Story A Day for May, Day 25


Philosophers Fighting

How does a philosopher fight? With logos, one would imagine. And when need demands big guns, call in ethos and pathos. Only dirty doctors use coercion and blackmail.

I’m lucky. I don’t have that much at stake these days. I’ve got tenure. I’m wrapping up my career, not ramping it up. A few more years, I’ll retire. So Denny Steinhart, though he is my chair, doesn’t hold much over me. What’s the worst he can do? Assign me a few more sections of Phil 101? I can handle that. In my sleep. Refuse to stamp his signature my doctoral students’ orals? We’ll get someone else on the committees.

He called me into his office.

“I hear you’ve become friends with the young Elder.”


“Solomon’s granddaughter. She went back on her agreement with us. Refused to edit the notebooks. Refused to turn them over.”

“It’s her right.”

“It’s not,” he said. “I’ve been looking into it, talking to our legal team. It’s university property.”

“It’s not.”

“Intellectual property laws. What’s created while employed by an institution that accepts state and federal funds belongs to that institution.”

“Not when it’s written on one’s own time,” I insisted.

He had the gall to insist that the definition of “one’s own time” was debatable.

“In fact,” he argued, “while on contract, on salary, one has no time to own. Time of one’s own.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it, Denny.”

“Our legal team supports me.”

“I highly doubt it.”

A few days later, he called me back into his office. “So, basically, I want to you retrieve the notebooks. Persuade Kate to give them to us. Take them from her house. Find a way to get them.”

Of course I refused. “You know she’s my friend. If I tell her what you’re after–and what’s stopping me?–she’ll destroy the notebooks. They’re hers.”

“We’ll get an order. It’s our property.”

It isn’t. But he was convinced.

“What do you need the notebooks for, anyway? You’ll be publishing his poems. They’re far superior. If you’re after cementing his legacy, his poetry will serve far better.”

He sat silently, gazing out the window, in that lizard way he has when he’s intractable.

“Trust me. I’ve seen some of the notebooks. You don’t want them published.” And I realized then that only someone who wanted to destroy Solomon Elder’s reputation would want to publish his private notebooks.

“I’ll make sure the notebooks stay out of reach,” I said, as I headed out of his office.

“Oh. One other thing,” he called after me. “I’m setting the summer schedule. I’ve got you down for two sections of Logic 101 and three of Intro to Phil.”


He knew I’d requested the summer off, and we had plenty of grad students who were hungry for summer loads.

I’ve been looking through back copies of The Philosophical Quarterly, Synthese, Mind and Language, and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, reading Steinhart’s old articles and editorials.

Why is he so keen on destroying Elder posthumously? Is this personal?

Then I found this statement in an article of his published in last spring’s Pacific:

“Human folly, essentially, is the search for meaning–the very drive that sustains poets, artists, storytellers, and mystics. This trick of consciousness spurs us out of the despair of nihilism, yet at tremendous cost, for, in turning away from reality, we turn away from any hope of improvement–of ourselves, and our world.”

The man’s a materialist–how could it have escaped me? This isn’t personal–it’s ideological. Forty years after his forced retirement, and the Philosophy Department still follows Solomon’s romantic transcendentalism. With new findings in quantum physics and theories of consciousness, his school has only grown in strength in the last decade. And Steinhart’s concrete thinking is threatened.

Steinhart knows that Solomon wrote those notebooks during his illness. Expose him, and all he built crumbles.

Except it won’t. I’m still on the faculty, and I’ve got ten doctoral candidates and fifteen master’s students working with me. And I was one of Solomon’s protégés, still bravely carrying the Elder School banner.

Besides, I’ll now be teaching one hundred eager freshmen during summer session. I’ll make sure they off on the right ideological footing!

Solomon’s private notebooks may not be fit for scholarly consumption, but he wrote dozens of articles that are–and surely I can find a few well-suited for Logic 101 and Intro to Phil!

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Prompt for May 25: “Write a story about someone whose boss is doing something contrary to the main character’s morals,” from