“On the Good of Philosophy” (A Facebook Chat with a recent graduate)

I have heard from any number of Thomas Aquinas College graduates what I have also found myself — our liberal arts/philosophy education really helps us to understand what motivates other people, even those very different from ourselves.  The story below is an outstanding (and very funny) example.

[Him:  Did I ever tell you the motorcycle story?  It was my successful attempt at “philosophy in action”. Check this out.]

I’m at a bar near my apartment after a concert and there’s this blonde lady and her significant other sitting next to me.  She’s this bubbly, LOUD, vivacious gal; he’s this firm, reserved, leather-jacketed motorcycle type. I know the bartender, and we start swapping jokes.  Some of them are pretty cool.  So the lady is like, “You’re funny, where you from?” I said, “The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.”  She says “Philosophy — what’s THAT for? What do you do with that?”  You know…That Question!  So I said well, “I COULD tell you, or I could SHOW you.” 

So I start asking the guy questions. I see there’s a Harley outside. “Is that your hog?”

“Yeah.”

“So you ride motorcycles.”

“I ride a Harley, yeah.” (Almost like it’s incidental.)

“So NOT just a motorcycle — you ride a Harley. Interesting. WHY do you ride a Harley?”

He mutters something, then says “To get from point A to point B, I dunno.”

So I said “A car, a unicycle, a bicycle, walking, bus, train — all of these do that. Why a HARLEY?”  

He’s not sure what to say.  So I said “let me help you out. What’s the DIFFERENCE between a car and a motorcycle?”

[Me: Did he punch you yet?

No. I think he was amused, and this was Berkeley.  ANYHOW, it gets better.]

He doesn’t say.  So I say, “A car has windows, passenger seats, enclosure, and a motorcycle is immediately exposed to everything.  You LOVE that. If it rains, and you get soaked, that almost makes it BETTER. You like to experience your ride, not hide in some luxury sedan.”

He was nodding a little, so I kept going, “Finally, what you love about a motorcycle is the experience of liberty.  Someone just doesn’t have that in a car, which you trade in your safety to obtain.”

Then I put my money where my mouth was.  “Now tell me what I just said in your own words.”

And HERE is the best part.  This guy, who has said like ten words since we started talking goes FULL ON Robert Frost about the motorcycle. His date, who seemed used to the former setting, is staring with her mouth open in awe as her formerly introverted young man has just started naming EXAMPLES of rides he took where everything was just steeped in natural beauty.  He’s actually excited, Mr. Seeley!

And then I said, “But it’s not just the bike — it’s a HARLEY!  Why a Harley? It’s a good bike, sure, but more than that.  It’s a brand, a COMMUNITY.”  I asked him whether he hung out with other Harley people (of course he did) and I was able to explain to him that this was an association of interests, a friendship of pleasure minimally, a community in which he experienced liberty.  He was like, “That’s so right.”

His date was just completely flummoxed!  So I told her, “Look, I gain a lot of things by studying philosophy that don’t require me doing anything…but I can also tell people about what makes them happy.” That’s a definite gain from philosophy, and it won’t build a nuclear bomb, but it will decide who should push the button (or not push it).

[Me:  How did you think of all this?

Him: Oh, you know — I picked up the Socratic method, somewhere.  You know, once upon a time I had this funny math teacher….

Me: That’s not happening in our classes.

Him:  Sure, but we try for it sometimes.  If it doesn’t work all the time, we still see how it SHOULD.

 Me: I’ll have to hang out in more bars.

Him: Well, it’s where the people who want either meaning or escape go, and if escape, then, really, meaning.

For real, though, we should never feel like the uselessness of our education has no use.

People get so downhearted because they don’t realize it’s about people.  Not just STUFF.]

 

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About Andrew Seeley

Executive Director, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
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