Dilemma of the modern student

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    The telos of the essence of being-an-undergraduate is implicitly not in the now. They are a student of something for some future ends; they are a becoming. However, this becomes problematic because the telos of the modern student is unknown. For the apprentices of the past, one would easily learn from a cobbler how to cobble. They would be the student of shoemaking, they would learn from a shoemaker, and eventually they would reach the telos of the student by becoming a shoemaker. The modern student does not follow this progression. He knows he is a student and that his telos is not in the now, but he does not know what his telos is actually in. One may easily major in philosophy and then become a baker.   Moreover, the student understanding that his telos is unknown must still forsake the now of the student for this unknown. By this I mean that a student’s direct responsibility is to get A’s for the distant responsibilities of goals that he cannot possibly realistically hold, rather than getting A’s because they are interesting in learning cool things. This is an issue since grades and learning are only partially correlated. Therefore, one must abandon their priority on learning if they are to aim for the grades necessary for their unknown future. They must suspend their certain present for an uncertain future.

    This is deepened by the absurdity of what is it to be a modern student. It is absurd because the student is a student because it is an expectation of the universal. It is absurd because the student is suspending the now for the future, but the future is unpredictable. It is absurd because the earliest goal for the student is to receive grades, a side-effect of which is to know material, rather than vice versa, because they assume it is grades that help attain the telos that they don’t yet know they have.  It is absurd that the student is a student not for themselves, but for the relation between themselves and the universal. They are a student because the universal demands it, and if they are to remain a part of the universal, then they must buy into its demands. It is absurd because once a student understands the absurdity of it, they understand they are forsaking meaning for a lack of meaning, and that through the lens of the universal they see the opposite; for through the universal the student is gaining meaning but through the direct lens of the student there is nothing but vacuous absurdity. The modern student is nothing but for the universal, and this meaning vanishes once they embrace the absurd.

    However, it is because the dilemma of the modern student is absurd that he is free. The student of the cobbler is not free to become a baker. He may be free to become a student of a baker, but not a baker himself. But at the same time, the modern student gets nowhere. At the end of being a student he is not anything. Instead, at the end of being a student is simply the subsummation into the universal. Therefore, one may claim that the telos of the modern student is the simple negation of the individual and the assimilation into the universal. Hence, the successful student can become successful within the universal; we can say that he is leading a good life.

    The modern student is one who does not embrace the absurd. He may understand the absurd, but he does not act on virtue of the absurd. One cannot remain a modern student while embracing the absurd. One can become a true student by embracing the absurd and by choosing his own telos. But even the modern student who knows of the absurdity of his condition understands that his telos is in the universal. Therefore, it is the true student who does embrace the absurd that is often looked at by the modern student (and others within the universal) as a bad student. This student does not cram before tests or do meaningless homework or tasks. They forsake the grade for themselves if the two do not overlap. They put meaning into their studies by choosing to do it rather than choosing to do the work because they think it is meaningful.

    As students and as scientists, we are always faced with the dialectic between individual and universal. Some may claim the telos of their undergraduate years is to become a scientist. However, such a claim is impossible to make a priori. An attempt to do so would rely too heavily on the universal and risks incompatibility with the individual. Why we desire what we desire is in constant flux due to our dynamic relation with ourselves and with the universal. On the other hand, one ought not rid themselves too completely of the universal, for our relation to the universal is necessary. Therefore, as an undergraduate, you are challenged to think deeply on why it is you do what you do, and why it is you want what you want. What are the ends, and what are the means?

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