The Forty Year Philosophy Class
John Kropf ‘84, once a philosophy major, now Corporate Privacy Executive at Northrop Grumman Corporation, shares his insight into the value of the liberal arts from a 40-year perspective.
The Forty Year Philosophy Class
By John Kropf, ‘84
Forty years ago I sat on the fourth floor of Blair Knapp Hall, enrolled in Philosophy 101. The class was taught by, Professor Schurman, focused on Plato’s Republic, his ideal state, and Aristotle. I can’t say I was the best student in the class, in fact my grade was mediocre but the metaphor of Plato’s cave and light analogy stayed with me.
When I graduated in 1984, that was not the end of Plato and Aristotle but the beginning. Whether I knew it or not, the afternoon I walked across the stage for my diploma, Denison’s liberal arts curriculum gave me a roadmap for a lifelong journey of continuous learning.
Now that we’re undergoing social distancing, I’ve had time to return to the thoughts of my Philosophy 101 class. I ordered the book, The Cave and the Light, by Arthur Herman. It’s a history of Plato verses Aristotle and how their ideas shaped Western Civilization. My liberal arts education was still on its journey. I was still wondering about the relevance of Plato and Aristotle for our current state of affairs.
Liberal arts can be traced all the way back to the sixth century, to a man named Boethius who used Aristotle to save Europe from the Dark Ages. Boethius was a counselor and teacher who was passionately devoted to education. His work led separated education from social or political constraints leading to what most colleges and universities in the U.S. base their curriculums on today. (Something I learned from The Cave and the Light.)
I think about that in other ways Denison’s Liberal Arts allowed for areas of intellectual freedom. One is the History of World Cinema, a class I took from the legendary Elliot Stout. I still think of the history of film making from Professor Stout’s class whenever I watch a movie.
Even the extracurricular activities, like the chance to work as a DJ at WDUB was part of the Liberal Arts experience. Working at the radio station opened me to learn about new music from all the other student DJs with a wide spectrum of musical tastes. That openness to new art is still there when I listen to my college-age daughter’s music.
My English and History classes provided narrative structures to see bigger issues. Liberal arts trains students to see the complex sets of facts, bringing together multiple points of view to create a story. Liberal Arts have started me on many journeys continually thinking about new ideas that allow you to enter almost any conversation on any topic. You have a framework you can use to explore.
I can’t say that I mastered an understanding of Plato and Aristotle but that’s not the point. Finishing the book, I took some satisfaction that I better understand their ideas and their influence but I’m still on the journey. Vince Lombardi famously said after a loss, we didn’t lose, we just ran out of time. I feel the same way about my Philosophy 101 class. I ran out of out time. I wonder if Professor Schurman would could extend the semester by and give me another exam 40 years later?