E Pluribus Mores

Archive for the ‘The Classics’ Category

In The Classics, Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 at 7:58 am

Nietzsche speaks of existence as a state of being caught between two opposing forces.  On the one side there is nothingness, and on the other is God.  Humans, generally, pass their days paralyzed by indecision over which of the two they will ultimately choose.


Virgil on Bees and Time

In The Classics on June 24, 2014 at 10:45 am

Virgil speaks of bees

And cows

Wide-eyed heifers

Who blink their cow eyes

And swing their cow hips

Of bulls stung by bees

Who dance about the pasture

Trampling the rowan and trefoil

Virgil speaks of bees

And kings

Hedged by bristling spears

He does not yet know

There are no longer kings

Nor, in time, bees

They have been stolen, or lost,

Or slipped away one by one

Virgil speaks of bees

And time

Still, he says, it flies

Time irreparably flies

While we

For the briefest of moments

Are held captive

By love

Ad hominem

In The Classics on May 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

I work in a philosophy department and share an office with another instructor, Fred.  As white, middle aged, underemployed PhD’s we have a lot in common.  So it is not surprising that we frequently find ourselves in deep philosophical conversation.  Most often we debate classic chestnuts such as, “What are the practical differences between Gangnam Style and Gingham Style?”  or “What is it that HR actually does?”  But last week we got into it when Fred proposed that it was not possible to praise or denounce the person, only their actions.  I wasn’t going to let that stand, so I countered with, “Nuh-uh!”,  and brought up Hitler.  Then he was all like, “blah, blah, blah, Kant…blah, blah, deontology,” and I was, like, “But what about Hitler?”  Well, eventually Fred had to teach, and feeling like I hadn’t expressed my position to its greatest advantage, I decided to prove my point by writing Fred a letter of recommendation in which I avoided declaring him competent, knowledgeable, or moral, but  limited myself to only praising his actions.  The  result is as follows:

Dear august members of the Search Committee,

Please accept my recommendation for Fred for the position of Professor of Philosophy at Midwest College.  While I cannot say that he is a good teacher, knowledgeable in ethics or other branches of philosophy, or even that he is a moral person, I have observed many actions he has performed that would fit these categories.

Fred is currently employed teaching ethics and critical thinking at Midwest College.  As his office mate I have been in a position to observe his interactions with students many times.  Given that Fred on at least one occasion indicated that he prefers to meet privately with students, I leave the office when students arrive.  He meets with students regularly, and these encounters often last 20 minutes or more.  While I cannot speak to what goes on in these meetings, I have viewed Fred with any number of students through the glass door.  On these occasions both Fred and the student were making eye contact, speaking animatedly, and smiling—all of which are consistent with a favorable interaction.  Certainly, I have never once heard a student complain after a visit to Fred’s office.

From personal conversations—and the fact that a diploma with Fred’s name hangs in the office–I can say with certainty that Fred holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin.  On this basis, I can infer that he has met at least the minimum requirements for a doctorate, including but not limited to passing preliminary exams and writing a dissertation.  He has spoken to me about conferences he has attended and articles that he has written or intends to write.  I have no independent verification of these actions, but were they proven true, it would further support the committee choosing Fred over the other, no doubt, qualified applicants.  In conversations and friendly arguments Fred has mentioned several philosophers, referred to at least one ethical theory, and generally supported his claims with examples drawn from everyday life, or even more often his interactions with students.  What I cannot say is whether Fred learned anything in graduate school, or whether any fact he might have retained from the experience would be applicable to his teaching or in performing any useful service to the college.

I have noticed that Midwest College events are often accompanied by banners with the words, Truth, Justice, and Community.  I conclude from the prominent placement of the banners that the search committee would look upon Fred more favorably if he were truthful, just, and a valuable member of the community.  It is with great regret that I cannot say any of these things about Fred.  I can, however, say that while in my presence Fred has never once told a lie, not even a fib!  Fred has indicated that many of the actions of Hitler were deplorable, has supported at least some of the motivations often associated with Gandhi, and when asked to take a position regarding college sports Fred predictably favors the Buckeyes.  Furthermore, I have never once witnessed nor even heard rumors of Fred flipping the bird to other drivers on the belt line, eating his own children (admittedly, Fred has no children), or beating puppies and barnyard animals with sticks.  In fact, he recently related to me that he has worked with the boy scouts, as a life guard, and at clubs where young men and women congregate.

To conclude, I would like without reservation to recommend Fred for the position of Professor of Philosophy on the basis of his teaching ability, knowledge of philosophy, and moral fiber.  Unfortunately, this is not possible.  His many instances of sound pedagogy, his extremely probable scholarly accomplishments, and his frequent moral actions–not to mention the utter lack of immoral action–suggest that Fred  may act similarly in the future.  There is overwhelming evidence that his students will be well pleased.  All of this suggests in my opinion that Fred would be an effective teacher and reliable colleague.  But, then, who’s to say?


Daniel Mortensen, Ph.D.

The Quarterdeck

In The Classics on April 16, 2013 at 5:43 am

“God bless ye,” he seemed to half sob and half shout. “God bless ye, men. Steward! go draw the great measure of grog. But what’s this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale! art not game for Moby Dick?”

“I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market.”

“Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest a little lower layer. If money’s to be the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by girdling it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!”

“He smites his chest,” whispered Stubb, “what’s that for? methinks it rings most vast, but hollow.”



In celebrity fashion, The Classics on January 18, 2009 at 8:57 am
Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

To say, “the only good celebrity is a dead celebrity,” would overstate the matter.  It’s not that I dislike celebrities.  All evidence to the contrary, I’m sure they are fine people.  But each week of examining these (all evidence to the contrary) fascinating personages confronts me with the question, whom do I celebrate?  The immediate, intuitive response is that if you are reading this column (given the blogstats for the last two months), it is likely to be you.  But if you were to ask, “Wh0m is it I would seek to purchase on a poster from Spencer’s Gifts?” It would have to be Eleanor–and not Eleanor Roosevelt, either.  If you think about it, emperors, kings, queens, and the like were the celebrities of bygone eras.  For example, if you imagine everyone at the Oscars with a personal army, you pretty much get the Middle Ages.  With Eleanor you get all of the twisted baggage of a child star, the sex appeal of a Hollywood diva, combined with the ownership of a small country.  eleanor12It would be as if the Olsen twins had talent, were attractive, and grew up to be Hillary Clinton.  Only to complete the analogy Hillary would have to have met Bill after divorcing the king of France (the divorce having been caused by a love affair with her uncle in Antioch, whom she met while accompanying the king on a crusade to Jerusalem), then supported Chelsea for President against Bill, and personally laid siege to Little Rock.  Sure she would have been locked in a Manhattan penthouse for the next six years, but, hey, that’s what centuries of inbreeding will get you.  I think the poorly translated anonymous troubadour said it best:

Were all lands mine

From the Elbe to the Rhine,

I’d count them little case

if the Queen of England

Lay in my embrace.

Etiology comes to the Knucklehole

In The Classics on December 18, 2008 at 10:56 am

etiology 1: CAUSE, ORIGIN; specif: all of the causes of a disease or abnormal condition, 2: a branch of knowledge dealing with causes.

–Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary

My reader(s?) often asks me, what is the etymology of the term Knucklehole? Many believe that ‘knucklehole’ was coined by Olivia in reference to Dave and Lesly’s unfinished downstairs bathroom. But some suggest the name goes back much further to a term for an alcove in the lower levels of a Roman Townhouse located off the storage room and above the cloaca maxima. For centuries the room was only known by oblique references from graffiti and innuendo. But Roman archeologists have recently unearthed a fragment from a first century mime comedy entitled, The Knukelarium. The fragment, translating roughly to “Livia, honey, you forgot to buy sponges, again,” has sent shockwaves throughout the classical world. While many have taken the fragment to be authentic, there have been skeptics. At a recent panel of experts one scholar suggested to the archeologist that “perhaps ‘Odysseus’ should lay off the lotus for a while.” The archeologist responded that he would go “Catullus XVI on his ass,” if he cast doubts on the veracity of the discovery. The scholar retorted, “You show me your sparrow, and I’ll show you mine.” The archeologist shot back, “quis custodiet custodies.” The scholar then stated that the reference made no sense whatsoever, and “besides, there Wilamovitz, it’s ‘custodes.’” It was then witnesses say all Vesuvius broke loose. The archeologist suggested that the gentleman could stuff the fragment up his domus aureus, to which the scholar responded, “Whatever collapses your boat, Neee-ro.” At that, the archeologist showed him some figs and stomped out. Other experts on the panel agreed that archeologists weren’t really classicists, anyway, and that parts of the exchange had been juvenal.