The End of an Era

With a smile on her face, I recently saw a bright young woman go straight to Professor David Solomon and hug him. I’ve seen this happen with many of Professor Solomon’s former students. They return to campus and light up when they see him, almost as if they are seeing their father after a long absence.

When I entered Notre Dame in the fall of 2009, not much time passed before I sat in his office with a couple of other freshmen and had a conversation about how we wanted to write tracts about what it means to be a Catholic university. I think starry-eyed students like us helped Professor Solomon to be ever-creative in his efforts to promote Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, from founding the Center for Ethics and Culture to beginning the Fund to Protect Human Life. I wonder if students have been doing this since he joined Notre Dame’s philosophy faculty in 1968. Continue reading “The End of an Era”

My Friend the Carmelite

This fall, a friend began her life as a Carmelite nun. Becoming a cloistered nun is, in a way, like choosing your death. Though she’s just reached her mid-twenties, I may never see or hear from her again. She can only receive visitors a year after her entrance, six years after, and 25 and 50 after. In between, time stops, and our last contact gives a final imprint, our lasting memory of each other. Continue reading “My Friend the Carmelite”

Curriculum Problems are Faculty Problems

In the midst of discussions over curricular developments at Notre Dame, I am mindful of a remark made by Otto Bird, the founder of the Program of Liberal Studies: “In the 1950s I was a member of the Faculty Hiring Committee, a body appointed by the administration to put pressure upon the department heads to seek for and hire the best candidates they could find for positions that became open. As it turned out, I became the one member of the committee who asked the candidate, when he was not a Catholic, about his ability and willingness to live and function in a Catholic university.”

These remarks came out in his 1990 memoir “Seeking a Center: My Life as a Great Bookie,” in which he noted that Notre Dame is a better university than it was in 1950 “measured by the secular standards of non-Catholic universities … Yet it certainly is not as manifestly Catholic as it was.” One might argue over the merits of a less manifest Catholicism — like arguing over the merits of a less incarnate God — but he also writes of PLS: “I do not think that the program today is as good as it was in its first years. In theology and philosophy it has been watered down … There is … less in the way of discipline and rigor … As a whole the program is less ‘intellectualistic’ than it was in the beginning.” I suspect that these remarks could also be applied to the “core curriculum” offered at Notre Dame as a whole.  Continue reading “Curriculum Problems are Faculty Problems”

Friendship: The Foundation of Reason

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

“I will always consider the possibility that I might be wrong.” So states the commitment to humility in the Center for Social Concerns’ “Virtues of Discourse” pledge. As one of the seven “virtues” in the pledge, humility means, “When I realize that I have been wrong, I will readily acknowledge it.”

This might bring to mind the humble Socrates, who was confounded when the oracle at Delphi announced that none was wiser than he. Conscious that he was “not at all wise,” Socrates thereafter began a search to find a man of greater wisdom. In his search, he discovered that “those with the best reputations seemed … nearly the most deficient … while others with more paltry reputations seemed to be … more fit in regard to being wise.”  Continue reading “Friendship: The Foundation of Reason”

On Empty Classrooms

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, September 18, 2014.

Willis Konick retired in 2007 as one of the University of Washington’s most sought-after professors.

For Willis, as his students called him, the classroom had changed over the years. According to the Seattle Times, ” [Willis] said teaching Dostoyevsky novels in the 1960s was easy because he didn’t need to explain radicalism to students. The students often came to class stoned – but he didn’t find that as annoying as today’s students, who often text-message during class.” Continue reading “On Empty Classrooms”

Book Recommendations for Undergrads Considering Law School

Coming to law school has made me particularly glad that I decided to major in philosophy. In many ways, I’ve found many of the ideas I encountered as an undergraduate to be foundational to the way I approach the law. I could make a pretty long list of books that I think every student should study (not just “read,” but “study”) before coming to law school, but here are some texts that I think are particularly important:  Continue reading “Book Recommendations for Undergrads Considering Law School”

Newman, and the development of Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality

“… and old principles reappear under new forms. It [a great idea] changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” So goes the argument of Blessed John Henry Newman‘s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Like any great idea, doctrine must change in order to remain the same. Only dead doctrine cannot change, for “a power of development is a proof of life.” Continue reading “Newman, and the development of Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality”

A Letter to the Philosophy Department at Notre Dame

I recently completed my exit survey as a philosophy major at Notre Dame. With it, I included the following thoughts on my time at Notre Dame.

My Time in Philosophy at Notre Dame

As I consider my time in the philosophy department at Notre Dame, I would like to take note of two things, both discussed at the reception for the graduates of the department. The first is the justification for an education in philosophy. My peers and I, with a bit of horror and disappointment, listened to a lengthy apology for the major at the reception. Not exactly a celebration of the merits of an education in philosophy, my peers and I felt as though it was an attempt to justify an education in philosophy to a room of people who were largely opposed to such an education. The justification seemed to stress that there were real-world opportunities for a philosophy graduate, despite the department’s non-vocational focus. Continue reading “A Letter to the Philosophy Department at Notre Dame”