My Brackenridge: Learning to Doubt

The Brackenridge was not my first research grant at Pitt, but it still surprises me just how much doubt is a part of the research process. It is very easy to approach any project with the mindset of essentially already having a definitive answer in mind to your question and as someone who has the bad habit of growing attached to their own work, this self-certainty can be dangerously appealing. For me, the research process is a matter of chipping away at that self-certainty and letting a healthy degree of doubt enter into the research equation. The research process is not intended to lead to easy or self-evident answers – it’s meant to challenge preconceived notions. Research can lead to simple, insightful answers (especially if people have become entrenched within a certain mindset in a given field) and you ideally want your research outcome to at least somewhat reflect your perspective going into the project, but you ought to expect to be surprised at least a couple times in the research process. Consequently, I had to reevaluate my own philosophical approach in the course of my research.

I alluded to this shift in philosophical approach in one of my earlier posts, but in my effort to show that both Kant and Aristotle agree on our obligations to different groups of people, I shifted my focus from our historical, cultural, and temporal relations to one another to developing a philosophical notion of love. To put it simply, I now believe that the love we hold for our special relations (friends, family, etc.) places us in a position to promote their ends in a unique and exclusive way; furthermore, we are allowed to discriminate between the people we love and don’t love because only some people are accessible to us, which is to say that their rational nature (in the Kantian context) or the capacity for rational action (in the Aristotelian context) can have an emotional effect upon us and for love to be a possible motivational ground for action. This is, of course, all very gestural and a lot more must be said to fully flesh out this philosophical schema, but this is not the venue to expound upon it. I hope to do so in my complete paper.

What I hope my example shows is that it is best to embrace wherever your research takes you. I had no idea that I would ultimately be concerned with outlining a philosophy of love, but in not shying away from that I have found my research to be more enriching and purposeful than it could have been otherwise.

Now that I am reaching the end of this research project, my venture into the philosophy of Kantian love has inspired me to explore it further in a BPhil project. This is not to say that I have fully abandoned my research into Aristotle, but I have found the reading I did on Kant to be particularly interesting. I also hope to create a shorter version of the paper I am writing now just covering Kant for publication. Whether I ultimately focus on Kant or Aristotle, I will nonetheless continue to endeavor to reconcile our obligations to all humanity and our special relations – to show that we need not abandoned those dearest to us in the pursuit of living a moral life.

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