third, that such knowledge allows one to relate to the world, i.e., all that is the case, in wonderful and fulfilling ways. Thus, my last claim and the final proof needed for my thesis to be totally demonstrated is this: one can gauge the extent to which the quality of learning depends on the frameworks, texts, and topics based on that relationship to the world it allows the thinking subject to obtain. To make this more concrete, let us turn back to the awe that I feel in the face of the concept of axiological intuitions. The quality of what I learned can be objectively determined in the sense that I can have real justification, by way of my intuitions, for my assessment of it. This is the only real and genuine method for determining the quality of one’s learning. Thus, I believe that my thesis has been demonstrated because it has been shown the only way on can be justified in their determination of the quality of their learning is by way of intuitions regarding one’s relation to the world, which is a relation that can only be accessed by way of intellectual frameworks of thinking. Q.E.D.
: I use the term subject as opposed to the object. To further clarify if my usage is not understood. I am not using subject at any point in this essay in a way analogous to the term topic, I am using it to mean an entity who has something as its object — subjects are usually conscious entities.
: To clarify the concept of “the Academy”: I do not just mean by this concept undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate education. Rather, I am referring to the concept as it is use in critical theory (it is also known as the University). For the most part, it is used to refer to college systems, usually in the context of the exploitive and capitalistic nature of those institutions.When I use the concept of the Academy, I just mean academic systems and communities at large. As for this concept’s explicit reference within the packet of essays given for this assignment, see the “Senate Faculty Notice Regarding Academic Freedom at USCD,” wherein it says, “the University [is to be] … a singular institution for the free exchange of ideas and debate that cannot and should not be diminished by forces that seek to restrict and canalize course content in favored directions” (University of California San Diego 1). I absolutely agree with their idea of what the Academy should be.
: Some may argue against me that the human mind is so powerful in its energetic genius and imaginative will that no matter the framework of thinking that regulates it, it will still be able to reach any conclusion. Now, while I agree that the human mind has the potential to reach all conclusions that are non-contradictory — for to arrive at a contradictory conclusion would be to arrive at conceptual annihilation, i.e., nothing — that does not mean it has the manifest capacity to. For example, someone who does not know of the concept of experience cannot arrive at the epistemology of empiricism, the theory of knowledge that states knowledge comes from sensory experience. This person has the potential to know of the concept of experience, but without it, there seems to be no way for them to arrive at empiricism which has at its foundation the concept of experience. The primary implication of this distinction between the latent potential and the manifest capacity of the human mind to reach certain conclusions and abstract certain concepts is exactly the fact that what is needed to reach certain conclusions and concepts is a framework of thinking, for it gives the mind a frame of reference to make conclusions — there can be no conscious inferences without having “logic” (i.e., logical principles, inference rules, rational intuition, etc.) as one’s framework of thinking. Therefore, frameworks of thinking regulate the mind’s active power, and because frameworks are themselves limited by the mind’s existing capacity, the human mind is only further limited, in turn. Thus, by way of Graff’s admission and the theoretical analysis done, we can conclude that there is a real difference between frameworks of thinking when looked at on their own, this real difference being their active capacity to reach all knowledge — the implication of this being the fact that all frameworks aspire to have the active capacity to confer absolute knowledge, all knowledge, to that mind who takes up such a framework.
: I will put this in the form of a footnote because if it was included as a paragraph it would disrupt the flow, but it is also important. I think that both Goldberg’s and Fallon’s articles are relevant in that they discuss if identity and/or past actions can determine the epistemic merit of something. Fallon seems to be a lost and particularly bitter cause at the end of it all, as indicated by her remark, “now [white guys] know how everyone else has felt for hundreds of years” (Fallon 6). Though Fallon does not herself proclaim that identity confirms epistemic merit, she heavily implies, at the very least, a bias. Furthermore, she also heavily implies that being a dead white guy makes one more probable of being epistemically demeritorious, at least, based on my reading. While Goldberg doesn’t give specific analysis of their own opinions, they do detail a lot of important discourse. I largely agree with largely agree with Ms. Gowen’s sentiment, “there is going to be something objectionable,but that’s not an excuse to close ourselves off from engaging with the art” (Goldberg 4). The character of a person does not at all determine the epistemic merit of their work necessarily, and I think, for a large part, that is easily intuitable.
: I will not get into it, but intuitions are the only form of reasons for justification that can totally resist skepticism. Therefore, they are the only way one can be justified in their assessment of the quality of their learning.