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May 11, 2016



I too read this article with interest, and it took me back to my days as an undergraduate at Haverford College in 1975-77, when I read philosophy with Paul Desjardins. Paul was a brilliant, brilliant and eccentric man, a student of Paul Weiss’s at Yale, and probably the one who brought Richard Bernstein to Haverford after he was refused tenure at Yale (where they had been friends as graduate students, I suppose), making—along with others such as Tink Thompson, Aryeh Kosman, Ashok Gangadean, Diskin Clay, Joe Russo and visitors like Louis Mackey, Richard Rorty, and Jurgen Habermas—a truly great philosophical scene.

I took two year-long courses with Paul: Origins of Philosophy one year, and Philosophy East West the next.

Origins consisted of a first semester on the first eight lines of Homer’s Iliad; the second semester we did the rest of Bk 1 and the other 23 books. (We also read Hesiod at the beginning there.) This was all done in English translation

East West consisted of the first two chapters of the Shu Jing (the histories of Yao and Shun), followed by a week’s worth of Articles Criticizing Lin Piao, then the rest of semester one on the Da Hsueh, a Confucian classic (which we were expected to memorize and recite by heart in Chinese) recorded in the Li Chi, and then the second semester on The Analects of Confucius, mostly the first book. We used the Ezra Pound rendition of Confucius, a dubious translation perhaps but useful because it reproduces rubbings from the Stone Classics, the earliest publicly erected stele of the Confucian texts. (I had studied Chinese in the Army before then, so I had a little standing on that count.)

Paul was essentially a Platonist, but also a devout Catholic who had once written on Augustine (his only paper ever, I believe). Trained in Japanese at Yale during the second world war, he had been a naval officer commanding marines in the first wave at Iwo Jima, and was later a judge involved in the adjudication of the return of Chinese possessions in China from the Japanese after the war. He had a fantastic collection of Dogon masks (African philosophy?!) and had built a little stream that trickled through his second story apartment where he conducted classes. We would all take off our shoes upon entering, before crossing the little second story water garden. (He also had had a Fulbright at a Zen monastery in Kyoto sometime in the sixties.) His wife Rosemary, an Australian, taught Greek philosophy at Swarthmore after his death in 1991.

Paul was one for beginnings; in fact, he liked to undermine existing structures and give them new foundations.

In the intervening years I have spent a modest amount of time reading Heraclitus and Parmenides, as well as Chuang tzu. One salient point to make is that there is a fair amount of overlap between Heraclitus’ concept of the Logos and the Chinese idea of the Tao, enough to wonder if there wasn’t some sort of influence then, coming from the orient. In truth, I have found these three philosophers inexhaustible and sufficient, even though I have also looked into Plato, Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and some latter day French stuff over the years. I’m not sure I agree with the suggestion that we put Chinese thought in some sort of straight jacket, though. On the contrary, what is striking is the remarkable adequacy of Chinese thought (Confucian/Taoist) to come to terms with the wide range of philosophic thought so early and so completely. But perhaps because I studied Chinese before I studied philosophy has some effect here.

In his Book of Five Rings, the Japanese swordsman/calligraphic artist Miyamoto Musashi disparages reliance on the practice of “indoor strategy”, ridiculing dojos who fail to grasp the point of getting a jump on an adversary by dropping out of a tree.

I will skip over the ways conventional academic careerists misunderstood Paul.

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