By turns wickedly funny and profoundly illuminating, Encounters and Reflections presents a captivating and unconventional portrait of the life and works of Seth Benardete. With vignettes about fellow students and colleagues who were to become major intellectual figures, this book is the closest thing we will have to an autobiography of one of the 20th century's leading intellectuals.
“Seth Benardete was a scholar, a philosopher, and a most extraordinary man.… Before he died on November 14, 2001, at the age of seventy-one, he was the most learned man alive—and, I venture to assert, the deepest thinker as well.”—Harvey Mansfield, The Weekly Standard
“There is in the United States one man who is as comfortable with the art of interpreting Homer, Herodotus, or Euripides as he is with that of understanding the most difficult problems raised by Plato's dialogues, a man who follows texts step by step and discovers their hidden meanings. That man is Seth Benardete. I have long believed that he deserves glory—that of the heroes of Homer to be precise.”—Pierre Vidal-Naquet
An excerpt from
Encounters and Reflections
Conversations with Seth Benardete
edited by Ronna Burger
The University of Chicago
Coming to the College
Michael: Maybe we should start by asking how you ended up going to Chicago.
Seth: I was in high school at Brooklyn Tech, and my mother remembered that she knew someone from Chicago whom she had met at Dartmouth during the summer when we were on our vacation. His name was Donald Lamb, and he was a pupil of McKeon. She wrote to him and he said maybe they would consider me if I were to apply. So that's how I applied. When I met him, he was in fact a lamb.
Ronna: He was in the classics department?
Seth: No, Lamb was in philosophy—spent his entire life on Kant—but he was a worshipper of McKeon.
Ronna: Which there were a lot of, weren't there?
Seth: Well, there was Gewirth, who was much higher up. I think Lamb only taught in the college and very rarely was given a graduate course.
Robert: Did you know what you wanted to study at Chicago?
Seth: My intention when I left Brooklyn Tech was to go into mathematics.
Ronna: But you had already studied Greek, right? Did they have Greek in the high school?
Seth: No, I went to Brooklyn College to take it.
Ronna: How did you first get interested in it?
Seth: My father said, "You should study Greek."
Robert: But he didn't say why? Did Jose study Greek?
Robert: Did he have something that he was assigned to do, as an analogue to Greek?
Seth: No, he was into poetry, and then philosophy.
Ronna: Did you immediately take to Greek?
Seth: Yes, but I didn't think I was going to stick with it.
Robert: Was the professor a classicist?
Seth: The professor turned out to be Vera Lachmann, whom I later met here. But I didn't ask her if she had been my professor years before.
Donald Lamb and a Paper on Don Quixote
Michael: Did you end up actually studying with Donald Lamb when you got to Chicago?
Seth: Well, you could write an honors paper in the college, and Lamb agreed to be my adviser. At the end of the year I gave him a paper on Don Quixote.
Ronna: Do you remember why you chose that?
Seth: I came back after one term and talked to my father, and he said, "Why don't you write on Don Quixote?"
Robert: This was your first year?
Seth: My first year.
Ronna: You had declared a major?
Seth: At Chicago there was no major. There was just the college, which only lasted a year. You took all these exams that allowed you to be placed out of the college.
Ronna: So you got the equivalent of a B.A. degree in that first year?
Seth: Well, it was not equivalent to a B.A. degree anywhere else. Of course, I didn't go anywhere else with it.
Michael: So you submitted the Don Quixote paper to Lamb?
Seth: And he said, "Oh this can't be submitted, you know this can't be submitted." So I said "yes," but I never asked why it was nixed.
Robert: Do you remember what the thesis was?
Seth: It was all about how he was very careful not to test reality after it proved that he was wrong. I remember this thing about Manbrino's helmet.
Robert: What's that?
Seth: He made a helmet out of cardboard, which he then brought out in the backyard and took a sword to it, and immediately it smashed. So he then made another one, but didn't test it. He knew.
Ronna: That was the solution?
Seth: Right. The solution was never to test anything.
Ronna: So you went through the book and found all these instances...
Seth: About how he had carefully avoided reality. Anyway, Lamb said, "You know it won't do. It is interesting," he said, "but you know it won't do." I never asked him why it wouldn't do. He was so certain. I was so very shy, I suppose.
Robert: This strange thing he said never got clarified. Did that require doing something else?
Seth: No, it's just that I didn't get a degree with honors.
The Committee on Social Thought
Michael: How did you get onto the Committee after being in the College?
Seth: It was through Blanckenhagen. He gave a lecture in the spring that first year. I met him on the walkway of the university and stopped to ask a question about his lecture. We had a long talk, and he said, "Why don't you come and join the Committee?"
Robert: Just like that?
Seth: Just like that.
Michael: What did you think you were going to do when you started on the Committee? You didn't just do it because Blanckenhagen said, come along.
Ronna: Was that going to be your theme?
Michael: Is it true that you always wore black?
Seth: I think that's the only thing I had. There was a guy named Oxman, a student on the Committee, who was working on the medieval, Nicholas Oresme—the theory of money, the origin of calculus, and everything else. Anyway, the Committee was on the fifth floor of the social sciences building, and what happened was, he was introduced to me as he was stepping into the hall from the elevator while I was getting in. He asked me what my subject was, and as the doors closed he heard the word "Death."
Ronna: It came to you on the spur of the moment?
Seth: Right, that this was the way to summarize it. I had no idea that years later it would turn out to be true that that's what I had been doing. It was orchestrated from that point by some higher power.
Severn Darden, George Steiner, Stanley Rosen
Michael: What did you do your first year in the Committee?
Seth: I didn't attend the four courses I was assigned, I remember that.
Ronna: You mean you skipped class?
Seth: I skipped class entirely.
Robert: What did you do instead?
Seth: I read, all sorts of things.
Ronna: Do you remember what?
Seth: Zoroastrianism in the ninth-century texts, Cyrus Bailey, Toynbee—I read all of Toynbee.
Ronna: Any principle of selection?
Seth: No, just things that I came across in the library.
Michael: Were there other people you talked with?
Seth: I had a roommate whose name was Conboy, who came from Nebraska. He was the son of a sergeant and he had two loves. One was Thoreau. He spent his entire first year, while I was writing on Don Quixote, translating a treatise on Thoreau by Georges Duhamel into English. That was his project. Then he also loved Wagner.
Ronna: What a combination!
Seth: And he looked like Ichabod Crane: you know, very tall, stooped. He became the butt of many of Severn's jokes.
Robert: Did you already know Severn?
Seth: I'll tell you how I met him. We arrived on the first day at the dormitory. I was talking to Conboy just outside the door to our room. Then Severn, who had a room at the other end of the corridor, came and said to me, "Do you know where we're supposed to go?" I said "No." So he said, "Well let's go together." That's how we met.
Michael: So your first conversation was a joke.
Ronna: You were both sixteen at the time?
Seth: No, eighteen. He had come from the Putney School in Vermont, an experimental school. But he was from New Orleans. His father had just become district attorney there, the first district attorney who said he would treat any black man the same way he would treat any white man. No one had ever said that before. So he got some kind of medal from the NAACP.
Ronna: Did Severn write an honors thesis?
Seth: No, he didn't.
Ronna: Did he ever go to class?
Seth: Yes, he did go to class, that's where some of his best routines came from. Rosen, who also lived on the same corridor, right next to Severn, picked up some of those routines.
Robert: How did he do that?
Seth: One episode involved George Steiner. Steiner lived across the quad. He had been there more than one year and was graduating that year. He was also a student of Donald Lamb, for whom he did write an appropriate thesis.
Michael: Not on Don Quixote.
Seth: No. Well, Severn once went to a class and reported back that someone had said to the teacher, "I was wondering perhaps whether there is not another possibility in addition to the two you have so speciously posited." Rosen was in seventh heaven. He loved this line. There was a college radio station, which had discussions of books, one of which was to be on Flowering Judas, and Steiner was going to appear on the program. Severn was told by Rosen to apply to become a member of this radio program, and he, Rosen, would supply all the lines he had to speak during the discussion. So, he got on it. We all tuned in, at 7:30. For the first twenty minutes, Severn didn't say anything. George Steiner was dominating it entirely. Then suddenly, a pause, and Severn says, "I am wondering, perhaps, whether there is not possibly a third alternative to the two which you have so speciously posited. I am referring of course to the Cathedral of the Fields and William Morris of the neo-Hegelian movement..." It had absolutely nothing to do with anything. And it was all for the following lines, for George Steiner to say, which he in fact did say, "I know nothing about Neo-Hegelianism, but—" At this point, the moderator said, "Surely Mr. Darden is joking." And Severn said, "Certainly not." And it was exactly the end of the program.
Seth: Severn had a knack of finding locked doors open. They would always be open for him. He somehow found out there was a way of getting into Rockefeller Chapel. So he used to go in at midnight, dressed in his cloak, and play the organ. One night he pulled out all the stops. The whole place shook. And it awakened the guard sleeping in the basement, who came with a flashlight, looked at the organ, saw this guy in a cloak, and began this wild pursuit. Severn didn't know what to do, so he flung himself across the altar, and shouted, "Sanctuary!" The man dropped the flashlight, and he escaped.
Ronna: No eyewitnesses?
Seth: No, but this is a story that he told immediately.
Ronna: So it has the stamp of truth.
Seth: He repeated this trick in the girls' shower in the spring term. He apparently sneaked in late at night, when everyone was asleep. There he was when they came traipsing in, in the morning, holding onto the curtain rail, saying "Is this the way to Clark Street?"
Robert: Did he get in trouble?
Seth: I don't recall. That same spring, Severn and I were walking to a party. He was wearing his cloak, and at the corner we met Allan Bloom, who had heard about Severn, and said with great disdain to him, "Is it worth the candle?" Severn immediately pulled out a candle and lit it and Bloom was absolutely blown away.
Michael: What did Severn look like?
Seth: Well, he said he looked exactly like Charles Laughton. He had a very bad skin disease, which vanished many years later, some terrible form of eczema. They thought it was psychosomatic, and he was constantly going to psychiatrists. He had all these fantastic stories about his analysts, he'd become so inquisitive about where they hung their clothes.
Ronna: He was always collecting material.
Michael: Did Bloom come at the same time you did?
Seth: No, he had come younger, when he was sixteen, when you were supposed to, then you had two or three years.
Michael: When did you first meet him?
Seth: That was the first time I met him, on the way to the party. Then I got to know him when we became students in the Committee the next year.
Michael: That's when you became known as the "gold dust twins"? What was the origin of that?
Seth: There used to be a soap that had two black figures on it, called Gold Dust soap powder. We were in a tutorial together and somehow got that designation.
Ronna: Did Severn go on to the Committee?
Seth: No, no, no. I don't think he ever graduated. He went to Bard College, where he pulled all sorts of pranks. One Christmas they knew that the president was away from the college. So he got a whole group of people to build a huge cross, because the president's house was on a hill, with a very steep slope going up to it, so until the last minute you wouldn't see anything, but all of a sudden there it would be. So they built this huge cross, and put Severn, with a little thing around his waist, on this cross. When the president of the college went up the hill, he would see him crucified. Severn was expelled.
Ronna: For that episode?
Seth: Yes. As he was being expelled, he said to the president, "You know, I was about to write you a check."
Ronna: After that, he gave up on academic goals?
Seth: He decided to become an actor.
Michael: Was he very wealthy?
Seth: He had an income of about $3,000 a year, which was a lot of money in those days. But it didn't look as though it was going to go up for many years. It kept him in shirts, because he would never go to the laundry. You went into his room and opened his closet door, there were white shirts from the bottom up to the top, and he would say, "Oh, I'm out of shirts" and he would immediately go to Brooks Brothers and buy five more shirts. And they would go into his closet.
Ronna: You kept up contact with him for quite a long time.
Seth: Oh yes. He bought a Rolls Royce in the spring for $800. It was a 1929 Rolls Royce, which at the time it disappeared in a hurricane in Louisiana years later was worth a quarter of a million. Anyway we drove from Chicago to Gloucester, Massachusetts, in this Rolls Royce, and in every state we were stopped by the police.
Ronna: As a stolen vehicle?
Seth: Yes, but what they really wanted to know was how many miles a gallon it got. Such an enormous thing, you know, and these two kids were in it.
Ronna: Why was that your destination?
Seth: He was going to an acting school. On the way we stopped off at a place in Connecticut, late at night, because a friend who had gone to Putney was there. We were introduced to him in the evening and then immediately shown to our beds. In the morning, all over the house, there were these loud speakers blaring out South Pacific. So I said to Severn, "Can't this junk be turned off?" And he said, "Sure, of course," and turned it off. We had breakfast with this guy, and then we got into the Rolls Royce and proceeded on our way. An hour after we had left, I said, "Whose house was that?" And he said, "Mary Martin's house."
Michael: Wasn't there a story about Severn putting you in a movie?
Seth: Yes, he put Blanckenhagen in one movie and me in another. One Saturday afternoon Blanckenhagen was in Paris and he had nothing to do so he went into a theater. What he saw—he recognized one of the characters—was Severn, playing an abortionist. On the operating table was a woman, and Severn, as abortionist, was talking to his fellow abortionist, having a vehement discussion about Roman art. The other guy said, "Well Blanckenhagen says that this is the case." And Severn said, "Blanckenhagen is an ass." He was completely shocked. There he was in the middle of Paris.
Michael: What's the movie with you in it?
Seth: Many years later, when I was already here at NYU, Martha Nussbaum became a Danforth fellow, which was a four-year graduate fellowship. So it must have been in her senior year. She had already married a fellow student. Anyway, she arranged that I come to this conference, outside a nuclear defense plant in the middle of the wastelands of Illinois, where all the Danforth fellows went. And who was the main speaker? Hilary Putnam, who at that time, it seems, was a Maoist, and was selling newspapers in the middle of the lobby of the hotel where the conference was being held, surrounded by these right-wing Danforth fellows. Anyway, Mrs. Nussbaum asked me—she was on the entertainment committee—what movie to show. I said I knew that Severn had made a movie called Virgin President, though I had never seen it, but maybe she should get that. And she did. So there were three hundred Danforth fellows watching The Virgin President. It begins with Severn as movie maker telling the story of the United States and how it became the little country it was at this time, in the future. It starts out showing a forest: "This was once Washington, D.C." Then it goes into the story. Severn is both the president of the United States and also the son of the president, who is kept as the successor in the basement of the White House. His father, namely Severn, is killed by the bad guys, and Severn is elevated to be president, which is now an inherited job. He has been kept in this basement since he was a child, so naturally he has innocent clothes on. He's wearing a little sailor suit, that's how you first see him. Anyway, he fails to save the country from the evil guys, and it's blown up by a nuclear bomb. Then it goes back to Severn as a movie maker and he says, "Now you've heard the story of the United States. Next week we will discuss the rise of Equador with Seth Benardete." And that's the end. This movie was not well appreciated.
Ronna: Wasn't there a record in which you play a part?
Seth: No, that's Jose on the record. It's "The Lecture on the Universe," by Professor Wandervogelweiter. It begins with, "Why am I talking about the universe? Well, because there isn't anything else." Then he presents his criticism of Jose's book. "There is this book by Jose Benardete on Heraclitus, who says that time is a river, flowing endlessly through the universe. Heraclitus doesn't say that. He says, `Time is like a river, flowing endlessly through the universe.' See there, Benardete!" So that's his moment of fame.
Ronna: Isn't there something about you on the jacket?
Seth: Oh yes, the story about the Rockefeller Chapel is told, and so forth.
Ronna: Where do you come into it?
Seth: I think there's a description of me on the jacket by the man who wrote it, a friend of ours, which said "either a medieval scholar or an expert on foot fetishism." That's the description of me.
Robert: Did you have any contact in Chicago with Rorty? Was he on the Committee?
Seth: I knew Rorty. He was in the philosophy department. He must have entered the same year that Bloom had, at sixteen, I think. He seemed to have an extraordinary case of Weltschmerz, from a very early age. But it wasn't clear there was any basis for it. It looks consistent with his later thinking.
Ronna: How is that?
Seth: When he came to philosophy, it provided the proof of his despair. He now had an argument for his psychological state, which he then expresses in the book. It's an amazing match, it seems to me.
Robert: The denial that knowledge represents beings, so knowledge is not a mirror?
Seth: That it's a matter of metaphors, right? There's really nothing to know, that's the point.
Robert: I see. Was Rorty a good student?
Seth: He must have been a very good student. He had a very self-deprecating manner about everything. He was always apologetic. His dissertation was on Aristotle's notion of potentiality, it was six hundred pages long; actuality would have been very short.
Michael: Do you remember how you met Kennington?
Seth: I think Bloom introduced us.
Michael: That must have been in '55, or something like that?
Seth: It was slightly later, I think.
Michael: You don't remember what the situation was?
Seth: No, but I remember hitting it off right away.
Ronna: Was this in Chicago?
Michael: I know Kennington was a student at the New School and then came to Chicago afterwards.
Ronna: To study with Strauss?
Seth: Yes, right. He didn't finish his dissertation until many years later, when I was already at the New School. So I was on the committee. That was the most extraordinary examination. It was Cairns and Jonas and Gurwitsch and myself, we were the examining committee. Each one had a question. I think Jonas began. And Kennington responded, "Well this question has three large parts and each part has three large subsections. Let me go through it." Then he talked for, I don't know, forty minutes describing the structure of the first question. No one had ever heard anything like this.
Ronna: How old was he at the time?
Michael: I think he was about fifty. When I went to Penn State he didn't have his degree yet.
Robert: Was this a well-known trait of his, to give lectures that way?
Seth: I had never heard him talk that way.
Michael: Of your contemporaries, it seems to me the one whom you've admitted learning something from was Kennington. You talked to him regularly, didn't you?
Seth: Oh yes, or I wrote to him. The thing that impressed me about him was, he was always very profound, very deep, both, I think, psychologically and in terms of thought. He would go very far into whatever you were discussing, so that it was hard to catch up and connect it with what you had to say. I remember giving talks at Catholic when Kennington would ask a question, and it was hard to connect his question with the level at which I was talking. It always seemed to me to be so much deeper than anything I was doing that I couldn't catch up. That was the impression he gave. Isn't that true?
Michael: Well, as a graduate student, you would go to dinner at his house and ask a straightforward question and receive an answer that seemed to somehow lay out the whole world. You didn't recognize it as an answer to your question, but you did recognize it as an answer to something. And it was much better than your question. Do you remember a specific case where you thought Kennington extended what you said but you couldn't follow it?
Seth: I remember sending him my notes on Aristotle's triple account of the principle of noncontradiction.
Ronna: In Metaphysics Gamma?
Seth: Yes. He wrote back with some acute questions about how the three formulations were related to one another, but I was not able to do anything with it.
Michael: Did he talk to you about what he was studying?
Seth: Yes, about Descartes in the beginning. The first thing I read of his was on Descartes' dream. I reread it the other day; it's an amazing piece, so convincing.
Ronna: That's quite early?
Seth: Nineteen sixty-one, I think. It must be the first thing he wrote. I had told him about the indeterminate dyad. Then he wrote the review of Natural Right and History in which he discovered that it has that structure. That was extraordinary.
Ronna: How did Kennington show that?
Seth: In various ways, like noting how Strauss used "idea" in a very curious manner. There are these refined distinctions between the Plato section and the Aristotle section about natural right. He discussed the way terms are used in the wrong chapter: it's always in the subsequent chapter that the idea of something comes up, as opposed to the chapter where it seems relevant.
Robert: When you wrote to him about the indeterminate dyad, were you referring to the Philebus?
Seth: I think I had already generalized it. I may have been talking about the Republic. I claimed that it was in fact the principle, not knowing anything about it!
Michael: Do you remember what other people thought of Kennington?
Seth: I do know what Bloom thought of him, but I don't know whether it's from the time Kennington came to Cornell or before. It was a big regret in Bloom's life that, of the people he admired, he could never really be a friend of Kennington's. There was something standing in the way.
Robert: Did you speculate about what it was, or did he?
Seth: He put it down to Kennington's vanity. But you could easily turn that around and be closer to the mark.
Ronna: But Bloom admired him or respected Kennington?
Seth: Yes, right, but he always talked about his dark Protestant soul.
Michael: What was Bloom like when you first met him?
Seth: He was supersensitive to people's defects. He had antennae out, he knew exactly...
Robert: People's weak spots?
Seth: Oh yes, it was extraordinary.
Ronna: You continued talking to Bloom often over the years, didn't you?
Seth: Pretty often. But he was often distracted. He got impatient if you could not say what you wanted to say in more than half a sentence.
Robert: The pressure of the sound bite.
Seth: I remember the last time he came. He was about to write the book and he asked me what I thought the Phaedrus was about. I summed it up in a sentence, and it didn't make any impression.
Ronna: Do you remember what the sentence was?
Seth: Something about the second speech turning into the third speech, and how this was connected to the double character of the human being. I managed to get it into one sentence, but it wasn't something he wanted to hear.
Michael: He must have had something in mind.
Seth: That was very characteristic of him. The thing he objected to about what I did is that it didn't come to a point. It was all about very complicated matters. That was his criticism of the Sophist, all the problems that are raised in the first two pages before the dialogue gets started. What he wanted was the bottom line—which of these possibilities was the right one. It's obviously connected to his concern with edification, which seemed to become more and more dominant.
Michael: I can see how it would have been very hard for you to talk with him about what you were working on, but did you ever talk about what he was working on, say when he was doing the Republic in the sixties?
Seth: He would withdraw then.
Ronna: But you looked at the translation?
Seth: He sent things to me.
Ronna: He probably couldn't have written the books he wrote unless what you're saying were true.
Seth: It's interesting. It seems to me there's a connection between the interest in edification and the accusation of nihilism against him, or the Straussian branch that he represents, by Jaffa, say.
Ronna: Is this the golden apple, that there's no possibility of philosophy?
Michael: I think the accusation is that there's no possibility of morality.
Michael: There's a superficial defense of morality but, underneath it all, the celebration of philosophy amounts to an attack on morality. Bloom has two strands that are hard to put together: on the one hand, edification, on the other hand, philosophy. The model seems to be Plato's Apology, somehow pretending that they're the same thing, which takes you some distance but not all the way.
Seth: So Bloom really reproduced in his life a certain reading of the Ethics.
Ronna: Addressing the gentlemen?
Seth: Which is odd, because there aren't any gentlemen around to address.
Michael: I think he knew that.
Ronna: Maybe he believed he was creating the gentlemen.
Seth: I think that is what he thought he was doing.
Ronna: Did he think he was doing what Strauss was doing?
Seth: That never came up. I do remember him saying, toward the end of his life, "Oh, I now realize you always knew this. But I've just come to recognize how central the question 'Quid sit deus?' is."
Seth: A year before Bloom died, he and Rosen were together at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had gone to a restaurant after one of the meetings. It was early spring and the snow had not completely melted yet. On the side of the road, as they passed by in the car, were three deer grazing from the patches of grass in the midst of the snow. They stopped the car. Bloom was absolutely enchanted and he asked, "Do you think they'll attack if I get out and approach them?" And Rosen said, "I don't think they've read The Closing of the American Mind."
- Richard McKeon (1900-1985), professor in the department of philosophy at the University of Chicago from 1925 to 1973, conceived and chaired the interdisciplinary program of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Methods.
- Alan Gewirth (1912-2004), a professor in the department of philosophy whose field is moral philosophy.
- Jose Benardete, Seth's older brother, professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. His work is primarily in metaphysics and philosophy of mathematics.
- Vera Lachmann (1904-85), who emigrated to the United States in 1939, was a poet and teacher of classical languages at Brooklyn College and later at New York University.
- Peter Heinrich von Blanckenhagen (1909-90). After receiving his doctorate in Munich in 1936 and teaching at Marburg and Hamburg, he came to Chicago as a visiting professor in 1947 and became a member of the Committee on Social Thought in 1949. He joined the faculty of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1959 and was largely responsible for building its program in ancient studies. He lectured on Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman art, and had a particular interest in Pompeian painting. His last, posthumous article was on Plato's Symposium.
- Severn Darden (1930-95) was a charter member of the Compass Theater, the improvisational group that would later evolve into the Second City Comedy Troop. He was known for his monologues filled with allusions to Freud or Kant or Heraclitus, which displayed his unique comic mind. He later worked in films as a character actor, writer, or director. Mike Nichols, at a memorial, said he would cheer himself up when depressed by recalling a line from Severn's lecture on zoology: "Of motion, the oyster has but a dim racial memory."
- Stanley Rosen (1930-) has played an important role educating students in philosophy, currently at Boston University, and previously at Pennsylvania State University. He has lectured in colleges around the United States, as well as in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, England, and elsewhere. His wide-ranging work includes books on Plato, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, metaphysics, contemporary philosophy, and social and political thought.
- George Steiner (1929-), extraordinary fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, is an internationally renowned scholar of Western culture, language, and intellectual history.
- Stanley Rosen reports: I wrote out a monologue for Darden to memorize and deliver at 7:22 p.m., just a few minutes or so before the end of the program. As agreed, Darden launched the monologue which began, "I am wondering, perhaps, if there is not possibly a third alternative to the two which you have so speciousaly posited. I refer, of course, to the lily, the cathedral of the fields..." and so on. This was one of my best scholarly works, unfortunately never published. The participants in the radio show grew progressively more flustered, and people coughed anxiously. Then Severn came to the punch line, which included the expression "neo-Hegelian diureticism." Chairs were overturned, and bodies fell to the floor, George Steiner's determined voice could be heard cutting across the chaos: "I know very little about neo-Hegelian diureticism, but..."
Rosen adds: Seth, Severn, Bob Charles, and I were inseparable companions every evening after dinner, when we would drive around in Severn's 1933 Rolls Royce and commit various pranks. Seth was not available during the day, since he was studying Greek. Once we went to the Art Institute and sat on camp stools while Severn delivered a lecture about some painting of a nude woman, filled with unintelligible gibberish, which was avidly watched by a group of genteel ladies from the North Shore. All this took place in '48-'49. After our one year in the College, Seth joined the Committee and I went off to the New School for a semester, but returned to study with Leo Strauss.
- Allan Bloom (1930-92) was an influential teacher at the University of Chicago (1979-92) and before that at Cornell (1963-70) and Toronto (1970-79). His books include translations of Plato's Republic and of Rousseau's Emile, studies of Shakespeare and Rousseau, and the 1987 best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind.
- Martha Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, taught previously at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford. She is the author of books on Aristotle, Greek tragedy and philosophy, and social justice.
- Hilary Putnam (1926-) taught at Northwestern, Princeton, and MIT before joining the philosophy department at Harvard. He works in philosophy of mind, language, and logic.
- Richard Rorty (1931-), professor of comparative literature and philosophy at Stanford, taught previously at the University of Virginia and at Princeton. His distinctive form of pragmatism developed out of a critical analysis of traditional problems of epistemology and metaphysics, in works like the widely read Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).
- Richard Kennington (1921-99), a major interpreter of early modern philosophy, taught in the philosophy department at Pennsylvania State University from 1960 to 1974 and at The Catholic University of America from 1975 to 1995.
- Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science at Chicago and, at the time of his death, the Scott Buchanan Distinguished Scholar in residence at St. John's. With an eye in particular on the question of the character of philosophy and its relation to the political community, which made him attentive to the connection between a philosopher's thought and his mode of writing, he produced a body of work that includes studies of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Thucydides and Aristophanes, Xenophon and Plato, Alfarabi and Maimonides. These studies exhibit his critical examination of the underlying roots of modern philosophy and his distinctive rediscovery of Platonic political philosophy.
- Dorion Cairns (1901-73), a Husserl scholar, taught in the philosophy department of the New School from 1954 to 1969. Hans Jonas (1903-93) emigrated from Germany to England in 1933, then to Palestine in 1935, and finally joined the New School philosophy department in 1955. His work ranged from studies of gnosticism to the philosophy of biology, in particular, issues concerning the relation of ethics and technology. Aron Gurwitsch (1901-73), a phenomenologist and scholar of modern philosophy, taught in the philosophy department of the New School from 1959 to 1971.
- Kennington's article is "Decartes' 'Olympica,'" Social Research 28 (1961). His "Review of Strauss's Natural Right and History," Metaphysics 35 (1981), is reprinted in Leo Strauss's Thought: Towards a Critical Engagement, edited by Alan Udoff (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers), 227-52.
- Harry Jaffa, professor emeritus of government at Claremont McKenna College and the Claremont Graduate School, is the author of books on Aristotle and Aquinas, the American Revolution, and Lincoln.
- At the end of the conference, Rosen recalls, he told Bloom, "I'll come to visit you in Chicago." Bloom replied, "I'll get you a senior citizens' pass and we'll ride the Chicago bus system all day and talk."