Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Unrolling the Scrolls: Friendship as Scholarship

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Unrolling the Scrolls: Friendship as Scholarship

Article excerpt

"Provide for yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend."--Pirkei Avot, 1.6

The Torah advises us to seek two things in every stage of life: a teacher and a friend. I was fortunate to find both in Jim Aune, who for fourteen years taught me rhetoric, literature, political economy, poetry, jurisprudence, and much else. Both in and out of the classroom, Jim expounded on life's ideals and modeled a truly free and wide-ranging intellect. Academic life was first and foremost a calling for him, in the Lutheran-Weberian tradition, with a strong ethical imperative to treat learning, teaching, and writing as a way of life. The call to scholarship, Jim taught me, was also a call to friendship.

While Jim, like all of us, was imperfect at living up to his ideals, his legacy of seeing friendship and scholarship as two sides of the same coin is rich and lasting. Socrates was perhaps the first to celebrate the singular joy of unrolling scrolls or opening books together with friends and reading them aloud. Sadly, scholarship in our time has taken on a high seriousness and professionalization that inhibits the ease and jocular familiarity that should attend learning and teaching. The legacy Jim gave his students was critical of much in the academy, but at the same time was, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more" (Emerson, 1837/2000, p. 43). Undergraduate and graduate students alike were constantly drawn to Jim's love of learning and his willingness to freely share his time and knowledge. (1)

Learning for the love of it is the best first step toward discovering an authentic voice. In contrast to this authenticity has long been an approach to knowledge-making more interested in professionalizing learning, in the sense of gaining knowledge for the sake of profit, promotion, and public praise. Xenophon records a conversation between Antiphon and Socrates in which Antiphon denigrates Socrates' manner of life. Antiphon ridicules Socrates' knowledge because for all its supposed worth it has failed to gain him expensive clothes, luscious food, and heaping riches. Socrates responds that his freedom abounds because he has made no promises to do things in exchange for money. This leaves him at liberty to help his friends and his city at the drop of a hat.

Antiphon, constitutionally incapable of hearing this message, presses Socrates to consider how foolish he is for giving his wisdom away without reckoning the high price it could command in the market. Xenophon records Socrates' lengthy but worthy response:

To this Socrates replied: Amongst us, Antiphon, the same standards in respect of what is honourable and what is shameful are thought to apply equally to the disposal of physical beauty and of wisdom. Someone who sells his youthful beauty to anyone who wants it is called a prostitute; but if one contracts a friendship with someone whom he knows to be of excellent character, we consider him to be acting with prudence. And similarly in the case of wisdom, those who sell it to anyone who wants it are called sophists; but if anyone makes a friend of one whom he knows to be naturally gifted by sharing any worthwhile knowledge that he happens to have, we consider that he is doing what an upright citizen should. And as for myself, Antiphon, I must say that, even as other people take pleasure in a good horse or dog or bird, I take as much pleasure or even more, in good friends, and if I have anything good to impart, I let them know of it, and I put them in touch with any others from whom I think they will get any assistance towards the acquisition of excellence. And together with my friends, I unroll and read through the books in which the wise men of past times have written down and left to us their treasures; and anything we see that is good, we pick out for ourselves; and we regard it as a great benefit that we have become friends with one another. …

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