Monday, 12 March 2012

How the UU has changed me over the years

It is hard for me to write what it is like to be a student at the University of Utrecht because I have been one for almost four years. While first-year students might notice the difference from high school or HBO or kindergarten (everyone had a genius toddler taking criminal law with them, right?), most of the experiences I have now seem normal to me. I do have the edge with something else though: I can talk about the long-term changes caused by the University of Utrecht.

As I am writing this, I can think of two. The first has to do with how to deal with philosophical problems. When I was still in high school, I used to think really abstract and theoretical. I could, for instance, never resist pointing out that you can never know something with complete certainty. That is, gravity is an induction and not a deduction; objects could suddenly start falling up. I used to bring this point up to stop discussions and show people how clever I was. Of course now, I am actually clever.

Though I was technically right, law school has really put all that theoretical knowledge into perspective. When reading the law it is always important to look at the spirit and not the letter of each provision. If something is unclear, you can skip ahead and resolve the rest. Unclear things can be dealt with on a case by case basis and general rules are not always needed or even desired. On the contrary: sometimes vague laws are actually better to understand than the detailed alternative. Transferring this way of looking at things to philosophy and general life really is not that hard. It just means picking the practical answer to impractical and theoretical questions.

The second thing that has changed is the way I look at language. I remember one discussion I had recently where everything just fell into place when I was able to pinpoint the exact word where our definitions differed which resulted in different opinions. Likewise, I can never read a sentence like “Go to jail without passing go”, without mentally dissecting it into four pieces: (1) go to (2) jail (3) without passing (4) go. Just writing this makes me think of all the things that can be written about ‘going somewhere’ and the concept of ‘jail’ and ‘go’. I could rant for hours about it, which, incidentally, is why I am not allowed to play Monopoly anymore.

The thing is, this all happened very gradually over the course of several years. I do not know what caused it, but I do know it is something I share with the other law students. So join us at the legal side; we might not have cookies in the grammatical sense of the word, but we do have ‘cookies’ in the contextual sense of the word. And seriously, those are awesome.

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