What I Wish I'd Known Before the Philosophy Degree
Be Rich or be Poor, but Don’t Work
Working a side job during University lowers grades, a student should be rich in order to get the best grades, get a good time from clubs, and get the best results.
If you can’t be rich, best to be poor, and try to scrape by without work; minimize socializing, don’t go to university clubs, don’t see friends. Make friends with the study material.
Study by Memorizing Essays
The university plans to have you understand some material, then measure your understanding by writing essays about unknown questions. However, the best study method is to repeatedly write two or three essays by hand, in order to memorize them. When the exam comes, simply modify your memorized essay a little to fit the question.
I chose to understand the material for the first three years, and found the other students’ habit of simply memorizing essays distasteful. I switched over to the distasteful habit of rote memorization in my fourth year, and my grades improved.
The questions will never vary very much. Something on Descartes might read:
- Does Descartes believe the world is an illusion?
- Why does Descartes doubt his own senses?
- What role does the trickster demon play in Descartes meditations?
All questions require a different introduction, then the same memorized essay can be slapped on.
Don’t Think, Show Memorization
The university has no method to grade critical thinking in general, even for Philosophy degrees. Their plan is to measure how much someone can understand the material, and this doesn’t require much beyond rephrasing the material.
Commentary upon the material can be forgiven in small doses, but they won’t see commentary as a sign of understanding. Your focus should remain on simply regurgitating the material.
In one stark example, a girlfriend asked for ‘help’, with an essay, and then progressively more help until I wrote her essay for her. My own essay, with commentary and analysis of Descartes, received a ‘C’, while the essay I wrote for her (simply regurgitating the material), received a ‘B’.
Quote, Don’t Read
Essay markers have no idea how much you’ve understood of a book; they’re looking for quantity, not quality. Use net searchers to grab the right quotes, or abridged versions of essays, such as Squashed Philosophy.
While Squashed Philosophy did me well, I spent too much time reading books. Others faired better grabbing quotes from Google Books.
Save the lot, somewhere, and make it searchable. Nothing beats paper when it comes to real learning - information comes in easier, and one absorbs information better when writing, not typing. HOWEVER, all paper will perish eventually, and none of it can be searched. All books should be downloaded for easier searching. All videos can be downloaded.
If a video isn’t easily available with a right-click, try
yt-dlp (it takes your login credentials, if needed).
yt-dlp doesn’t work, other programs exist to scrape the video.
All videos can be scraped with a little work, and once you’ve downloaded one from your university, you can download all the others with the same tool.
Most writing is editing. Vim takes a couple of hours to learn, at most. Taking half an afternoon to learn the world’s fastest text-editing tool will repay your time many times over.
Constructing those citations everywhere drains the energy, and really cuts the flow when writing. LaTeX lets you throw those citations in easily. Any third-party company or corporation which promises easy citations creates a knife at your throat - they can extort you for money, or vanish at any point. LaTeX lets you keep a life-long bibliography file.
Things I Learnt During the Degree
Learn on Your Own Time
One can’t rely on any syllabus for quality ideas, or personal growth. Make time for serious study separately. My favourite authors were Blackmore and Dawkins.
Make more time to write.
Ignore everyone who gives you a dull speech about how memorization isn’t everything. Nothing is everything - memorization is something, and it’s a very important something. I recommend Darren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind, or Tony Buzan’s Books. They take a few night’s practice, but the results stay with you for life.
Learn to Read Better
At the start of university, I read so slowly it wasn’t possible to read the syllabus. Tony Buzan’s The Speed Reading Book probably saved my degree. I’ve heard a lot of elitist snorts about Speed Reading, undoubtedly from people who already read well. But if you struggle with reading, this book on how to read well, should be the first thing you read.
As you might imagine, it’s not 300 pages of READ FAST READ FAST READ FASTER. It’s a collection of genuinely useful ways to take in a book, from faster ways to get an overview, to detailed notes on how to move your pupils while reading.
Throughout the Critical Thinking segments, I’d analyse pretty much any statement I heard or read. Sometimes this told me about the logical structure of the statement, and sometimes I had to think about the shortcomings of Predicate Logic. It’s all good.
While looking at Kant, I wondered about choosing a career.
act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.
So what’s the maxim, if I’m selecting which work to take? If I take a job as a janitor, is my maxim ’to clean the world’, or is it ’to take whatever job’s on offer’? How do we arrive at the maxim?
I don’t recommend anyone waste their time with Kant.