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Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk about Their Calling
     

Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk about Their Calling

by Robert G. Shoemaker (Editor)
 

David Lynn Hall's love of philosophy began with a fifty-cent paperback. Then an adolescent facing an 18-hour bus trip across the great Southwest, desperate for anything to read, Hall bought Alfred North Whitehead's Adventures of Ideas at a rest stop in Pecos, Texas. He didn't have a clue who Whitehead was, but the book had a colorful, exotic cover, and nothing else

Overview

David Lynn Hall's love of philosophy began with a fifty-cent paperback. Then an adolescent facing an 18-hour bus trip across the great Southwest, desperate for anything to read, Hall bought Alfred North Whitehead's Adventures of Ideas at a rest stop in Pecos, Texas. He didn't have a clue who Whitehead was, but the book had a colorful, exotic cover, and nothing else on the revolving wire bookrack appealed to him. "I paid fifty cents, boarded the Trailways bus, nestled into my narrow seat and into the vastness of the desert spaces—and soon into the yet vaster spaces of humanity's great thoughts.... As I recall that first encounter with philosophic thinking, I seem to capture the exact emotion—a mixture of intrigue and perplexity, a congealed sense of awe—the apotheosis of which is the feeling philosophy now represents for me." That Mentor paperback still sits on his shelf, a treasured relic held together by rubberbands.
Hall is just one of over sixty philosophers whose revealing memoirs appear in Falling in Love with Wisdom, a fascinating look at how some people became philosophers. Contributed by thinkers young and old, male and female, famous and obscure, these pieces reveal in very human terms both the rewards and hazards of a life dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom. Many recall a single memorable moment, an epiphany that changed forever the way they thought about themselves and the world around them. Huston Smith reveals how powerful these moments can be: "My excitement had been mounting all evening and around midnight it exploded, shattering mental stockades. It was as if a fourth dimension of space had opened, and ideas—now palpable—were unrolling like carpets before me." Others, such as Diane Michelfelder, find their gravitation to philosophy more subtle: "I sometimes think that one becomes a philosopher the same way one becomes many other things: a lover, a neighbor, a friend, an adult. You wake up one morning to discover that is what you have become." Still others speak of valued mentors (Angela Davis recounts her relationship with Herbert Marcuse), brushes with death, and the personal pain of social prejudice and ostracism. And throughout the book, there is much humor (Wallace Matson recounts his mother's horrified reaction to his precocious religious scepticism: "If you don't believe in God," she cried, "you can never be elected to public office!") and many surprises (Arthur C. Danto, for instance, admits he entered Columbia's graduate program in philosophy simply to keep getting the GI Bill while he pursued his true ambition, painting: "I had no great interest in philosophy, and certainly no intention of becoming a philosopher").
These sixty-four memoirs—almost all of which were written for this volume—reveal that the road to wisdom has many on-ramps. Yet all would ultimately agree with Henry Kyburg. "I imagine being asked," Kyburg writes, "'How did a healthy, ambitious, accomplished man like you, with all the advantages you have had, end up in such a useless dead end profession?' To which I would smugly reply, 'Just lucky, I guess.'"

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Aimed at both students and general readers, this collection of 62 short reminiscences by philosophy teachers contains many entertaining, insightful anecdotes about their engagement with this rigorous discipline. Lewis White Beck of the University of Rochester in upstate New York recalls that, when he was a teenager, reading Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy helped him discover that ``there had been others before me who had had the same kind of thoughts and had asked the same kind of questions.'' Angela Davis of San Francisco State University--one of the few recognizable names in the book--describes a college meeting with the legendary but accessible Herbert Marcuse. John Churchill of Hendrix College in Arkansas remembers how he almost converted a fellow college football player to pacifistic Taoism. Claudia Card of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that her academic focus changed once she acknowledged her lesbianism. Unfortunately, the brevity of most essays allows for little discussion of philosophy's varied topics or the issues at stake in the writers' professional lives. Karnos teaches philosophy at Eastern Montana College; Shoemaker is emeritus professor of philosophy at Hendrix College. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The editors solicited statements from more than five dozen contemporary teachers and writers of philosophy on the how, when, where, and why each has become the ``what'' of being a philosopher. Three of the essays are excerpted from previously published texts (e.g., Angela Davis's comes from her Autobiography ); all are well written and well edited, and they form a rich, textured, and satisfying whole as a compendium of biographical insight and purpose. Because the vast majority of mature philosophers are continuing the child's quest for understanding his or her world, many of these three- to five-page pieces retell memories of childhood epiphanies (including one pungent tale of a second grader waylaid en route to school by the overwhelming realization, ``I am I''). This delightful book should appeal to many: scholars, adult and adolescent public library readers, teachers, and even vocational counselors! A happy book about the continuing drama of the rebirth of ideas.-- Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
School Library Journal
YA-An inspiring collection of essays by philosophers who come to their field from diverse paths, but all of whom have an ardent curiosity and an insatiable need to pursue the meaning of truth. Students will recognize the primal quest for learning as described here, for what young person has not questioned the establishment and yearned however idealistically for universal values? Those readers who think of philosophers as being ancient sages of Greece and Rome or unemotional seekers of logic will find unexpected humor, idealism, passion, and relevance among these modern thinkers. They will also identify with those scholars whose ardent interest in a variety of disciplines makes it impossible to choose a major, and so select the discipline that encompasses all knowledge-philosophy.-Jackie Gropman, Richard Byrd Library, Springfield, VA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195089172
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
02/28/1994
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Meet the Author

David D. Karnos is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Montana College. Robert G. Shoemaker is Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Hendrix College.

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