The three students who will speak this afternoon will present the thoughts of three different philosophers—two of them are self-confessed atheists and, as Ricoeur called them, are "masters of suspicion"; while the other one you will hear of today is a Christian existentialist thinker. Despite these stark differences, I realized only recently as I was going over their final drafts that Jaime, Alex and Jorge, though coming from very different perspectives, were in their own separate ways trying to respond to something very similar, and also something very urgent.
Alex’s thesis entitled “An Exposition on Karl Marx: Capitalism as the Root of Alienated Labor” portrays what Marx described to be the concrete situation of the modern day worker in a capitalist society. Today’s worker, as Alex contends, is exploited by his very own labor and livelihood which, instead of affording him the leisure and happiness that all free men aspire for and strive to attain, paradoxically take away from him those very things.
Jorge’s thesis entitled “An Analogy Between Nietzsche’s Übermensch and Christ” picks up from Nietzsche’s destructive critique of morality and of values such as good and evil which he saw also alienated man from himself and hindered him from creating his own destiny. In his thesis Jorge traces the outlines of what Nietzsche called the overman, in whom, the philosopher believed, resides our greatest promise and our highest hope.
Jaime, for his part, will present to you his thesis entitled “Gabriel Marcel on Hope as a Possible Response to the Broken World.” His work begins by describing the different causes that may tempt us into thinking that nothing can be done to save us from the deserts of despair that silently hide in the hearts of men today. Jaime will propose to us another possibility of attending to our situation, one which, to be sure, may not be as dramatic as starting a proletariat revolution or destroying old tables of values, but is without a doubt as difficult to accomplish—or perhaps even more so.
It was a pleasure for me to work with these students as their thesis adviser. Sometimes their theses became an alienated object of labor for them; sometimes their theses led them to brokenness, isolation, and despair; but always, as I was able to see, they overcame their weariness and fears. But more than their accomplishment of reading many books and writing many pages—and they did write a lot, perhaps too much—I was able to see that they took their work to heart. They made it their own. It is easy to write, you see: the books are all there, the mind is strong, the words come easy; but we must remember that it is another thing to believe in what you write. Or for that matter, it is also difficult to write what you believe in because, suddenly, something valuable and important is at stake—whether it be one’s own countrymen, one’s own self, or one’s own God. I saw that Alex, Jorge, and Jaime wrote what they believed in and believe in what they wrote.
That is why for me their work is inspired. The challenge I leave them, and perhaps to the other student writers too, is to live out what they wrote. That is when one is not only inspired, but also becomes an inspiration to the many who need it the most in these dark times.
Laudatio for my student advisees
28 February 2012