It seems that Zack Hill's analysis of how "being a University of Chicago student often requires doublethink" ("Finding Common Ground," 5/23/08) falls into the common mistake of creating a dichotomy between philosophizing and experience. If we follow his argument, if one enjoys oneself by participating in recreation, one must not be an intellectual and therefore not worthy of earning the epithet of "uncommon."
His assertion that our identity [as] those who tread toward self-discovery is artificial is quite untrue. It seems that Hill has not visited other campuses, for if he had, he would realize that our culture is genuinely uncommon. If he were to enter the University of California campuses, he would find that lectures have been delegated online, leaving no room for discussion with professors who do not teach undergraduate courses in the first place. He would probably also be horrified at the fact that literature and philosophy courses at the University of Utah are taught out of textbooks (imagine reading "Plato's Dialogues, brought to you by McGraw-Hill!"). The structure of education at the U of C is substantially different from that of other schools as we have a unique merger of a liberal arts college with a research institution, something that cannot be overemphasized.
But the greatest problem in his assessment is the false assumption that the life of the mind is restricted to the library. Sure, we may enjoy action flicks like Indiana Jones, but remember that Doctor Jones is an academic, affiliated with the U of C, nonetheless. The lesson that Hill has not learned in his four years here is that the "life of the mind" is exactly what it means—living through the mind. The mind is not merely an ascetic ideal that must be pursued through self-abnegation; it is only realized by experiencing discovery in all aspects of life. Of course we love "partying," but how many other campuses would reference Bacchus or Dionysus while intoxicated? Here, we do not merely talk about the Dasein, we live it, and by affirming our experience, we truly are living the life of the mind. We wish Hill the best of luck after graduation, but if he does not realize how different he is from the outside world by experiencing it through inquiry, then he has slept through the most important lesson that can be learned at our uncommon school.
Daniel M. Choi
Class of 2010