My first year of the PhD program in philosophy at Penn State University has been very fruitful and intellectually stimulating. Coming from a completely different system, based on (almost) exclusively front-style lessons and oral examinations, I was at first confronted with the task of learning how to write a paper, as well as how to appropriately participate in class discussion. Considering the development and results of my first year of study, I am both satisfied with the progresses made so far and deeply aware of the several steps I still need to take in order to achieve a stable position as a professional scholar. First and foremost, I have to learn a method to individuate those philosophical questions and themes that underlie different philosophical movements and authors without either confounding or reducing them, hence situating such themes and questions in their respective contexts.
In the first semester, my research focused on Kant’s practical philosophy, Peirce’s pragmatic conception of reality, and the theoretical relevance of Levinas’ philosophical proposal as it is developed in Totality and Infinity. In the second semester, I inquired into the problem of soul’s divisibility in Aristotle’s De Anima, Irigaray’s perspective on sexual difference, and the relevance of the last chapter of Voice and Phenomenon for Derrida’s general philosophical project (as such project was developed in that early masterpiece).
With the only exception of Peirce (and, to a minor degree, of Kant and Derrida), I have chosen my classes and the related research topics with the intention of acquiring some initial familiarity with authors and problems that were extraneous to my previous knowledge. In part, this is the reason why I often found myself hesitant at intervening in class discussion. On the other hand, I am aware that I need to risk more, taking advantage of classes not only as an opportunity to study certain important texts, but also to develop my rhetorical skills and put my ideas to the test of others’ reflections. As to my writing, considering that only two years ago I was not able to write a text message in English, I am satisfied of the progresses I made so far. However, I would like to develop a richer style of writing, broadening my vocabulary as well my knowledge of sentence-structures. Most importantly, the past year was very instructive in this respect inasmuch as it made me realize that I need to develop a more precise timeline for the completion of my final assignments, starting to work on them earlier in the semester and taking the time to revise them more than once.
Regarding my future direction of study, I am still quite undecided as to what particular line of research I shall purse. I would like to frame a research project that could somehow include the work of different authors prominent between the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. In particular I have in mind philosophers like Peirce, James, Royce, Bergson, Blondel, Husserl and Scheler, with respect to their philosophical contribution to questions on subjectivity, selfhood, rationality, the nature of truth and reality, methods of pursuing and attaining knowledge, the relation between action and knowledge, self-knowledge, desire, affectivity and personal fulfillment. But I am also interested in investigating those motivations that brought philosophers like Levinas and Derrida, among others, to overcome that (epistemological-metaphysical) paradigm of thought which the aforementioned authors are often said to a-critically accept and reproduce. Before putting myself on a more precise road of inquiry, however, I want to take advantage of my second year of classes to make the acquaintance with certain authors and movements that I have not yet had the occasion to examine. In particular, I am thinking to the philosophical revolution introduced by Wittgenstein (and the important influence he had upon contemporary mainstream analytic philosophy) and the existential phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty.
While my actual horizon of interests is too broad for it not to result extremely vague and fragmented, I do have a precise (though still confused) question that guide my studies, namely: what is the nature of that kind of “reason” that, before determining itself as theoretical or practical, contemplative or instrumental, etc., “perceives” those ethical and esthetic ideals that guide our daily life and in relation to which we establish ourselves as self-conscious, human subjects? While this question situates itself in the general perspective of a philosophical anthropology, its immediate implication calls for the development of a phenomenological analysis of the normative structure of rationality, especially of that aspect of reason that our philosophical tradition has always called the “will”.
I am more and more persuaded that the department to which I am proud to belong as a graduate student represents an excellent ground for the clarification, development and elaboration of my aforementioned philosophical interests. At the beginning of the second year of my PhD, I look forward to progress toward an always-greater personal and philosophical maturation.