More than just “the philosopher of change.”

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Heraclitus (535–475 B.C.) was a pre-Socratic philosopher who held unique views on ontology (what things exist) and metaphysics (first principles of things).

He is probably best known for his doctrine that everything is in the process of becoming. The Ionian famously declared that you can never step in the same river twice. All is moving. Everything is in flux.

Many commentators present Heraclitus as a foil for Parmenides, who believed that existence is a stable state (being) and change an illusion. But there’s more to Heraclitus than this caricature of him as the philosopher of change.

Human Affairs and Logos

Unlike his contemporaries, Heraclitus…

How the inflation of required materials signals that the academic job market is ultimately an insider’s game.

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Photo Credit: Unsplash and Darklabs India

How many times have you read an academic job announcement, decided to apply, read the required application materials and then felt your heart drop with disappointment? It’s too much. Give up.

In the current job market, there is an arms race in required application materials. (Besides an arms race, I’ve elsewhere called it a ‘paper chase’.) Omit a single required item from your dossier and you’re immediately eliminated from the candidate pool. One and done.

Human resources departments and search committees have fallen out of touch with what it’s like to be an applicant in a super-challenging job market.

Undervaluing an applicant’s time


Did Pythagoras start a philosophical school, a political movement, or both?

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Photo credit: Unsplash and ESR Law

At first blush, philosophy and politics appear strikingly different, like night and day, apples and oranges. The former entails deep thought and the search for truth, while the latter involves partisan action and the quest for power. However, in antiquity, the two were often difficult to disentangle.

For Pythagoras (570–490 BC) and his followers (the so-called ‘Pythagoreans’), philosophy and geometry did not delimit the subject-matter of their many doctrines and teachings, which include the famous proof Pythagorean Theorem. The Pythagoreans also advocated a way of life (a so-called ‘ethos’) and a method of governance (aristocracy).

Did Pythagoras create a philosophical…

How campus politics has come to resemble gang warfare.

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Photo credit: Unsplash and Rene Ranisch

In attempting to secure approval for a new “Critical Thinking” minor, a Philosophy Department Chair discovers that he had stepped on a few toes. Chairs of the English, Mathematics and Engineering departments protest that critical thinking is within their bailiwick (or sphere of operations).

It’s the start of a turf battle. The Provost pits the chairs against each other, all but assuring that they won’t have any will to oppose a planned pay reduction for adjuncts.

In another brewing turf battle, a member of the Education faculty has a novel idea: Let’s hire an Educational Futurist. It could help the…

Perhaps the most under-rated philosopher of antiquity.

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Photo by Sime Basioli on Unsplash

What makes up 60% of the human body, 70% of the Earth’s surface and can take the form of a liquid, solid or gas?

The answer is water. According to the Ionian philosopher Thales (620–545 B.C.), water is the ultimate element, of which all other “things” are simply varying forms.

Although credited as one of the seven wise men, or Sophoi, Thales is also one of the most under-rated philosophers of antiquity. Why? Should Thales’ doctrines be salvaged from the dustbin of history?

A Neglected Ionian

Many of Thales’ views we only know second and third-hand, through the writings of Aristotle, Diogenes Laertius…

In these times of higher ed contraction, expertise in speculating about our shared future might be just what we need.

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Credit: Unsplash and Fábio Lucas

As we enter the new year, doom and gloom thinking and talk of lean times in higher ed have become the order of the day. (Some even foresee the rise of so-called ‘cyborg universities.’) College and university contraction and retrenchment are becoming all too common, fueled by fears of reduced student enrollments, declining revenue, elimination of academic departments, and staff-faculty layoffs.

More often than not, executive administrators discuss unbundling educational products to increase profitability and running a “lean organization,” modeling colleges and universities after corporations that struggle to survive during economic downturns.

The missing link

What’s missing from these deliberations is talk about…

Is it morally right to own a masterpiece that was once stolen by the Nazis?

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Credit: Mert Kahveci and Unsplash

As the Third Reich spread across the European and African continents, its armies plundered the riches of private estates, public museums and university collections. Soldiers looted cultural artifacts and artwork, including paintings by the Great Masters, which were then redistributed across the globe.

Ever since the end of World War II, governments in Europe and North America sought to return these looted artifacts and artworks to their original owners. Many remain unaccounted for. Today, some masterpieces find their way from the black market to legitimate auctions and into the private and public art collections. …

How two thinkers peddle their ideas on two wheels.

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Photo by Angel Santos on Unsplash

The Peripatetics were philosophers who traveled from place to place. They include Socrates, Aristotle, Kant, and Nietzsche, to name a few. For these traveling thinkers, philosophy and movement were seamlessly woven together. They resembled the warp and woof of a single fabric.

Traveling on two legs — or alternatively, on two wheels — can prime the philosophical pump, permitting novel ideas to flow. Two contemporary Peripatetics embody what it means to think deeply and move at speed on a bicycle:

Both push hard on the pedals and…

The rich — of course.

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Credit: Sharon McCutcheon and Unsplash

The FDA recently approved the Pfizer vaccine to the COVID-19 virus. So, the question arises: Who will have priority in receiving the vaccine?

The standard response is (1) essential workers, especially doctors and nurses, and (2) the elderly, especialy residents of retirement homes.

The truth is quite different. As Thomas Jefferson might attest, if he were caught in a moment of perfect honesty, all men are not created equal, at least not in the eyes of government bureaucrats.

Brad Pitt, playing the character Jackie Cogan in the film Killing Them Softly, offers some context:

“My friend, Jefferson’s an American saint…

Tone deaf advice to retrenchment survivors isn’t helpful — faculty solidarity is!

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Credit: UN Covid-19 Response and Unsplash

A new holiday season of higher education retrenchment is upon us. Institutional cost-cutting measures include staff reductions and faculty dismissals.

Merry X-mas, you’re furloughed. Or worse, you’re fired. Or worse yet, your entire department is slated to be shuttered.

In Eileen Hoenigman Meyer’s recent advice column, she puts a positive spin on this dirty affair. (Retrenchment apologetics must be a lucrative topic for freelance writers.)

Shane J. Ralston

Philosopher, journalist and writer with a knack for speaking truth to power. Always up for a good convo:

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