Sources and Methods #37: Jim Wilcox

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Jim Wilcox 101:

Jim Wilcox's website

'Philosophical Inclinations'

'Jim Wilcox retires after 43 years'

Show notes:

1:08 – It’s an important part of the existential view of the world. We can either join early on, the ideas that our parents and the culture we’re raised in, all just join into them, and go along with that particular flow, or we can try to find a way to step out of it. Traditional ways have been just going to another culture, to another part of the world, and looking at how other people live.

2:50 – (The existential discovery) For me it was a book that a baseball manager gave me on a baseball trip…. It was Colin Wilson (, who began to layout the existential argument. I hadn’t heard of it. I hadn’t heard of existentialism. And he began laying out the existential argument. And the existential argument has: you have to learn to step outside. If you want to know who you are, if you want to find out what is going to make you go, what’s going to give you the zest that we need in order to go forward, you step outside and examine the world from a different perspective. That will lead you to look inside because you’re no longer being captured by the environment around you. It’d be like Plato’s allegory of the cave, where you’re strapped to a chair, and you have to look at the images on the cave wall, and that’s it, that’s your whole life. And somebody else is producing those images. So you don’t know what other reality there may be. So when you do that, you may have a moment of insight where you can look inside and say ‘what would you like to do.’ And that changed my life from being a full-time Air Force guy to becoming a student.

10:32 – (On cuts to humanities budgets) This is something that undermines your faith in a culture and a society. When it can’t recognize the role of the humanities in a young person’s life. They get a lot of the moral values from their family, yes. But sometimes the family is a little limited on getting the wider range of experiences with other cultures. The humanities always opens up the door. And what it teaches us through its stories, those beautiful works of art, it teaches us empathy. Isn’t this what it’s all about? Sympathy? Connectedness? This is the goal of the humanities.

These works produce order.

12:54 – If we lose the humanities, where are we going to get the empathy? Where is that going to be produced? Religion seems to have been eroded. If we don’t get empathy fully developed at home, then our chances of ever getting it are diminished a great deal. The humanities humanize. If we don’t get it, we go around de-humanizing other people. We see people in terms of monsters. And once we have de-humanized them, you know what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings.

It’s a very difficult era that we’re going through.

15:00 – When you retire, you’ve got to have projects. Something you’re working on.

18:53 – Albert Camus is my favorite philosopher. He stood up with his philosophy as well as his novels. Remember, he won the Noble Prize in Literature. Isn’t this the perfect wedding? Philosophy and Literature?

20:30 – There are no absolutes. I’m just inclined.

21:00 – There are no absolute truths. There are truths that we create ourselves out of our experiences and what we’ve learned. And we live by that truth. But that truth is never permanent. It’s always on the very verge of changing, because more evidence may come in. Something else may show up on your doorstep.

21:45 – (if you cling to absolutes) I think that leads to an intellectual and existential death. Because you’re not going anywhere. You’re not paying attention to the world you’re living in. Because that’s what existentialism requires of you. Because the world is always changing, so something may show up that will produce change.

23:51 – Many people resist change. They resist changing their thinking because they think they have the truth. But existentialism argues that truth is a fluid thing. It’s like a scientist. Some new data may show up and we may have to change our assumptions.

27:11 – I think we need to separate pleasure and happiness. It isn’t that we should diminish pleasure. It’s that we should put it in a different context. Epicurus was right about the pleasure principle. The question is how to get to the pleasure side instead of the pain side. If we’re trapped in a materialistic world, we might see money as the pleasure principle, or buying something. My argument is that you want to take your pleasure in the humanities. If people haven’t been trained in the humanities, this is hard for them to do. Our culture has become very materialistic. This is the difficulty. My solution isn’t a great one.

34:27 – The existential way of approaching death is simple: you just keep living. Just the way you have.

Book Recommendation:

The Plague, by Albert Camus. That is the book that defines the world that we live in. It’s a perfect book.