09 September 2011

My Book in the Bod

After spending many a happy hour at Oxford's Bodleian scribbling away at my master's thesis, it's rather neat to see it in book form there in the stacks. (Of course, this honor is granted to any student who writes a thesis, passes his viva, and matriculates, so I'm not terribly unique in this regard. I also notice it's in "remote storage"... lol)

As to my viva, I don't think I've ever been more nervous in my life. I went in there with cotton mouth, sat at a lone chair and desk in front of a panel of severe-looking blackrobed dons (two men and a woman), and proceeded to endure the grilling. My thesis was controversial: I argued that Augustine's maxim Crede, ut intelligas ("Believe in order that you may understand") was justified by 20th-century epistemology and showed the true way in which humans go about acquiring knowledge. I rejected the rationalist thesis that reason alone is sufficient to gain knowledge. Faith must come first, and then understanding; without faith, we can never gain a true knowledge of the world in any subject, whether it be psychology, science, or anything in between. I used examples from the philosophy of Wittgenstein, W.V.O. Quine, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Michael Polanyi, among others, to demonstrate this--and then (this is where the syncretistic theology professor objected) I ended up arguing that the most accurate picture of the world could not be gained except through the Christian faith. (I was a Protestant at the time, unfortunately, so I naturally argued in favor of the Protestant position; today, of course, I would say it is the Catholic view of the world that is the most accurate.)

No, the dons did not like that at all. But I stood fast on my point, even at one time telling the fellow in the middle--very respectfully--that he had not grasped my point. I expected to fail my viva after that--and was delighted to discover that the panel had found my thesis compelling enough to allow me to continue on in their doctoral program. The only trouble they had was deciding whether or not I should continue in the department of theology or philosophy--and they finally chose the latter. It was decided I should pursue studies under Richard Swinburne. So I left very happy indeed.

For lack of money, though (Oxford, as you can imagine, is expensive), and a desire to get married, I eventually turned it down, returned to the States--and ended up going to law school instead, where, in my third year, I would return to the Catholic faith...

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