Friday, October 16, 2009
Philosophers out there, take note: Duke University is holding a conference in honor of the work and memory of my former teacher, Fr. Edward Mahoney, a medievalist who taught for years at Duke. Here are some thoughts I wrote, when he passed away back in January:
My undergraduate degree was in Philosophy. This was in no small part because of the encouragement and example provided by a wonderful teacher, friend, and priest, Prof. Ed Mahoney, who died yesterday. (See Brian Leiter's notice here, and the nice memorial at the Duke Philosophy Department's webpage here.)
"Father Ed" -- a specialist in later medieval psychology, who did important work on the "Great Chain of Being" -- taught me, and many others, Ancient, Medieval, and late-Medieval Philosophy. He was passionately committed to undergraduate education, and he inspired many of us not only to wrestle with difficult, beautiful texts and ideas, but to better appreciate, in a big-picture way, the medieval vision, mind, and cosmology. He ruthlessly gave me the worst grade I received in college, delivering a much-needed ego-check, and then proceeded to help me learn, and get me fired up to learn, in a deeper way than I ever would have without him. He made me think harder, and write better, than I would have, or could have, without his help. He was my teacher before I knew that he was a Catholic priest, and he later became an advisor, counselor, and mentor.
The news about Fr. Ed made me think -- it reminded me -- of how special a great teacher can be. I'm sure all of us (I hope all of us!) were blessed, at some point, with such a teacher. I'm thankful that I was able to tell him how much he meant to me, and that he was able to see, before he passed away, at least some of the fruits of his efforts in my own career. And I hope I'll remember, in my own teaching, how important it turned out to be, for me, that he took the time and expended the efforts that he did.