Students ask the big questions in "Pursuit of Wisdom" class

Release Date: 3/7/2012

People often think of college as mostly a place for acquiring information. Sometimes, however, college is about learning to ask the questions better.

"Pursuit of Wisdom" is a sophomore-level philosophy course taught by Dr. William Eakin where students read the works of the great thinkers and ask and discuss many of the most important questions of all time.  

For philosophy majors like Cody Goodman and Zack Roppel, the class is an introduction to their careers. "Nothing is off limits in philosophy," says Goodman, a freshmen from Fayetteville. "We recently finished reading St. Augustine's Confessions all the way through, because he wrote about his life as a way of looking at the big questions. This class led me to question and ponder my thoughts on the nature of God."

Dr. Bill Eakin leads a discussion in the 'Pursuit of Wisdom' class.

Dr. Bill Eakin leads students in a discussion about some of the works by history's great philosophers in the Pursuit of Wisdom course.

Dr. Eakin agrees with Goodman on the value of studying the great philosophers. "St. Augustine, for example, though a theologian, poses a lot of questions important to philosophy: What is human nature like?  Why do I sometimes do things just because they are bad? Is there evil?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a God and does he live in time? What is time? If the past is gone and the future is yet to be, if the present has no length, does time even exist?  But Augustine asks these questions in ways that really matter to him as a seeker, as someone who really finds that the answers matter. Students find that whether they agree or very much disagree with Augustine, they have encountered something that really matters."

Other students in the class signed up for it out of curiosity rather than requirement for their major. "I just thought it would be fun," said Ivan Chavez. Like the others, Chavez, a senior from Guatemala City, said that although the class might seem to deal in unanswerable abstractions, the issues they discuss have cropped up in his day-to-day life. "I believe it was two weeks ago, one of my friends asked me about this class - ethics, Plato, arguments about the existence of God, I'm not sure which subject - so I started telling her. The next thing I knew we spent four hours talking about all the things we've covered so far in class."

Jessica Root, an art major and philosophy minor, said she is taking the class because she enjoys Dr. Eakin's teaching style and "knew it would be a fun class. Basically we're talking about questions I've had since I was a little girl that I couldn't find answers to back home."

Chavez cited another example from the autobiography of St. Augustine. "One of the things Augustine talked about was how before he was a saint he used to go to this circus, which in ancient times meant an entertainment given in the Roman arena, like watching the gladiators fight. And Augustine said he didn't understand why human beings enjoy seeing the killing of others. So we started thinking how it is we enjoy seeing violence in movies and other things. How is it that human nature enjoys the suffering of others? It's a fascinating question when you think about it for a second."

Corey Farmer, a freshman from Jacksonville, said that although much heated debate happens in the classroom, many times he and the other students have gab fests that run long into the night. "We talk about anything and everything," he said. "In a class like this you learn how to socialize, how to argue, how to stand and articulate for what you believe in."

The students have even pondered the philosophical value of going to college. "Of course it's to find out what you want to do in life," said Roppel. "To find a direction."

Levi Johnson, a sophomore from Fort Worth, countered, saying, "The point of going to school is a cultural thing. Without a college degree you lack the background to go on to bigger places and bigger things, at least in this culture."

Or, as Root put it, "I am from a very small town with some very small-town views on things. Which is fine. But coming here, you learn a different way to think and to process things. That way maybe you can go out, or even back home, and share what you've learned."

Dr. Eakin summed up his class in this way: "The title of the course, 'Pursuit of Wisdom,' is a translation of the word 'philosophy,' which means to love or desire wisdom; but this is more than just an introduction to philosophy or to any discipline; in some ways it is an introduction to learning and thinking at all, a real place to begin."