A Reflection On My Philosophy Studies So Far

Midway in to my second semester of Philosophy at the Uni of Vienna, I’m faced with Austria’s fourth lockdown. As with all other lockdowns so far, whether here or back in the UK, there will soon be a prime opportunity to reflect.

I thought, therefore, that the best place to begin my reflections would be with my studies. I’m six or so weeks into the second semester, after doing much better than expected in the first semester – largely, I suspect, due to the fact that I could do it all in English.

This time it’s different. Of the six courses I’m doing, four are German, and solely German; group work, lecture, exam – the whole lot. This poses me with a challenge which last semester I mostly managed to evade.

This new challenge is the obligation to engage in the German language. For those who followed my blog last year or know me personally, you’ll find it slightly surprising that the exact language I sought out to immerse myself in is now (seemingly) the enemy.

When sat in a lecture hall, rather than on an online livestream, real life has rather a strong distraction potential. Suddenly the rustles of the persons bag behind you are louder than bombs, and the echoes in the Hörsaal reminiscent of those in the Grand Canyon. Hearing becomes an impossible ask.

This leads one to be in a uniquely dire position: Guess what you’re supposed to be doing, almost at all times. I’ve found myself frequently nodding and issuing words of acknowledgement in situations where a prayer for God wouldn’t go amiss. Pure confusion.

But, in the last fortnight, there has been a turn for the better. By a matter of degrees, I notice my comprehension creep up – at about the speed as I used to raise the clutch in my first driving lessons: Hardly noticeable, but just enough to realise it’s happening. And this is something to take much encouragement from.

I’m now reading frequently, something which was most certainly not the case in the first semester – here it was crammed into the final days before the exam. I keep a reading log of all the texts I’ve read, and I can be satisfied with the rate of texts I’m getting through (it’s worth noting that ‘reading’ in philosophy is only constituted halfway by the actual act of reading – there’s a large amount of Googling and scanning the text, formulating questions, which must come before you read the first word).

It’s easy to get inspired by the academic air which I create for myself in the city – I’ve invested in the complete works of Sigmund Freud, researched Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle to waken my interest. The latter is an organisation which actually comes up frequently in my studies. By doing so I can, by a matter of fantasy, count myself as a (future) extension of this academic line in Vienna.

And so I have some resolutions: The one thing that has been missing so far in my studies is writing. I’ve read, which is a good step to writing but still nowhere near, as I most definitely need to process and re-process this information before it’s ready to be deployed on to the text in my own words.

It is in this case that this blog offers a good opportunity to make sure the ink in my figurative ‘pen’ still flows, and that I can still string a sentence together. More so than English, I must practice writing in German. And, surprisingly, even a post such as this which contained no philosophical content, rather just reflection, is just as valuable – it forms part of an overall philosophical process.

So, I hope, with a lot of self-doubt I can hold myself to these words, to write more frequently on here in a way I can feel as if it’s part of being a ‘philosopher’. After all, can anyone offer me a definition of ‘philosopher’ which I wouldn’t fall under? Taken, of course, the words ‘professional’ or ‘make a living’ aren’t included 😉

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