My daughter told me she was thinking about taking a college philosophy class as an elective!
I swallowed, hard.
My exposure to Philosophy 101 in college was a single day in class many, many moons ago. I dropped it the same day. I figured it was going to be a blow off elective course. I mean, easy, right? But when the sweater wearing professor came in with pointed shoes, coke bottle thick glasses and five pens in his pocket protector, well, there’s your sign.
He walked straight to the lectern, cleared his throat, and started to lecture.
He didn’t introduce himself with, “Hey y’all! What a dad gum good lookin’ class this is! I’m Professor Nerdman, and this here is Philosophy 101! You’ll all need this textbook I’m holdin’ up right here and I’m passin’ round a syllabus for ya.” That kind of welcome would just give someone a warm fuzzy feeling from deep in the heart of Texas! But did he do that? No! No, he did not!
He just stood right up and asked the one question he would talk about for the entire class.
He asked…and I promise this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…. he asked what I’m guessing is a serious philosophical question. He asked,
“What is a one?”
And you know what? Professor Gump expected an answer! No one raised their hand, so he asked again, much louder this time. “What, Is, A one?”
I didn’t answer because the only thing I could think of was a basketball fan holding up a big foam hand with a we’re number one finger.
Finally though, someone dared to try. A guy majoring in Agriculture Science meekly raised his hand and answered in a questioning voice, “Uh, it’s a number?”
The professor didn’t tell him if he was right or wrong. Instead, his eyes locked onto the Ag Sci guy. The professor adjusted his sweater, leaned forward and started directing all questions straight at him. “How do you know it’s a number? Can you pick up a one? Can you hold a one? Can you make a one?”
The Ag student looked pretty confused. He took off his feed store cap and scratched behind his ear. The professor wouldn’t let him off the hook and demanded a response. “Well! Can you?!”
The guy fidgeted for a moment in awkward silence, but then he looked quite pleased, like he had an epiphany that lit the bulb in the top of his corn silo! He answered, “Well, if one is a pretty girl, then I can hold a one!”
The class laughed. Professor I Only Answer a Question With a Question seemed a bit flustered.
He pressed on, “Does a one have feelings? Can you hear a one? Can you talk to a one? Can you take a one somewhere? How does a one fit into the world?”
The Ag student stared at him like a calf looking at a new gate. It was uncomfortable, honestly, and I felt bad for the guy, but he was on his own. No one in the class was going to help him now.
Professor One Brick Short of a Load began moving side to side, grabbed some chalk and wrote on the blackboard, ‘WHAT IS A ONE?’
A guy in class who had every appearance of being an athlete on a full ride scholarship put his 3-ring spiral in his backpack, got up, and started to walk out. The Professor angrily asked, “Just where do you think you’re going?”
The athlete, looked over his shoulder and said, “Um, I’m sorry Dude! I thought this was Biology class”. He turned and walked out. Now Professor of One That Just Got Away seemed really ticked.
He spun back to the Ag student and flung out a whole list of questions all about one! “How do you know there’s even such a thing as a one? Who told you there was a one? Have you, personally, have YOU seen a one? If you did, how can you know it was real? Or is it just some concept we’ve made up? And how would one be any different than two? Is there even a difference? A real difference?!”
It was obvious the Ag student was embarrassed. He felt put on the spot and his ears were red. He leaned forward in his chair and looked like he wanted to have a throw down with the professor right then and there. He answered in a half irritated, half smart aleck tone of voice, “The difference between one and two is you can pretty much go number one anywhere in the woods, but you’ve got to have paper or leaves for number two!!”
The class was as divided now as Congress at a State of the Union address. Half the class burst into hysterical laughter. The other half remained silent. The silent half either didn’t understand his answer, or sat stoically silent because the Ag student didn’t appear to be accepting such weighty matters of philosophy very seriously.
The professor was so hot under the collar his little tweed sweater could’ve caught on fire by spontaneous combustion! He got a wild eyed look on his face and kept staring at the Ag student as if he were a complete imbecile. His next question though was the closest thing to an answer he’d give all day. Looking right at the Ag student he asked, “Can a one fail you this semester?!”
Alright. I got that question, or answer, whichever it was! For the next 45 minutes, I just doodled.
Half the class continued to sit mesmerized by the mind blowing “brilliance” of Professor ‘One’derful as he droned on with questions about whether a one could feel, know or experience any biological, psychological, geological, archeological, theological or any other ogical study that ever existed in the history of mankind. The only thing he didn’t address was ‘logical’ itself! Afterwards, the other half did just what I did, and went straight to the administration building to drop Professor Moriarty’s class.
That was thirty plus years ago.
So, when my daughter told me she was going to sign up for a philosophy class, I started to discourage her, or at least ask if she knew what a one was. Instead, I just smiled and told her she may love, love, love philosophy!
And by the way, Sweetheart, after your first day of class, would you call and tell me about it? I’d like to compare notes!