Posts Tagged ‘MTSU’

The Wordsworth Connection

June 3, 2017

I’m excited for the start Monday afternoon of our summer “focused study” of The Anglo-American Mind, wherein we’ll tack and attempt to navigate various “cross-currents in British and American thought, exploring ways in which classic thinkers on both sides of the pond have mutually influenced and reacted to each other.”

And, continues the official and possibly over-ambitious course description, “we’ll also read and discuss the likes of William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, David Hume, Anthony Trollope….” Well, maybe. Never hurts to build your metaphorical castles in the air.

The English wit Oscar Wilde once said “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” I wish I’d said that, Oscar, but I will. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but in service of the defensible premise we set out from: Americans and Brits do have a special relationship, culturally and philosophically, and a motivated study of its various lines of mutual relatedness promises amusement, clarity, and light. It’ll be fun.

Our main texts: Pragmatism by William James, On Liberty by J.S. Mill, English Hours by Henry James, and Jay Hosler’s whimsical, graphical look at Charles Darwin’s peripatetic style of reflection, The Sandwalk Adventures.

We begin with the first four lectures of Pragmatism, starting with this question:

  • Why do you think James dedicated Pragmatism to the memory of J.S. Mill (“from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of mind and whom my fancy likes to picture as our leader were he alive today”)?

There’s no short and simple answer to that, but one intriguing thread connects them: both suffered bouts of emotional despondency, and both turned to the poetry of William Wordsworth to pull them out of it.

The Mill-Wordsworth connection is familiar, having been prominently featured in the fifth chapter of his Autobiography

For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life, must be a flaw in life itself…

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event of my life. I took up the collection of his poems from curiosity, with no expectation of mental relief from it, though I had before resorted to poetry with that hope… But while Byron was exactly what did not suit my condition, Wordsworth was exactly what did…

What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence… I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis… The result was that I gradually, but completely, emerged from my habitual depression, and was never again subject to it. J.S. Mill, Autobiography

Less familiarly known is the James-Wordsworth connection, newly spotlighted in William James Studies (Spring 2017, vol.13, no.1) by David Leary in “Authentic Tidings”: What Wordsworth Gave to William James” (PDF):

As regards James’s later psychological and philosophical work, the critical insights that distinguished his way of thinking revolved around the Wordsworthian convictions that the human mind is active; that it has its own interests; and that its feelings are as significant – perhaps even more significant – than its thoughts…

James gave expression to “the mind’s excursive power,” as Wordsworth put it.38 (Wordsworth’s use of this phrase underscored that his poetically described excursion through countryside and mountains was an allegory for the mind’s ability to wander, in imagination, around objects, assuming different perspectives, seeing reality now from this and now from that point of view.

“The mind’s excursive power” – that’s what we’ll be tracking, and tracking with, in our course. There’s even been talk of field trips into the rolling middle Tennessee countryside, as we wander in search of Anglo-American minds (which really ought to be pluralized in the course title as well).

Also noteworthy, in the vein, is the appreciative WJ Studies note by biographer Robert Richardson (Emerson, Thoreau, James), on John Kaag’s wonderful American Philosophy: A Love Story:

Kaag leaves us with what Goethe, Emerson, and William James all agreed on. In the beginning was not the word, but the deed, the act. The way forward is not twelve steps, or ten or three. It’s just one. Don’t sleep on it, sit on it, stand on it, or take it for a trial spin. Take the step, You have to do what you can, and you have to do it right now.

Well alright then, let’s get moving!

 philosophy wittgenstein critical theory archimedes plato GIF

(This post marks my experimental return to Up@dawn (version 1) as a primary publishing venue. Up@dawn 2.0 is for now set up to receive and store these posts, via IFTTT. But it doesn’t much matter when or where we mark dawn’s revelations, morning is still (as Henry said) whenever I am awake and there is a dawn in me.)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2rx2qtu

Advertisements

The Wordsworth Connection

June 3, 2017

I’m excited for the start Monday afternoon of our summer “focused study” of The Anglo-American Mind, wherein we’ll tack and attempt to navigate various “cross-currents in British and American thought, exploring ways in which classic thinkers on both sides of the pond have mutually influenced and reacted to each other.”

And, continues the official and possibly over-ambitious course description, “we’ll also read and discuss the likes of William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, David Hume, Anthony Trollope….” Well, maybe. Never hurts to build your metaphorical castles in the air.

The English wit Oscar Wilde once said “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” I wish I’d said that, Oscar, but I will. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but in service of the defensible premise we set out from: Americans and Brits do have a special relationship, culturally and philosophically, and a motivated study of its various lines of mutual relatedness promises amusement, clarity, and light. It’ll be fun.

Our main texts: Pragmatism by William James, On Liberty by J.S. Mill, English Hours by Henry James, and Jay Hosler’s whimsical, graphical look at Charles Darwin’s peripatetic style of reflection, The Sandwalk Adventures.

We begin with the first four lectures of Pragmatism, starting with this question:

  • Why do you think James dedicated Pragmatism to the memory of J.S. Mill (“from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of mind and whom my fancy likes to picture as our leader were he alive today”)?

There’s no short and simple answer to that, but one intriguing thread connects them: both suffered bouts of emotional despondency, and both turned to the poetry of William Wordsworth to pull them out of it.

The Mill-Wordsworth connection is familiar, having been prominently featured in the fifth chapter of his Autobiography

For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life, must be a flaw in life itself…

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event of my life. I took up the collection of his poems from curiosity, with no expectation of mental relief from it, though I had before resorted to poetry with that hope… But while Byron was exactly what did not suit my condition, Wordsworth was exactly what did…

What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence… I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis… The result was that I gradually, but completely, emerged from my habitual depression, and was never again subject to it. J.S. Mill, Autobiography

Less familiarly known is the James-Wordsworth connection, newly spotlighted in William James Studies (Spring 2017, vol.13, no.1) by David Leary in “Authentic Tidings”: What Wordsworth Gave to William James” (PDF):

As regards James’s later psychological and philosophical work, the critical insights that distinguished his way of thinking revolved around the Wordsworthian convictions that the human mind is active; that it has its own interests; and that its feelings are as significant – perhaps even more significant – than its thoughts…

James gave expression to “the mind’s excursive power,” as Wordsworth put it.38 (Wordsworth’s use of this phrase underscored that his poetically described excursion through countryside and mountains was an allegory for the mind’s ability to wander, in imagination, around objects, assuming different perspectives, seeing reality now from this and now from that point of view.

“The mind’s excursive power” – that’s what we’ll be tracking, and tracking with, in our course. There’s even been talk of field trips into the rolling middle Tennessee countryside, as we wander in search of Anglo-American minds (which really ought to be pluralized in the course title as well).

Also noteworthy, in the vein, is the appreciative WJ Studies note by biographer Robert Richardson (Emerson, Thoreau, James), on John Kaag’s wonderful American Philosophy: A Love Story:

Kaag leaves us with what Goethe, Emerson, and William James all agreed on. In the beginning was not the word, but the deed, the act. The way forward is not twelve steps, or ten or three. It’s just one. Don’t sleep on it, sit on it, stand on it, or take it for a trial spin. Take the step, You have to do what you can, and you have to do it right now.

Well alright then, let’s get moving!

 philosophy wittgenstein critical theory archimedes plato GIF

(This post marks my experimental return to Up@dawn (version 1) as a primary publishing venue. Up@dawn 2.0 is for now set up to receive and store these posts, via IFTTT. But it doesn’t much matter when or where we mark dawn’s revelations, morning is still (as Henry said) whenever I am awake and there is a dawn in me.)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2rx2qtu

The Wordsworth Connection

June 3, 2017

I’m excited for the start Monday afternoon of our summer “focused study” of The Anglo-American Mind, wherein we’ll tack and attempt to navigate various “cross-currents in British and American thought, exploring ways in which classic thinkers on both sides of the pond have mutually influenced and reacted to each other.”

And, continues the official and possibly over-ambitious course description, “we’ll also read and discuss the likes of William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, David Hume, Anthony Trollope….” Well, maybe. Never hurts to build your metaphorical castles in the air.

The English wit Oscar Wilde once said “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” I wish I’d said that, Oscar, but I will. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but in service of the defensible premise we set out from: Americans and Brits do have a special relationship, culturally and philosophically, and a motivated study of its various lines of mutual relatedness promises amusement, clarity, and light. It’ll be fun.

Our main texts: Pragmatism by William James, On Liberty by J.S. Mill, English Hours by Henry James, and Jay Hosler’s whimsical, graphical look at Charles Darwin’s peripatetic style of reflection, The Sandwalk Adventures.

We begin with the first four lectures of Pragmatism, starting with this question:

  • Why do you think James dedicated Pragmatism to the memory of J.S. Mill (“from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of mind and whom my fancy likes to picture as our leader were he alive today”)?

There’s no short and simple answer to that, but one intriguing thread connects them: both suffered bouts of emotional despondency, and both turned to the poetry of William Wordsworth to pull them out of it.

The Mill-Wordsworth connection is familiar, having been prominently featured in the fifth chapter of his Autobiography

For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life, must be a flaw in life itself…

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event of my life. I took up the collection of his poems from curiosity, with no expectation of mental relief from it, though I had before resorted to poetry with that hope… But while Byron was exactly what did not suit my condition, Wordsworth was exactly what did…

What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence… I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis… The result was that I gradually, but completely, emerged from my habitual depression, and was never again subject to it. J.S. Mill, Autobiography

Less familiarly known is the James-Wordsworth connection, newly spotlighted in William James Studies (Spring 2017, vol.13, no.1) by David Leary in “Authentic Tidings”: What Wordsworth Gave to William James” (PDF):

As regards James’s later psychological and philosophical work, the critical insights that distinguished his way of thinking revolved around the Wordsworthian convictions that the human mind is active; that it has its own interests; and that its feelings are as significant – perhaps even more significant – than its thoughts…

James gave expression to “the mind’s excursive power,” as Wordsworth put it.38 (Wordsworth’s use of this phrase underscored that his poetically described excursion through countryside and mountains was an allegory for the mind’s ability to wander, in imagination, around objects, assuming different perspectives, seeing reality now from this and now from that point of view.

“The mind’s excursive power” – that’s what we’ll be tracking, and tracking with, in our course. There’s even been talk of field trips into the rolling middle Tennessee countryside, as we wander in search of Anglo-American minds (which really ought to be pluralized in the course title as well).

Also noteworthy, in the vein, is the appreciative WJ Studies note by biographer Robert Richardson (Emerson, Thoreau, James), on John Kaag’s wonderful American Philosophy: A Love Story:

Kaag leaves us with what Goethe, Emerson, and William James all agreed on. In the beginning was not the word, but the deed, the act. The way forward is not twelve steps, or ten or three. It’s just one. Don’t sleep on it, sit on it, stand on it, or take it for a trial spin. Take the step, You have to do what you can, and you have to do it right now.

Well alright then, let’s get moving!

 philosophy wittgenstein critical theory archimedes plato GIF

(This post marks my experimental return to Up@dawn (version 1) as a primary publishing venue. Up@dawn 2.0 will play back-up. But it doesn’t much matter when or where we mark dawn’s revelations, morning is still (as Henry said) whenever I am awake and there is a dawn in me.)

John Lachs and the mystique of teaching

April 12, 2013

John Lachs was charming as always, and as spontaneous, mirthful, elegant-& earthy…

Above all he was fully present with us, for three solid classroom hours on either side of lunch yesterday. And still, he apologized for having to leave for an alumni meeting back at Vandy before our last class.

Refused his honorarium too, insisting on picking up the lunch tab himself. Add generous to the “as always” list.

So many memorable moments of wisdom and insight, discussing consciousness, rectitude, stoicism, pragmatism, music, writing, “progress,” happiness, life and death. “All of life is an experiment.” And, “I’m not a libertarian but I am a friend of liberty.” In the spirit of James, he counsels a “hands off” attitude towards every soul’s birthright and privilege, to be left alone, each to discover their own bliss in their own ways. “One of the great joys of my life is to think…”

The whole scene just really epitomized for me the magic and mystery (and mystique) of my profession, bringing together the wisest and the freshest, spanning seasoned experience and youthful possibility across the generations in potentially life-altering philosophical dialogue. The man who witnessed horrible carnage in the streets of his Hungarian childhood and grew up to become an affirming philosopher of liberty and light, offering his own story to millennial children of the ‘nineties who must learn the lessons of history to avoid repeating its atrocities.

John Dewey’s “continuous human community” was right there on full display in my classrooms yesterday, asking and answering and wondering across the years. The opportunity for such occasions is why we do what we do, we teachers who know ourselves and our charges as links in a chain of indeterminate (but possibly glorious) portent.

On days like yesterday the question is not Why study philosophy?, it’s Why doesn’t everyone?

And for me, personally, it was very special to profess in public the hold on my heart of that wonderful little book with its dual inscriptions: one penned by my late father in the twilight of his days, the other by  my forever-young father figure. This morning I’m inspired and renewed, all over again.

Welcome, John Lachs!

April 11, 2013


JLinLove“There is something devastatingly hollow about the demonstration that thought without action is hollow, when we find the philosopher only thinking it.” John Lachs also said, in Intermediate Man:

“Once attention is shifted from the future and we begin to enjoy activities at the time we do them and for what they are, we have transcended the mentality that views life as a process of mediation toward distant ends.”

And so, “normally it is quite within our power to regard our doings as so many ends. This could render each of our acts self-validating and joyous.”

Dr. L has graciously agreed to drive down from Nashville this morning and help us validate our classes. We’ve begun reading his Stoic Pragmatism  (Indiana, 2012) and have some questions, we MTSU CoPhilosophers:

  • In your book you cite Alfred North Whitehead’s statement that “all of philosophy may well be a series of footnotes to Plato.” Do you agree with this opinion? Why or why not? 
  • Is there a particular philosopher who has influenced the writing of Stoic Pragmatism or any of your other books?
  • Under the section of Ethics, there are three philosophers with different aspects of ethics. Those philosophers are Mill, Kant, and Butler. Do you agree with one of the philosophers over the others? Or do you have a different opinion on the topic?
  • Would you consider Plato and Aristotle the backbone of philosophy since the disagreement between them on the method of philosophy is still with us today? (Evan, H1/4)
  • How can stoic pragmatism be practically applied? (Matthew, H1/3)
  • What is his/your view on happiness?
  • How is the synthesis and analysis of something not considered “producing new knowledge”?
  • What is the relationship between philosophy and religion, and what is your religious stance? (Mason, H1/2)
  • In SP you say “The APA needs to establish a commission to study the full range and effectiveness of philosophy,” do you think this would help start the change in different departments realizing the importance of philosophers and including them on their team and faculty? 
  • You said in your book “Thinkers maintain that philosophy can do everything while others insist it can do nothing… philosophy is a result of other fields,” philosophy is a department that focus is on a variety of different specialties that add a new dimension of analysis on a variety of matters. Why do you think other specialists are not embracing philosophers for their input? (Yusra)
  • How do you think philosophers’ sometimes vastly different opinions from each other will affect the way different professions are guided, as well as the government, if a Council of Ethics is formed? Who will determine what ideas are better than others? 
  • Can you expound on what you mean when you say “philosophy is receptive to religious considerations”? (Keaton)
  • Which Philosopher(s) most impacted your Philosophical career path? 
  • Did you ever believe in something other than Stoic Pragmatism?
  • Would you suggest the younger generation be exposed to more Philosophical studies and concepts? (Katy, 14/1)
  • Where do you think Philosophy is going in the future? Will it  evolve, or stay as it is through time? Does it have a future beyond the university? Alternative jobs in philosophy? (Skye, 14/2)
  • How would you structure the “ideal philosophy distribution” in a university if you had the chance? 
  • Do you consider Philosophy more of a subject or a way of thinking?
  • Do you think that we need to learn by imitation or by experience at our college age? Would the outcomes of our lives be better if we chose one over the other? (H1/4, Evan)
  • How prevalent would you say pragmatism is in American philosophy today?
  • How does pragmatism relate to postmodernism?
  • Where most people find materialism in the US, you describe it somewhat differently: “The truth is that we are in love with the future, worshipping its promise and answering all its demands.” How does this relate to materialistic decisions not based upon the future? You cite the example of people saving for retirement or preparing for the next promotion, but what about people over their heads in credit card debt or drop out of high school?
  • After describing the benefits of pragmatism in one paragraph, you write: “These are the reasons that pragmatism takes the place of lame versions of Marxism and religious thought as the philosophy of hope and effort.” Do religion and pragmatism have similar goals? If so, are they held to the same standards? Do you see pragmatism becoming (or already become) the philosophical basis of American culture, similar to Stoicism in ancient Rome?
  • An essential idea in pragmatism is the possibility of progress. How do we recognize true progress, and how do we then foster it? (Nathan, H1/4)
  • Do you think Stoics would agree that an ‘ugly’ man could be happy (keeping in mind that Aristotle would say no)? How are things like beauty and intelligence and their role in being happy perceived by the Stoics?
  • How would you say that western philosophies deal with social problems differently than more traditional or eastern philosophies?
  • Do you think the Greek Stoics are harder to bring into a modern context?
  • Doesn’t it seem contradictory to believe that every thing that happens is a determined event but then also believe we are capable of having control over the way we react?
  • What is your favorite course to teach at Vandy and why? (Sean, 16)
  • Can philosophy produce public intellectuals today? (Matt G., 16/1)
  • You say you arrived at the position of being a Stoic Pragmatist somewhat recently at the time of your books publication, but how do you know that you won’t change your mind, or clarify your viewpoint further in the future. What makes this instance in your life different than previous times you may have thought you had it figured out? 
  • I forget, but Dr. Oliver, I saw you write our next question down on your notepad so if you could remind me what it was, that would be great haha. Thanks (H1/1, Logan)

Hmmm. I’m not sure I can decipher my own scrawl. Was it the question about epiphenomenalism? Or about philosophizing with children? Or maybe we can just ask Dr. L if he can set me up with his publisher?

Thanks for coming, Dr. L! Most Vandy philosophers must leave there, to discover that I-24 runs  in both directions. But you’ve always been one to meet people where they are.

Postscript, 4.14.13. “Many thanks for the invitation to speak with your students.  I found them smart and inquisitive, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  No honorarium needed; it was an end in itself.”

Execrable, inexorable, indefeasible rules

April 5, 2013

Presented at the 18th Annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro TN-

[Postscript: the errors on slides 15, 26 & 27? Purely illustrative. Meant to do that. Sure I did.]

This side of eternity

February 27, 2013

I like to complain about staff meetings, for all the good it does. But something worth pondering came of yesterday’s, right at the end.

Our department has just hired a second full-time, tenure track Religious Studies prof. (We hired our first last year.)  This is sure to be good news for our department, our students, and for me and my Atheism course.

Once again we succeeded in securing the services of the candidate who had emerged as our first choice, though the process was made bumpier this time by unanticipated late-hour administrative input from above. But we’re pleased and relieved, and were taking a few moments yesterday to review what went wrong and right, “for next time.”

Someone pointed out that “next time” may be a long time coming. Two hires in two years is unprecedented for us. We’ll push (per the urging of our recent external reviewer) to add another philosopher, possibly a three-year postdoc if not another permanent full-timer, but the likelihood is that we’ll be “encouraged” to make due at our present level of staffing for some time.

On the other hand, noted our cheerful chairman as we adjourned and dispersed quietly  into the good night, “some of us are not getting younger.” It’s good to think about the passage of time, he said. It’s good to think about your own funeral, and your final rest.

And on that happy note I must now finish the Bioethics exam. Time’s a-wasting.

 

Got walls?

January 15, 2013

There’s nothing like the first faculty meeting of the semester to disturb one’s peaceful slumbers and steal that most precious time, the final hours just before classes resume. Unless it’s a morning faculty meeting. “Wake up!” hollers so-called Reality. “To be awake is to be alive.” But Thoreau was not in attendance.

And hours later, yesterday morning, we were all clear as a bell on just how little power and influence we faculty members really possess when it comes to the whim and whimsy of our administrative masters.

Even more troubling: an administrator wielding (but not disclosing) “data” alleged to support moves we oppose, and insinuating that a Higher Power (i.e., the Provost) may be “perturbed” with our intransigence.

Self-knowledge is ingredient to wisdom, of course. We tell our students that all the time. So if there was any doubt: we know there’s nothing further we can do to resist the will of the administrative tsar who wants to rob us of our favorite classroom in order to make space (literally) for our newest colleagues.

I think we already knew that, and could have spent the morning more productively than banging our heads on the figurative wall. But it was nice to sit in that room again with old friends, as another term begins, admitting our collective powerlessness and trying to remind ourselves of the real sphere of our actual influence.

“That room,” that grungy old classroom across the hall where the heart of our curriculum has been beating for decades. And where we hold our staff meetings.  So many memories, so many classes and students and conversations and lyceum talks. If the Decider has her way, it’ll be walled and subdivided and reassigned next year. A shiny new “office suite,” perhaps? We’re told we should be grateful, in our impotence. Resistance is futile. All in all its just another brick in the wall, right?

But, what is “power” for an academic, an educator? Surely not the misguided prerogative to defy reasonable requests and impose authority arbitrarily. Our power resides, if anywhere, in our privilege and opportunity to try another semester to influence the thought and lives and fortunes of bright inquisitive young people.  Administrators may tell us where to build physical partitions, but we’re the lucky ones who sometimes get to break down the more divisive walls between people and peoples and their ideas and prejudices. We get to open the space that matters most, the space between their ears.

Can’t resist dedicating this to our friends in Cope Hall:

“Every morning he gets up quite early”

January 10, 2013

There’s a historical plaque on our campus, near the Business  and Aerospace Building across from the library and Starbucks, commemorating 1986 Nobel economist James Buchanan. It’s there because he was a 1940 graduate of our school, known then as Middle Tennessee State Teachers College. Our top Honors students are now called Buchanan scholars.

He wrote many books reflecting a broadly libertarian. contractarian, individualist point of view. Turns out he was a much more interesting thinker than I’d imagined, seeking a reconciliation of his temperamental anarchism with an equally insistent Hobbesian realism in (for instance)  The Limits of Liberty. Must read more of him, someday. Somehow.

I mention him now because I’ve walked past his plaque hundreds of times with barely a flicker of interest, and because yesterday Buchanan died.

So now that’s two consecutive mornings devoted to the subjects of Times obits. As I was just saying: all this must pass.

But I have no time to reflect on that right now, my very lively spouse has a 7:40 flight out of here and I am of course her cabbie. But here’s Prof. Buchanan’s story.

“Every morning he gets up quite early and works quite early,” reported his George Mason colleague. He was committed to addressing “how to work, how to think, how to live.” Gotta admire his work habits, if not his economic philosophy. I’ll never pass that plaque indifferently again.

Ralph, Bart, & Jesus

December 14, 2012

I thought it was pretty much all over but the grading, except for one last exam yesterday. But we also had one last report presentation: Jesus!

Jacob, standing by his man and citing C.S. Lewis’s weird and cryptic statement about prophets who claim to be poached eggs etc., said we finally have just three basic belief options:

  • Jesus was not who he claimed to be, God (the, not just a… like Phil Connors) and he knew it. Or,
  • He was sincere but deluded. Or,
  • He was the real deal.

Well, I told the class, at least two more options leap instantly to mind: he was misrepresented, and he was misunderstood. Call them the Ehrman* and Emerson options, respectively.

Ehrman contends that the New Testament is riddled with contradictions about the life of Jesus and his significance. He has provided compelling evidence that early Christianity was a collection of competing schools of thought and that the central doctrines we know today were the inventions of theologians living several centuries after Christ.  Commonwealth Club

Ehrman has lived those contradictions. He was “born again” at 15 in Kansas (where he was a pal of my colleague Mike Hinz, btw, which is why Bart spoke on our campus February before last), a religion student at arch-conservative Moody Bible College (where all his teachers were required to sign an oath to represent only one perspective on the question of Biblical literalism and “inerrancy”), Wheaton College, and Princeton, and a devout Christian well into his career at Chapel Hill. The problem of suffering ultimately disabused him of his faith and made him a “heretic.” He came to understand that we shouldn’t follow anyone or anything with unwavering, unquestioning obeisance. We’re all individuals. We all have to think for ourselves.

rweJesus Christ estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, `I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.’ But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages! …`This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you, if you say he was a man’ …He spoke of miracles; for he felt that man’s life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines, as the character ascends. But the word Miracle, as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain. Emerson, “Divinity School Address

We could do a course on this Emersonian sort of naturalized religious sensibility. Throw in the Jefferson Bible, along with some other ways of moving naturalism forward. Some Jamesian pluralism, some Deweyan natural piety, some humanistic science.

Maybe we will.

*Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed  the Bible and Why

Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible

Forged: Writing in the Name of God-Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer