the last professor

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Everyone is reading Stanley Fish’s essay, “The Last Professor,” in the New York Times (January 25), a column itself based on the title of a book by Frank Donoghue, one of Fish’s former pupils. It seems highly appropriate that a column entitled “Last Things” should be interested in one entitled “The Last Professor.” A professor who does not in his discipline also touch on its relation to the last things is merely a professor, not a wise man as a result of what he has learned about the whole of reality that he encounters in his studies, however narrow. The “last professor” must, as Cicero said in his essay on “Old Age,” finally take his stand before the last things if he is to live, what Aristotle called, a complete life. The phrase, “the last professor” means, in Fish’s context, that what a professor is said to do in his professorship no longer has any market. The lives of students have no place for the “impractical” enterprise of simply knowing. Everything is now practical, “down-to-earth,” job-oriented. No one, it is said, cares for things “for their own sakes,” to use Aristotle’s expression. As a letter to the editor said, the teachers are looking to the AFL-CIO for help. That is, everyone now recognizes that Fish is right.

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