Monday, 14 September 2009

"The Beginning of a Life."

A companion piece to “The End of Philosophy.”

Once all questions of life, the universe, and everything have been resolved, one question remains: what now?

A few months ago I graduated from university with a First Class BA (Hons) Degree in Philosophy. After 22 years of government hand-holding and guidance, I was shoved blinking and confused into the sunlight of the real world only to discover that bankers, politicians, and economists had destroyed the job market. Graduates across the country left the safety of academic environments and found themselves being told to get a job by the people who had made it difficult to do so.

Years of philosophy have left my mind organised and efficient, well-equipped to deal with the confusions of the universe. I was faced with the question of what to do with this mind and its 60 plus remaining years on the planet. I had none of the usual generic ambitions: I have no desire to reproduce since the world is over-populated already; the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake seems futile and wasteful. My only dream was to have my short fiction published – a dream which I am currently pursuing but which doesn’t seem substantial enough to build a life upon.

In July I had a moment of clarity. I was invited to interview for a Graduate Traineeship at a university library, a post I had applied for during one of my frequent third-year-panic-about-the-future attacks. Although I didn’t get the job, the interview showed me a place where I actually wanted to work: I’d always seen work as a necessary evil, something I had to do to get the money to buy the essentials – food, shelter, clothes, books, and internet. This was somewhere I wanted to be, somewhere full of interesting, intelligent people, somewhere perfect. I came home and looked around – I saw my bookshelves organised by genre and author, I saw my MP3 folder organised by artist and album, I saw my DVDs organised by genre, I saw my enjoyable part-time job as a Casual Public Library Assistant.

I saw me. I saw that I wanted to be a librarian.

As part of my degree I studied symbolic logic: propositional and predicate logic, modal logic, the Boolean logical operators, Russell and Whitehead’s Principia notation, Brouwer’s intuitionistic logic, etc. Logic is perfect. A completed logical proof feels perfect: an immutable truth in a world of grey uncertainty. Part of me loves that sense of perfection – the sense that logic is right and pure and unchanging. Part of me recognised it as a delusion. Logical notation is symbols on paper: reason tells us that the semantic content of logical symbols cannot be in the inert symbols themselves or in some Platonic heaven. Metaphysically, I am a nominalist – I do not believe that logic and mathematics are objective. I believe that logic is a human construction. The reason it feels so perfect is that our brains have evolved to see it as perfect. Logic is a wonderful abstraction that fools us into thinking that there is genuine perfection in the world.

Organisation of physical objects is a way of reaching towards that sense of perfection. Cataloguing objects and information brings the world a little closer to the perfect realm that can be glimpsed through mathematics and logic. Libraries keep information in order and then facilitate the access of it. They aim at bringing organisation and hence logic to the vast corpus of human knowledge. Libraries connect us with something bigger than ourselves: the ideal of completeness that has been pursued since Alexandria.

Since July I have applied for a number of starting positions in academic libraries. I have continued my casual work in public libraries. I was given a late place on a Masters course in Library and Information Management that I will be starting next week unless I find a library job before then.

The biggest struggle of life is deciding what to do with it. I have decided to organise human information and spend my spare time writing and reading. I have decided to pursue the only two dreams I have: getting a job where I can feel the perfection of logic – in a large library somewhere – and getting my writing published.

Will it be a good life? A fulfilled life? Eudaimonia or undaimonia?

Only one way to find out...


theMuddledMarketPlace said...


V nearly polluted your comments box with an expletive there...but consider it said!

Nice fresh look around the place-

thewikiman said...

Aaah, I'm also a Philosophy Graduate, so is the guy I sit next to at work. Obviously some kind of natural progression into the Information Profession...

Cheers for linking to the Library Routes Project, looks like you wrote this literally a couple of days before we had the idea of the Wiki!

The Graduate Librarian said...

Where are you going to do your masters? I too graduated this year and applied for a graduate traineeship during my months of job searching panic. I'm currently doing my trainee year and realising that this really is the place I want to be. Now just the panic of finding a masters course to do...

Simon XIX said...

I'm doing my Masters at Manchester Metropolitan. Started a few weeks ago and really enjoying it so far. It's nice to find somewhere you want to be.

Wikiman - If philosophy teaches you anything, it's how to be pedantic and organised: skills easily transferable to library work!