Where Should the Professor put His Whores?

Submitted by Ralph E. Shaffer
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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The young, first-year philosophy professor faced a common end-of-the-term dilemma in an introductory course: one two-hour session left but four hours of ideas that had not been presented yet. Moreover, he was losing his voice. The raspy sound was a clear indication that well before the two hour lecture was over, he would be too hoarse to continue. Consequently, he had to be very selective about the order of the two subjects he would discuss.

He looked over his notes, trying to decide which one could be omitted. Could he drop that great Seventeenth Century French philosopher? Or omit "The Whores," that rollicking hour in which he mocked those zany philosophers from throughout the ages who had brought discredit to the discipline? He had ended the first term with that lecture and received a standing ovation from his students.

Although "The Whores" lecture was strictly academic, there were raised eyebrows among the Deans when they heard the racy title. The college had a conservative administration and the campus still had a student dress code. So which should be put first, knowing that he probably wouldn't get to the other topic?

He turned to a colleague for advice. The older professor understood the problem, one that they all had faced at some time, compounded in this case by the approach of hoarseness. His advice had less to do with the importance of the various philosophers than with protecting his young colleague's chance for retention, which would in part be determined by his students' scores on the standardized philosophy final exam. The old professor didn't have to ponder his answer. Knowing from experience which philosophical ideas and philosophers were emphasized on the test, he responded quickly: Should you put "The Whores" first or the Frenchman first? Easy.

"Put Descartes before The Whores."


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