Out and About

by Phil Johnson

North Park Philosophy Academy Meeting Report - October 27, 1988

In 1957, at the North Park College football banquet, our speaker, Jesse Owens, told us that our college education was important. He said education was a matter of language, learning, literature, and philosophy. I recall that some of us thought there was both some overlap and some gaps in his categories, but his spirit and his reputation were plenty to keep us attentive and impressed.

Whether Mr. Owens' inclusion of philosophy in his quadrivium had any bearing on my own decision a year later to major in philosophy, I cannot say. Nor was I aware at the time that, only a few years earlier, a man named Wittgenstein, acknowledged to be a great philosopher, was urging his students to be done with philosophy. What would I have done if I had known about Wittgenstein's advice?

On October 27, 1988, the President's room at North Park College was once again the scene of the annual meeting of the North Park Philosophy Academy. At this meeting we had the pleasure of the presentation by Lionel Edes of his paper on Wittgenstein — prepared for the occasion — entitled, "Is Philosophy Something We Ought to be Cured of?"

To be cured of philosophy, Lionel told us, was Wittgenstein's frequent advice to his students. Advice he himself followed for periods of his life. Lionel proceeded to explain to us why Wittgenstein gave that advice and, along the way, told us a wonderful lot about Wittgenstein's life and thought.

What I learned from Lionel was that Wittgenstein thought of philosophy as a tool to clarify what could be known with certainty from everything else — which means all the rest of life that, though not knowable with philosophical certainty, was real. Philosophy can "cure mental cramps." And, when we are free of the cramps, we can move on to "humanly valuable activity."

The function of philosophy is thus compared to the cure of medicine through the ministrations of a doctor or the cure of psychiatry through the work of an analyst. Once the cure has been effected, the medicine is unnecessary. If one does not become a doctor, one must find another line of work.

It is certainly the case, as Lionel observed, that each of us at the Academy Meeting (including Dr. Mel Soneson, who is just retiral, and Dr. Paul Sebastyen, who retired some years ago), whether or not we have been properly cured of philosophy, have had to find other work.

Dr.Elder Lindahl, the only one on the Academy's horizon who makes a living as a philosopher, was in Sweden studying. We are glad for Elder and for the Swedes, and we hope that he has been able to arrange a schedule similar to the schedule Descartes followed while he lived in Sweden as the philosopherof the queen. As I recall from Elder's lecture on this subject, Descartes slept until 9 AM, thought in bed until noon, and then took the rest of the day off. Such jobs are hard to get. Perhaps that helps to explain why philosophy departments in graduate schools send letters with their catalogs, warning prospective students that they shouldn't engage in the study of philosophy with the expectation that the degree they earn will enable them to get a job.

However, the lack of jobs in philosophy does not diminish the value of curing one of "mental cramps." The cramps that Wittgenstein was concerned about when he wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Lionel informed us, were the cramps of absolute claims like those that produced World War I. Philosophy was the means of challenging and destroying the assumptions of absolute rightness. Thus, it was with an ethical concern that Wittgenstein engaged in establishing, by means of philosophical investigation, the limits of what can be known with certainty.

As we hear and see the claims that whirl around us through the media — the claims of products, politicians, preachers, theologians, economic growth, capitalism, communism, and so forth— we detect he presence of some dangerous cramps and a need for Dr. Wittgenstein and his cure.

Michael Kazanjian offered an excellent response to Lionel's paper. Al though acknowledging that Wittgenstein has contributed much to clarity, Michael did not think that the line could be so clearly drawn between philosophy and everything else. A lengthy discussion ensued.

While listening to Mr. Edes' remarks about Wittgenstein, I remembered by way of contrast the advice that Heloise gave to Abailard about philosophy. She had a strikingly different point of view. She tried to convince Abailard not to marry her when she became pregnant with their son, Astrolabe. Abailard reports her words in The Story of My Misfortunes: "Seneca, in his advice to Lucilius, says: 'Philosophy is not a thing to be studied only in hours of leisure; we must give up everything else to devote ourselves to it, for no amount of time is really sufficient thereto' (Epist. 73)." She also reminded him:

Remember that Socrates was chained to a wife, and by what a filthy accident he himself paid for this blot on philosophy, in order that others thereafter might be made more cautious by his example. Jerome thus mentions this affair, writing about Socrates in his first book against Jovinius: "Once when he was withstanding a storm of reproaches which Xantippe was hurling at him from an upper story, he was suddenly drenched with foul slops; wiping his head, he said only, 'I knew there would be a shower after all that thunder.' " (Translated by H.A. Bellows, Macmillan, 1976, pp. 25, 26).

It would be a mistake to think that Heloise was making a general recommendation for everyone to give themselves entirely to philosophy, but she did consider it a divine occupation which she most wished for the man she loved and with whose brilliance she was deeply enamored.

Some of our discussion was triggered by several references f from Lionel to our club's theme, "Philosophy and Lived Experience." One of the undergraduate students in attendance wisely observed that being a student was a living experience, not to be arbitrarily distinguished from the rest of life or from the so-called real world.

Eventually the needs of our bodies overcame our love of wisdom and the 1988 edition of the North Park Philosophy Academy came to a conclusion. We thanked Jack Hade for his fine work organizing the meeting, Mel Soneson for his years of patiently instructing us, and Lionel Edes for his excellent presentation. We departed the President's Room, cured for the evening. P.J.

Sport Report

Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus

Motto: The real game is the game you're in.

Pietisten reporters have been out and about trying to drum up some sports news. Instead of news, we have concluded, we have views. Even our views, however, are limited. We are seldom able to afford a decent seat, It is somewhat difficult to get a good view from behind a post in the rafters of places like Chicago Stadium or Williams Arena.

There are exceptions. One exception is a good TV set. Another is the North Park Viking Stadium. In both cases a good view is easily and economically — at least micro-economically — available.

There are times, however, when what there is to view isn't that great. For example, it required endurance and good friends in the stands to survive the last three quarters of North Park's Homecoming game against Wheaton, that is, if you were cheering for North Park. (We do not want to adopt a parochial attitude about these matters because — letters from Switzerland notwithstanding — we are committed to an ecumenical spirit.)

The first quarter belonged to the Vikings and the reports of the steady improvement of the North Park squad were verified. They had nearly beaten first-place Carroll; played mighty Augustana even for a half; beaten Reinhold Niebuhr's old school, Elmhurst; and were ready and determined to take on the Crusaders of Wheaton. The writer does not know if Coach Fouhy reminded his charges, during the pre-game pep talk, of the travesty of the 4th Crusade when the Crusaders turned from their campaign against the Saracens to loot, plunder, and rape their Christian sisters and brothers in Constantinople. Something like that could account for the way the Vikings mauled the Crusaders in the first quarter.

Unfortunately (again depending upon point of view), their fervor diminished and, by half-time, the Crusaders were beating back the Vikings. Perhaps Coach J.R. Bishop of the Crusaders reminded his volunteers of the promise of Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095 that "the sins of those who set out thither [on the Crusade] shall be remitted in that hour." Perhaps he reminded them of the heroics required to stop the advance of the Vikings up the Seine at Paris in 886, delivering interior Europe of centuries of fearing the Norsemen. In any event, on Homecoming Saturday, the Vikings took to their boats and headed down the Chicago River to escape the Crusaders' fury.

So, as mentioned above, though comrades in the stands became fewer and the choice of seats increasingly abundant, the dedicated reporter was grateful for the friend or two — including President Horner, who was preparing to leave for Sweden the next day — who remained. Conversations and reminiscences replaced the dying hope for a Viking victory.

Nevertheless, the 1988 edition of the North Park Vikings and its coaches deserve a hearty word of praise. There can be no doubt that they are rebuilding and there can be no doubt that they improved greatly during the course of the season. From the Elmhurst game on, with the exception of half of the Wheaton game they were tough and competitive. More football fun is ahead for these young men.

Meanwhile, our hearts rejoice that another Christian school with excellent academic standards is number one in the Nation. The school has the same name — Noire Dame — as the great church on the island where the Vikings were repulsed. To Notre Dame's benefit, perhaps, they have no religious label. To their credit, they have ecumenized the nationality they claim. The "Fighting Irish" exhibit the very best of the melting pot tradition of America and the view on Pietisten's TV set has been very good. P.J.