Monday, August 12, 2013

introduction to mathematical philosophy

I've opted to try Coursera's new class "Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy" at the urging of my good friend Keith Brian Johnson.  Keith is a world class mathematician (and philosopher), and we've been good friends since graduate school.  I've always thought that logic and mathematics were the "backbone" of any good metaphysics, so it is natural that I try a course like this.  In our reading groups for this fall I've placed this online course to go alongside our reading of Hegel's Logic.

As an aside, I've been doing "reading groups" for about five years now, possibly more if I were to sit down and count.  They usually consist of meetings with my graduate students, online reading groups, "personal" directed readings, or any focused reading that happens to be going on locally or online where I'd be dedicating my efforts to that subject or text for at least a semester.  It's a good way to keep interests focused.  Anything I work on is organized by semester - which of course can change - but I've found it's a good way to organize what things I'll be working through.

Working in a semester to semester "course-like" fashion has several benefits.  First, I am not bouncing around too much according to sheer fancy.  Fancy is good, it is what helps energize research, but you don't want to bounce around so much that nothing results from that initial fancy.  But second, and less thought of, is that it helps me refrain from dwelling too long on a topic, figure, or area where I would get mired down and never move forward, rehashing the same tired debates, figures, and moments.  Those things can get reviewed when the time is right - but you don't want to dwell for so long that you aren't open to new things that come your way.  Thus, if I approach my research in a directed manner, as if I were proceeding through a course, I tend to stay with that topic, digest its literature, incorporate it into my repertoire (or review the topic/figure as a mainstay of my repertoire), and move on.  This all within the general "framework" of my specializations and general interests.  All in all, I've found that this approach keeps me fresh and producing relevant and timely pieces.  It also helps me keep my finger "on the pulse" of what's going on out there, keeping current and up to date.

For example, for the past year I focused on aesthetics; simultaneously I spent about a year with Hegel's metaphysics; this year I am finishing Hegel and moving on to Nietzsche and Laruelle.  I do both topics and figures, usually with an eye for contemporary relevance but also to keep skills fresh and to keep my interests moving forward.