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#2297: Black defense of himself: Corbett replies
>From Bob Corbett:
John, I'm very happy you wrote what you did, but I'd like to take it a
step further. In posting the notes in reply, I often felt badly that
you were taking a beating just for asking a question.
I think I'm especially sensitive to this after 35 years in the classroom.
Are there questions too simple, too naive to ask? Or, put differently,
if you are puzzled and you wish you knew, whom do you ask? In my
case students often have never met a philosopher before, and if they
have a philosophical question, whom *else* do they ask?
Some of the questions indeed take my breath away, but I desperately
try not to show it and to see if I can reply in a way that engages
the student philosophically.
I think our list is like this. People come here with every degree
of background, from Haitians born, raised and educated in and of Haiti,
and even who have become important scholars of things Haitian, to
people who have some interest but know almost nothing.
If one can't ask here, where can you ask? But, people say, you
SHOULD know, or even know better. Well, that puzzles me. Where does
knowledge come from if one doesn't know? It can be gotten alone by
research etc. But, if there is this rich forum of knowledgeable people,
why not ask?
I heard a story from a langauge class at my university. In just doing
the basic intro course the instructor was just getting the students
talking those basic questions, who are you, what is your name, where is
the pen and those sorts of first sentences. She advanced the discussion
to: what do you think of x. Plugging in names for x. One student was
asked about Clinton, and only one little sentence was required, and so
on. She came to one student and asked What do you think of Nelson
Mandela? The student had no idea in the world who this was and said so.
Some students laughed but tried not to. The teacher, trying hard to
regain composure substituted a different name and went on.
Suppose now, this student noticed the giggles and was both embarrassed
and puzzled. Who does the studnet ask? Where do you go with naive
quetions if you don't do private research?
Is the reply to be: don't ask. do private research. Okay, which
questions are so naive or "improper" you don't ask them? Typical
you have no idea before you ask or learn.
I would want this list to be a place of where no question is too
naive. How long does it take to say: there are no AMTs or
maybe there's another way of going about it -- which many did indeed
and John got lots of information. But, why reject the question?
There are questions which are naive and make me giggle and laugh. But,
I try not to do so publically since I think my classroom is the place
for any question (whether I choose to entertain it during class time or
not). Here too. In the privacy of my desk here, I enjoy a laugh at
someone's expense now and again over a question or reply. But, at the
same time, I think this is the place to come with views and questions
of any sort.
Again, I would ask: if not HERE, where?
John's question was sort of amusing to me since it's not something I
would typically think of in my preparation in going to Haiti. But
I see no good reason why my way is the only way to go to Haiti.
Are there unaskable questions? Perhaps. I can imagine some.
But I would think the presumption would be that unless a question were
extremely offensive for some reason, that it shouldn't be rejected
because it is too naive or reflects views of the world that shouldn't be
I'm curious about this since I have the responsibility of moderator. I
don't think the list is the place for this discussion of what question
are not askable, but John's question, and that whole exchange and then
John's defense do raise the question. I'd like to hear from any who have
views on the subject. It would be useful to my deliberations in the future.
I'm especially interested in: when is a question too naive to ask (as
opposed to: when is a question too offensive to ask), or are they the same?
Thanks, Bob Corbett