A young Hannah Arendt. She looks like she could make philosophy fun; about 20 years later, though, she would coin the phrase "the banality of evil." Image found here.
Last week was the first week of classes for me; in all the busyness of that time, I didn't have time to post a Welcome to students here on the off chance that they might possibly visit here. Consider this, then, a belated but no-less-heartfelt welcome. I am very much looking forward to the new semester, and I hope you are as well.
As has been my custom for a while now on first days, last week I asked students to introduce themselves by telling the class why they're in school, something "interesting" about themselves, and to ask me a question. Someone asked me what was the wildest, craziest thing I ever did in college; before I could answer, some wiseacre said, "He probably left a period off a sentence." Hardee-har-har. What I told them was that, good old Texas Lutheran College being only about 3 hours away from Laredo, there were occasional very spontaneous road trips down to the border for, as Gary P. Nunn once gracefully described it in song, "cultural exchange." (The days of a barely-closed border are now long gone, alas.)
Anyway. Someone else asked me what I do for fun. Well, sometimes I try to learn some things on my own for fun, which is where Arendt comes in. Long ago, I once mentioned a couple of passages from the prologue to her book The Human Condition; for a Comp II assignment I wanted to look up something from the prologue and, one thing leading to another last night, I've up and decided to try to read the rest of her book. Am I a fun guy, or what?
Arendt's book is an attempt to answer a deceptively-simple question in a world where labor (broadly defined), once culturally-esteemed, seems in the past half-century or so to be something to escape: "What are we doing?" Note how you can read that question as both genuine inquiry and in a rhetorically-despairing way. What follows is another excerpt from the Prologue that I'd forgotten, one that points in the direction of the rhetorically-despairing. Arendt's book's immediate occasion is the launching of Sputnik, but the following passage seems especially prescient, given that she wrote her book a year before the invention of the integrated circuit. For Arendt's "thought," by the way, substitute "contemplation":
[I]t could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is. (3)
Worth pondering, students, as you use SpellCheck while editing your work. (Hint, hint.)