“Thinking Beyond Academia” // For too long, higher education and the development of a liberal mind has been the exclusive provenance of universities and colleges: institutions which have failed to adapt to the new digital paradigm in which we now live. Continuum Philosophical Insight is a new venture which strives to break this exclusivity and bring the insights of theoretical study outside the confines of the ivory tower.
The Continuum Name
Although Continuum Philosophical Insight is just one person, the name is important. The problem of the continuum was and remains today a question for scientific inquiries, pursued by Aristotle, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Gassendi, Leibniz, Kant, and Peirce—to name just a few of the giant intellects who wrestled with the difficulty. To summarize the question: is the universe made up of discrete physical parts, with true emptiness between them? Or are these discrete parts contiguous without gaps? Or is there something, however “thin”, which remains between the discrete physical bodies which we can detect? Pursued to great lengths, this question seems inevitably to become a matter resoluble only by philosophical thought.
This is a metaphor for human life: no matter our sources of guidance, philosophy is ultimately necessary for making sense of our existence, for unifying the disparate experiences we have into a coherent and intelligible whole.
Who is Continuum?
My name is Brian Kemple and I hold a PhD in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas, in Houston TX. I have written two books (on one Thomas Aquinas and another on Charles Peirce and Martin Heidegger), a number of scholarly articles and a few public-oriented ones, as well. My CV is available here.
I taught undergraduate courses, including human person, ethics, medieval philosophy, metaphysics, and philosophy at knowledge, at St. Thomas from 2013 to 2016 and ethics at the Wentworth Institute of Technology from 2016-17.
I am a Thomist and a semiotician–or as I like to say, a Semiotic Thomist–which means that my thought is influenced by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914).
Aquinas is best known as a saint and theologian of the Catholic Church, but during a time when theologians were expected to conduct their work philosophically. While he worked from divine revelation, therefore, Aquinas also worked from natural human reason, and beautifully at that.
Peirce, on the other hand, is best known as the founder of semiotics (as well as a founder of pragmatism, but that’s a more complex history–suffice to say, he did not like what William James and John Dewey did with his initial idea). Unlike Aquinas, he was not a theologian (and certainly not a saint), but he was just as powerfully-capable a philosopher.
After spending a few years on the academic job market, I began to see the structure of academia as inhibiting rather than enabling philosophical thinking, both for professors and for students. The thoughts of Aquinas and Peirce are equally rejected by mainstream academia, and opportunities outside the mainstream are few and far between (becoming fewer and farther by the day). I realized I had a choice: I could continue striving for a job in a broken system, or I could do something different—risky, but possibly better not only for myself but for those I teach.
That is what I am trying, at least: to take philosophy outside of the ivoried towers of academia and to your doorstep–or at least, your computer monitor.
Additionally, I consult as a Research Fellow for the Center for the Study of Digital Life.
More than a professor of philosophy, I have always aspired to be an actual philosopher. The difference, as I see it, is that I do not simply profess adherence to any particular set of doctrines, to the thought of historical figures; nor do I merely profess the opinions and teachings of others to students.
The philosopher considers human experience, and what can be inferred from that experience, according to the first and the highest principles of natural human reason. Thus, the philosopher is not confined to the consideration of this or that particular subject matter; the subject of study is “everything”. One might have an expertise within the realm of “everything”—ethics, for instance, or philosophical physics (“natural philosophy”)—but the exercise of the philosophical office begins and ends with “being”.
If this seems vague and abstract, this is only because “being” is an object that is mysterious and difficult to consider—though an object very real, and very important. The philosopher does not avoid the mystery. Indeed, the philosopher’s task is to make the mystery intelligible, a task which never ends, which is not a problem that is “solved”, but which is nevertheless not a futile endeavor. The task is endless not because it produces no result, but because the object considered, “being”, is infinite, and can therefore be unfolded for us infinitely.
So, what do I do? To put it in somewhat more concrete terms: I, along with any clients who join me, ask what things are, why they are, why they are what they are, how they ought to be, why they ought to be how they ought to be. I might ask a question seemingly as simple as, “What do we mean by the word ‘one’ when we say that ‘this is one thing’?” I can ask, “Do we mean the same thing when we say that something is ‘good’ for a human being and something is ‘good’ for a dog?” and see that, while we take it for granted that something is good for us and not for a dog, we have never actually stopped to think about what the term “good” really means.
We get into these questions by reading texts—some as old as the mid-4th century B.C., some published just a few years ago—written by very smart men and women who have also engaged in questioning the mystery of being; and in so doing, we see that the answers to these questions aren’t really answers if they are treated as facts to be memorized. We enter into the mystery of reality again, anew, and always discover something new.
Independently, I try to push deeper into the mystery, both as discussed by other philosophers and from my own experience of the world; both as it appeared to them and as it appears to me. Mostly, this means thinking. A relatively small portion of it involves writing down those things that I have thought. An even smaller portion results in sharing those things written with others. These become books or articles. This practice—the researching and writing and editing—is a part of my own overall reflective, philosophical process, and integral to my work with clients.