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March 13, 2009

Honest Thinking

A wise person, who I would name if I remembered him, once alluded that no one could be a hero who had not begun to be honest. Honesty, that is, honesty with myself about myself, appears to be a foundational virtue to life, and unfortunately one that I lack.

Before I got to Oxford and during the first few weeks here, I was advised about the Oxford tutorial system. It is based on self-discipline. You will learn nothing unless you go to find it out yourself, I was told.

I suspect that is the only way to learn at any college, but at my college in the States we have these things called classes (they seem so distant now) where the information is presented to the student. But it is the student's responsibility, if they are to learn anything, to meet the information half-way. In a way, I paid to come to Oxford to escape the classroom. I paid to sit in the library and think for myself under the kind guidance of my dons, who at all times held my education in top priority.

It's not the difficulty alone, it's the type of work required that made this term a struggle for me. The difficulty came because I didn't (don't) know how to think.

Before the term started, I tried to imagine what Oxford study would look like. I imagined sitting in the library for days at a time, pouring through countless volumes, or just one, to find that piece of information that would answer my well formulated question. This was not the case. Whether by my failure of imagination or by my failure of discipline (or more likely a combination of both), that is not exactly what my study looked like.

My study was more of a struggle, working long hours on not much sleep, with a sore body from the many days already spent sitting, reading through volumes which were relevant, but painful to get through (I must be the slowest reader in Oxford). I searched for answers, but each answer seemed to lead to a dozen more questions, which is where discipline is really necessary. I had no idea that I was incapable of sustained thought (I had not even thought of it).

Now that my Oxford tutorials are complete, I'm trying to give a much needed perspective to the term. Before we begin the worldview studies with Mr. Bywater, Chris and I will make a five-day excursion to Rome, to see the sights and perhaps even get some much-desired rest. Having finished my last tutorial and studied in the Radcliffe Camera for the last time, I have a mixture of feelings.

I am already beginning to miss the long afternoons in New College library, when I would be so absorbed in the affairs of medieval kings that I'd be aware of the passage of time only from the bells in the Tower. After the relief of finishing the tutorials, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to be here, among the books and the thousands of dedicated scholars, where I have attempted to engage in honest study.

Thomas Phippen
Fellow, Hilary Term '09

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  • March 13, 2009 // 10:42 am //  # 
    Matthew Watson's avatar Matthew Watson

    Congrats on finishing the term. Have a great time in Rome!

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