Dear Dr. Vallicella,
I've been lurking (as fellow philosopher at a Philosophy Meetup group called it) around your web site and blogs recently. I have definitely come to the conclusion that you are a kindred spirit of sorts. I especially found your insights into what you call "religionism" [see here, sec. 3] to describe some less developed thoughts of my own on the subject.
I will tell you little about myself, highlighting my philosophical studies to make it brief. I completed my baccalaureate at UC Riverside in 1998. I did do some research on Husserl's philosophy with Dr. Pierre Keller, that culminated in a Senior Thesis critiquing Wilfrid Sellars' Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. I also have a friendship with Dallas Willard, who is still a mentor to me philosophical and spiritually. He encouraged my interest in Husserl and my move to finish my BA at Riverside (I started my undergraduate studies at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California).
I am attempting to determine the answer to a question. I'm not asking you to answer it, but I am asking if you might help me find the answer. Is it possible for someone who has chosen to not pursue advanced degrees in philosophy to actually develop the same or close to the same acumen as someone such as you? Currently, I make my living in the software field working as a programmer and analyst for a small software company. I am currently working on an attempt to start my own business in that software as well.
However, in the midst of these other endeavors, I still love philosophy. I miss the reading and discussion of my college years. I have attempted to participate in local philosophy groups or meetups, but the conversations there are really almost never open. Objective truth is torpedoed from the beginning of the discussion. Everyone just has a position to defend and I generally leave feeling, "Philosophy is stupid." Obviously, that is just a feeling and not an actual attitude or belief I have. I believe in the philosophical life. Might you be willing to guide me in some readings of philosophers throughout history? Help me find the major gaps in my understanding? Help keep me accountable to myself?
I know this is a long email and probably a little strange. Any response would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Mr. Sellars,
Your surname is auspicious! I take it you are no relation of Wilfrid or of his father Roy Wood Sellars, who also made a name for himself in philosophy.
You ask whether it is possible to develop a degree of acumen similar to mine without pursuing advanced degrees in philosophy. I would say that it is if you have enough natural aptitude and are extremely dedicated and hard-working. My view is that all education is in the end self-education: universities and their degree programs merely provide a framework within which one pursues one's education — or else fails to pursue it. But that may be too generous. Universities and their degree programs merely provide a framework within which one pursues a credential. Someone sufficiently self-reliant and independent can often do better outside academe especially nowadays with the decline of the universities.
And since you have found the modern-day equivalent of lense-grinding, there is no need for any advanced credential as a necessary (but not sufficient!) condition of obtaining a teaching position. I've always thought that Spinoza's way was the best: one completely divorces philosophy from money-making, pursuing the former as it ought to be pursued, for its own sake. (At one point, Spinoza was offered a prestigious post at the University of Heidelberg, but in the interest of his intellectual independence, turned down the offer.) The academic world is filled with people who, if they couldn't fill their belly from philosophy, would drop it like a hot potato and go into real estate. As Schopenhauer would say, they don't live for philosophy but from it.
The life of the independent scholar is easier than it used to be given the vast resources of the World Wide Web. Of course, you have to learn to pick your way through the garbage and find your way to the worthwhile sites.
One resource I would recomend is Ronald Gross, Independent Scholar's Handbook. You may find this inspiring as well as informative.
The Web also allows one to overcome the isolation that the independent philosopher must face. Gradually, one builds up a circle of correspondents who may help you focus and develop your thoughts.
What you need to do is write, write, write about topics that interest you while soliciting comments and criticisms from competent individuals. And if you write, you owe it to yourself to publish, first in the lesser venues, but eventually in the best print journals.
To make more specific suggestions, I would have to know what your exact interests are. Find a topic that strikes you as enormously important and then try to become an expert on it, reading everything available, but evaluating what you read and trying to formulate your own view.
Good luck on your quest!