Featured Philosophy Alumni
John Dewis, Philosophy
"I got my BA from Harvard in 2000, after an unorthodox two-year undergraduate program at Deep Springs College. I’ve been lucky to go to good schools, but never applied academic rigor to my own burning questions until returning to school on my own terms. What is our basis for distinguishing good from bad? Why do so many people believe in God? I run a private tutoring startup out of Venice, CA (college admissions, SAT prep), and it was candid, fundamental questions from my students that first helped me realize how underequipped most of us are to answer them. CGU was the place to pick up the spade and resume the dig."
"Since I went back to school to learn things, perhaps I should say what I learned."
"My first semester I took a class with Anselm Min, where we read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. It was the first book in a long time whereupon finishing the last page, I turned back to the first and read the whole thing again. Min had read it so many times, that as he turned pages in his own copy they lifted clear out of the book. Reading Hegel through the eyes of a Jesuit-trained, believing Catholic led me to treat the Phenomenology like an inspired text. I wrote about necessity as a metaphysical concept, and whether recognizing inevitable patterns of thought constitutes a form of prophecy (as against the warning of Karl Popper)."
"That same semester I read Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature with Patricia Easton. Forget about prophecy: we don’t even know if the sun is coming up tomorrow. I was specifically curious about why Hume hates Spinoza so much, since two irreligious thinkers should get along well enough, I thought. I got to read Spinoza’s Ethics in Easton’s next seminar, which she taught for the first time because of student demand. This was a life-changer for me. She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had, and Spinoza became my philosopher."
"I never expected or wanted to find the philosopher who gets everything right. Becoming an acolyte of this or that might mean you’re letting some dead dude think for you. Spinoza has an astonishingly coherent explanation for how we are as we are, however, and an utterly rational approach to morality. (I recently published a paper on the rationality of same-sex partnerships in the Claremont Journal of Religion, Claremontjournal.com, Vol.2, Issue 2, July 2013). Although Nietzsche declared God dead, Spinoza probably killed him. It doesn’t mean that we now know what to do."
"I am returning to the classroom this fall as dean of a new high school in Hollywood, the Episcopal School of Los Angeles (ESLA). Safe to say I’ll be teaching Latin to the only youngsters in LA reading Spinoza in the original. My time at CGU has given me the analytical depth to take up the task. When I was considering the post, CGU professor Chuck Young advised, “Take it! You actually have a chance of doing some good!” These are big words from a philosopher, knowing how difficult it is to say even what “good” is, and how rarely we are confident of doing it."
"Chuck is one of the all-time greats. When I first visited the campus I noticed this guy wandering off with a group of students to read Aristotle under a tree. He carries his books in a wicker basket in front of him with both hands. I think that’s when I decided I would come to CGU. Chuck fought off cancer last year, which meant I got the chance to study with him this year. It has been the most exciting year of thinking of my life."
"I read Plato’s Crito with Chuck and three other students, in Greek. I’m not sure what other graduate program would let you learn Greek in one semester at such little cost and with such little fuss. (This summer we are reading the Iliad.) I learned from Socrates that there are worse things than death, and that it’s useful to think about the state of one’s soul even if there’s no such thing."