All in Plato ·


I walked home through the park. At dusk, it’s a strange, in-between world. Trees dissolve into the clouds; dark flutters of birds ripple across the sky, more felt than heard. It was cold, and I had come too far.

Despite it all, I felt comfortable there, as the light ebbed slowly from the world. That indistinct, enigmatic realm mirrored my own mind; my own uncertainty. Coming towards the end of my degree, I feel trapped between ignorance and mastery. I know just enough to convince myself—on bad days—that I don’t know anything.

In the spirit of enquiry, then, here’s a list of what soon-to-be graduates (perhaps in Philosophy) might know.

  • They know quite a bit about their discipline: its fields and sub-fields, some of the big names, some of the big ideas.
  • They’ve learned some techniques: how to generate counterexamples and formalise arguments, how to spot equivocation and split hairs.
  • They know where to find the worst coffee, and the best beer.
  • They know a lot of jargon.

But they’re unconfident in their knowledge: how much is real understanding, and how much a mere projection of their teachers’ confidence and the articulacy of what they’ve read? Pondering further degrees, they ask themselves: do they know enough to learn more?

True, it ought to be the best way to deepen their understanding of a subject. There’s more personal attention, more “face time” with their teachers. Writing a thesis—whether for a Master’s or a doctorate—gives them the luxury of specialisation; of focus.

Then there’s learning how to research, a process which begins during the first degree but can now be mastered. Contact with other graduate students can both inform and stimulate their own work.

And yet; and yet. It costs a lot of money; it takes a lot of time. What if you don’t get funding? How can you pay for it? What if your application isn’t accepted? What if the work is too hard, or there’s too much of it? What if, at the end of it all, you don’t want to go into research after all? Were all those years wasted?

I don’t have any answers to these fears, but if you do, please, comment.

It’s strange that you should bring this up now. Only yesterday I was considering further study after a lecture from a 50-year-old professor who had just recieved her doctrate. What makes someone decide they want to be a doctor so relatively close to the end of retirement?

My motivation comes from the lack of passion for learning shown by my fellow classmates. They don’t even want to be there, they’re bored with the content, they put in as little effort as they can. I wonder why they’re there at all and I’m disapointed that it’s no better than high school. I crave being around people that really want to learn and I haven’t experienced that yet. I feel I might get this with further study, with a doctrate or a Masters degree. I don’t want the only major qualification I have to be one shared with people that don’t care.

Then there’s the fears.

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