Feb 22, 15
Recommended to Erik by:
Read in June, 1981, read count: 1
Upon matriculating into Loyola University's MA/PhD program in philosophy during the late summer of 1980, I was assigned to Bill Ellos as his teaching assistant. Bill, a deep-cover Jesuit, had come to Chicago from Washington State, having done some work there with educational film as well as being a university professor. His interests were diverse to say the least. His doctoral dissertation form the Pontifical Institute in Rome was on Wittgenstein, but the work he had me doing originally was mostly in medical ethics, sociobiology and the foundations of evolutionary theory. That meant a lot of reading for me, both of Wittgenstein and of Darwin and Wallace. Most of it was close reading in that he expected me to follow themes, to create indices relevant to his work. This was fine. I often was learning more from the research assistantship than from classwork. Besides, we only met occasionally and he got me assistantships every summer so I could literally take the work to Michigan and the beach in the warm months.
Darwin's account of his researches while berthed as a gentleman scientist on HMS Beagle works as a travel book, but it is punctuated by the kinds of observations which led to his theory of natural selection. As such, it is recommended to anyone interested in the subject as an introduction to it. Too often we learn "science" from textbooks, presented as if received from on high as holy writ, and do not learn how the knowledge was obtained, the interpretations derived. The Voyage of the Beagle gives some of that background in a highly entertaining, even adventurous, fashion.
The theory of evolution was not, of course, new with Darwin. One finds such speculation in the ancient Greeks. Kant's Anthropology speculates about our descent from simian ancestors. What Darwin did was to hypothesize an agent, natural selection, for such evolution and provide detailed data supporting his theory.
I was fortunate to have four years and three summers of research assistantships at Loyola and doubly fortunate to be assigned, at least half-time, to Bill Ellos during most if not all of that period. Although I never took one of his medical ethics courses, he probably cared for my intellectual and professional development more than any other at the university. It was he who not only got me to read most of Wittgenstein, but also encouraged me to deliver a paper on the man and later publish it. It was he who got me interested and involved in fields beyond the ken of contemporary academic philosophy. Yet, throughout, I always had the sense that he was adjusting my work assignments somewhat, taking into account my own interests, potential interests and needs, not just his own.
Towards the end of these assignments I learned that one was expected to spend about 16-20 hours weekly on one's assistantship. I was amazed, having spent more like 40 hours weekly at the flat rate of pay we all received. Still, it was worth it. I would have done much of it for Bill and form myself without recompense.
At the end, after orals and after reaching the absolute limit on assistantship assignments, Bill took me out for dinner and conversation at a fine restaurant in Evanston. He needn't have done that, but the human touch, so characteristic of Bill, was much appreciated.
I have no idea where Bill is now.