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  • Mythos and Polyphonic Pluralism
  • Thomas M. Alexander

growing up in new mexico, I was passionate about geology, specifically paleontology. It led, in one adventure, to me being arrested by monks. While on a picnic with my parents at Jemez Springs, I had followed a beautiful Permian stratum, rich with crinoids and brachiopod shells, onto private land owned by The Servants of the Paraclete, a retreat for "whiskey priests."1 I was detained while one brother admonished me, kindly, and let me go, and even let me keep my specimens. But the passion for the history of the earth and natural history in general remained. I was one of those kids who came late to the idea that what was taught at school and what I found of interest had any points of intersection, but I did come to it. I entered university with an excitement that now I could really explore my interests from brachiopods to hieroglyphics to Chinese poetry. My father, who taught philosophy at the University of New Mexico (UNM), did not try to nudge me into that subject, other than to say that any educated person should know something of the Greek and Modern philosophers and study basic logic. My high school years were those tumultuous and exotic last years of the sixties, comprising "The Summer of Love," the release of Sgt. Pepper, the Tet Offensive, the Apollo moon landing, and the Kent State shootings. In that stressful time, my father gave me two books that changed my life, one a yellowed wartime paperback of Apology, Crito, and Book I of The Republic, the other a book of selections by Montaigne. The first showed me a model of reasoned discussion and intellectual courage without vehemence—by the late sixties, vehement disagreement was even more pervasive than it is today. The second gave me a model of intellectual integrity, moral humanism, and skepticism as a way of life in a world gone mad with ideology. Thus, I entered my university studies a private humanist pursuing earth sciences. [End Page 1]

But geology was a disappointment. The teachers had not accepted continental drift though just about all other related sciences had. Scientific American had even devoted a glossy issue to the subject. The faculty were interested in petroleum, not paleontology, which, I was informed, was over and nothing new would happen in it. They had no idea that this science would soon enter its most exciting and revolutionary decades with the new ideas about warm-blooded dinosaurs and the discovery of the Chicxulub asteroid impact crater as the smoking gun of the Cretaceous extinction. I heard the geology faculty eventually did accept continental drift, but by then I had moved on. I had, without knowing it, lived through one of Thomas Kuhn's scientific revolutions. My horizons expanded in different directions to include, now, romance, revolution, and beer—and, still far off, philosophy.

Following my father's advice, in the Fall of my freshman year, I took a survey of ancient Greek thought, Thales to Plotinus. From the start, it was riveting. Anaximander seemed to have held a view of cosmic and human evolution, a natural history of the universe—even the word "historia" was Greek. But political issues and the whole panorama of topics embraced by the term "counterculture" then were at the forefront of all discussion as the Vietnam War entered its frantic endgame. The institution of the lottery for the draft resulted in me being assigned the number 33. Though my student deferment status was good for another three years, the expansion of the war into Cambodia did not make it seem as though any end was in sight. My studies took on an intensity for me, since my time for learning might be cut short, and I had boundless curiosity. The questions of the day and my personal fate made philosophy move to the center.

The Department at UNM was pluralistic, though it didn't call itself such. But a department with people specializing in Buddhist logic, positivism, hermeneutics, process philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and Hispanic philosophy (which my father taught) can't be called anything else. The specialist in philosophy of language knew not only...


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