Today, I attended California State University, Northridge’s — my alma mater — VII Annual Student Philosophy conference. The conference ran from about 9:00 in the morning till 4:30 in the afternoon. I had only planned to stay for a few hours, as I have quite a few impending due dates for my freelance work. Well, that plan didn’t work out. I stayed for the whole thing. I became engrossed in the discussions; I had fun catching up with former classmates and professors; and, of course, I didn’t want to work. I still don’t want to work.
More than anything, I stayed because I miss my philosophical home.
Although I had made up my mind about majoring in Philosophy long before I attended Pierce Community College, my philosophical awakening didn’t start until I arrived at CSUN. Perhaps that’s because the truly critical, all-questioning philosophical mindset and disposition doesn’t set in until after continued exposure to the topic. Indeed, I remember several moments as I was studying at CSUN, thinking about the major topics of philosophy and trying to figure out what I thought about their specific contents — whether one could know anything, how one could go about knowing things, how one can know if something is right or wrong, and on and on the list could go. I very quickly came to the realization that I don’t have answers for any of those issues.
Perhaps while I was at Pierce, even having been exposed to philosophy and the problems inherent within the assumptions we need just to get on with life, I would have provided more definitive answers. Perhaps that’s because, at the time, my worldview was firmly set within a religious framework. When I got to CSUN, it’s not that I started questioning that framework. Although I would eventually come to abandon it, my apostasy did not come about primarily as a result of critical examination. Truly, I cannot say that there was any one thing in particular that brought home the ultimate reality of my ignorance; I cannot identify any one thing that annihilated my naivety, forcing the realization that I truly know nothing about the true nature of reality. It was just a light bulb moment. I don’t know if that’s how it works for every philosopher, but that’s certainly how it worked for me.
CSUN was not only the locale of my philosophical awakening, but my subsequent philosophical growth. Compared to my professors, I am but a neophyte (I’m glad my fellow alumni, Joshua Dolin (who is among the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting), sees himself that way, otherwise I wouldn’t realize that about myself). I can’t name any one professor in particular who contributed to this, because every professor I had the pleasure of learning from had a hand in it. I would, of course, be engaging in intellectual dishonesty if I did not acknowledge that Professor Kristina Meshelski, with whom I took the most amount of classes and whom helped me get published, had the biggest influence over my development, interests, and worldview. However, in terms of the development of my philosophical skill set, all of my professors deserve credit. It’s also true that my philosophical skills couldn’t have developed apart from engaging with like-minded students.
I’m trying to figure out what exactly I miss. I know I miss class discussions; I miss talking philosophy outside of class with my colleagues; I miss writing philosophy papers regularly; I miss being able to read philosophy every day of the week, almost non-stop; I miss having the luxury of engaging in careful, extended philosophical analysis. Perhaps more than all of that, I miss CSUN’s philosophy department. It’s my personal, humble opinion that the quality of a department should be based upon how much time its faculty invests in the development of their students; how many opportunities they give them to take their skills to the next level; how much they encourage exploration of their specialization’s topics outside of class. I believe that if departments were ranked on criteria of that sort, CSUN’s philosophy department would be right up there.
I miss all of that, but I’m not sure that’s precisely it. I’ve called CSUN my philosophical home. I’m not even sure about what I mean by that. Is one’s philosophical home the place wherein they finally left Plato’s cave (i.e. had their philosophical awakening)? Is it where their philosophical skills really started to develop? Is it where their pleasant memories of discourse and philosophical camaraderie were born? Is it the place where professors made a positive impact, without fail? Is it the place where you one day hope to return to as an educator, in the hopes of giving back to students what was given to you?
I honestly don’t know. I suspect that what constitutes one’s philosophical home — or any kind of home, I guess — will be entirely subjective. Perhaps those things are what constitute my philosophical home for me in particular, in virtue of certain facts about my personality. I think that’s the most likely story.
Here’s the point: I miss CSUN’s philosophy department. It’s my home. I hope I can one day return there, as wise as my professors, and help make CSUN someone else’s philosophical home.