I didn't understand what he was saying, but I was fascinated anyway.
Something like that was my first impression of Professor Donald Wester in 1992. I was an eighteen-year-old kid from small town Oklahoma, a conservative Southern Baptist filled with all the eagerness, naivete, curiosity, and confidence of a college freshman. I was a member of Oklahoma Baptist University's inaugural Honors Class and that semester they decided to offer Freshman English and Intro to Philosophy as one co-taught class with Joe Hall and Don Wester. I don't think the combined class worked all that well as a matter of curriculum, for they never did it again, but the gods of academia could have made no better selection than to introduce us to a combined Drs. Hall and Wester. I was never the same, and that could probably be said for everyone else in the room (for instance, that was when I first read Wendell Berry).
My prior acquaintance with philosophy was three-fold. Most had come by way of high school debate, where you needed to be familiar with Mill's utilitarianism, Kant's categorical imperative, and the basics of Social Contract theory (e. g. one semester in high school John Locke's views on self-defense had been rather central to formulating our response to a question). The second high school exposure was in my World Lit & Humanities class where we read about about Socrates. And finally in Mr. Harvey's chemistry classes we had received an introduction to pre-Socratic cosmological theories. So, I didn't come to Wester's class with no philosophical training, but it wasn't my chosen academic field, rather something I was curious about.
But as I said at the beginning, I didn't really understand what Don Wester was saying most of the time, but I was still fascinated. And that largely remained the case. I think that was also part of his magic as a teacher. The students who fell in love with him worked their butts off with the hopes that they would finally be able to understand him. By then you had been seduced into the discipline.
That fall semester of 1992 Don Wester turned me into a philosopher. I had soon declared philosophy as my minor (I was a Religion major with an emphasis in Biblical Studies who ultimately did a double major).
Samuel Enoch Stumpf's Philosophy History and Problems was the textbook, which I still have and maybe surprisingly still refer to in teaching my own intro to philosophy course. We covered all the big names and major ideas in a rather comprehensive course that laid the groundwork for my future academic development. In particular that semester, I was introduced to Alfred North Whitehead, whose ideas intrigued me. Little did I know then that I would write a dissertation on Whitehead.
And so that one semester with Don Wester was a turning point that has helped to shape my subsequent life in myriad ways.
In the next post, I'll write about how I inherited Wester's intellectual project.