Professor Discusses the Human Condition

Philosophy professor says humans must acknowledge ironies of life

University of Chicago Philosophy Professor Jonathan Lear said at a lecture in Lowell Lecture Hall yesterday that human beings must question their direction in life in order to become better.

His speech—which kicked off the three-day Tanner Lectures series at Harvard—brought together audience members from across the University, including professors, graduate students, undergraduates, and even University President Drew G. Faust.

“I’ve read his work since grad school,” said Jason A. Pannone, who works in the philosophy library, adding that he came to the lecture for “the chance to hear [Lear] think.”

Lear emphasized the importance of developing an appreciation for irony—the circumstance in which a seemingly comfortable truth returns in an unfamiliar form, disrupting one’s world-view and self-perception.

While acknowledging the ironies of life can be difficult, Lear said, this step is the key to achieving “human excellence.” He also focused on the necessity of accepting one’s own ignorance to achieve excellence.


Lear’s lecture, which focused on difficult philosophical concepts, was directed toward those with a wide-ranging grasp of philosophical history.

“I would probably have to think about it a lot to really wrap my mind around what all the implications would be,” attendee Edward J. Dumoulin ’10 said.

Lear acknowledged that understanding topics surrounding human existence requires much contemplation.

“To become human or to learn what it means to be human does not come that easily,” he said, drawing from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.


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