As a freshman, I had to apply in person to the dean of philosophy at the liberal arts college where I took my bachelor's degree: the subject was only open to sophomores. I had heard that my college was a party school and that it was easy to pass courses just by showing up for classes. For that reason, I deliberately sought out classes whose professors were unsparing in their grading as well as courses fewer students had any interest in taking. I must suppose that the dean, who also taught the fundamentals, was the first person to tell me that he did not want to hear the phrase, "philosophy of life," because it was redundant. On the other hand, this particular professor also taught by example that life was a complex thing and that "life" at least narrows the topic so as to exclude eschatological considerations. Except to theologians, eschatology is of lesser importance. And that was the problem.

The prof had a famous, or relatively famous, brother, an older sibling he looked up to, mentioning him from time to time and making sure that our text contained one of the older brother's writings. The text was a compendium of essays on this and that, works by Kant, Schopenhauer, St. Augustine, many others. About two-thirds through the book there was a section on the existentialists, and I was looking forward to learning about the philosophical movement that most influenced the way I was trying to live my life. Things by Camus, Sartre, the phenomenologists, &c. The prof would do anything to keep us awake. He would even stand on his desk, making jet like swooping sounds as if he were King Kong grabbing at imaginary airplanes flown by Locke and Hobbes. It soon became clear that his intent was to convince us that the only area of philosophy worth examining was metaphysics. Only later, upon reading the existentialist materials, including the novel, The Stranger, a work that influenced my thinking beyond expression, I came to the conclusion that the reason the prof wanted to skip the existentialists is that most if all were atheists. (Yes, Virginia, there are Christian existentialists. They must be like cafeteria Christians.)

Camus has lately been remembered as a steadfast friend of the biologist Jacques Monod. They went through a war together and remained close the rest of their lives. Monod, based upon his biologist's studies, ultimately came to the conclusion that the only operative force in nature is chance. (This is compatible with Darwin.) What this means is that when Meursault stares up at "the benign indifference of the universe," he is looking at random, meaningless, uncaring nature. Each of us is an accident of birth. The so-called religion (it is not, it is a system of humanistic morality) called Buddhism teaches that since we're all in the same boat on the tributaries of Styx, we're all our brothers' keepers.

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As a fan of Camus myself, I find metaphysics to be the bane of philosophy. It is mostly tautological, but so ingrained into common belief systems that people will find a way to justify it. It has value in hypotheticals, in order to test logical consistency, but not as real knowledge in my opinion.

Agree completely, as with most you write.

This is the point A. J. Ayer made. Ayer had some great points about metaphysics. It was unfortunate that he jumped on the 'Vienna Circle' logical empiricism train. He saw through the sacred cow of philosophy.

I admire Karl Popper more. He saw through the Plato-followers in philosophy and also had the scientific method down. He could've changed philosophy for the better. Science was more accepting of his hypothesis.

One student in philosophy class got offended by falsification, because evolution can be disproved but not god. If you find one rabbit skeleton from the Precambrian era, it's over! The student started ranting that Karl Popper didn't have the power to reduce god to "the flying spaghetti monster". If someone truly believes in God, nobody wants to take that away from them. Theism holds philosophy back.

Rationalism is a beautiful language. I would love to hear more reason in philosophy. I watch Daniel Dennett on Ted Talks and know I will come back to hear him discuss the truth of our limitations in consciousness. Not everyone appreciates Richard Dawkins. Christianity declares war on reason in the bible.


Bill, I read and liked Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies.

As I recall, he said Plato had described the work of governing so that he alone was capable of governing.

Thumbs up from me too. Plato claimed the government should follow religion. He claimed democracy is tyranny. The Republic made a case against freedom and freedom from religion.

What a wonderful penguin picture! 

I loved Camus' novel The Plague.

I have not but should read The Plague. My "to be read" shelves hold about 200 books ahead of it. His opposition to capital punishment is hardly surprising. He knew that we are all accidents of birth and that the only will we have is limited by that, so any claim that God gave man freedom of will fails. Philosophers from Epicurus to Mackie have shown that it won't do to argue free will (so that it is man who makes the choice to be good or bad, for example) since "God" could have arranged for all of us to do the right thing. Whatever that is. Camus's friendship with the biologist Jacques Monod intrigues me enought that I pre-ordered a recent book about their parallel lives (e.g. during the Resistence). I am intrigued about why they had such an intellectual friendship. If no paperback is forthcoming I will buy it hardcover.

Camus also wrote a very memorable, eloquent essay on the death penalty.

James, existentialism first came into my life when a philosophy professor in the mid-1950s mentioned it.

He spoke briefly of Sartre's anti-Nazi activity and then said existentialism had little value. He went on to something else and for a few moments I was steaming. I'd been in the Korean War and figured that a guy who'd fought the Nazi's would say something I wanted to know.

I looked for more about existentialism but found very little. Years passed before I had another look at it and I realized that its "There are no excuses" attitude had benefited me greatly when I quit Catholicism.

BTW. I read your "where I took my bachelor's degree" and for a moment envied you. During the eight years I spent earning a degree, I quit Catholicism and had to clear my mind of 12 years of its bizarreries.

"Took my degree" was a figure of speech. For a while, I went to the "Convocations," held weekly in a big white church across the street from the main university buildings (although, appropriately, the School of Business was on the same side of the street as the church), then I quit going. One of my dorm acquaintances, the son of a minister in the church that subsidized the liberal arts university, challenged me to accept God on faith alone. When I told him I accepted nothing on faith, he pointed to a light switch and said, "When you flip the switch, the lights go on, don't they? That's faith." It took me the rest of my college days to see the fallacy in his statement. So you might say I learned a lot at college.

I read your "where I took my bachelor's degree" and for a moment envied you.

Yes, "I took my degree" has a VERY airy sound.

"I slaved for many years, it felt like a lifetime, THEN I got my degree" is more like it. 

If the degree was worth anything.




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