Peering into the mind of a University of La Verne philosophy professor.

Marshall Osman / photo by Emmah Obradovich

Marshall Osman / photo by Emmah Obradovich

For 25 years, Marshall Osman has been tickling the minds of students with his unanswerable questions and knowing smile. He teaches at the University of La Verne and Cal Poly Pomona, and now, for a few minutes, he’ll teach us. Here are a few questions we posed to Osman about the nature of philosophy in our world.

How has philosophy shaped the world we live in today?
Many believe that philosophy has no bearing on the real world. However, it was philosophy that inspired Martin Luther King and Booker T. Washington to fight for racial justice; it was philosophy that moved Simone de Beauvoir to demand equality for women. Philosophy is the starting point for making society more just.

What is one way that philosophy can enrich our lives?
Most (people) regret what they didn’t do, or fear the future. It is truly difficult to live in the present. In terms of philosophy, to live life fully in the present is to experience a kind of timelessness. Children do this best when they lose themselves in their play. Perhaps it is no accident that more than one religious tradition tells us that we are “saved,” “liberated,” only if we become as little children again. Philosopher [Friedrich] Schiller, tells us that we are only fully human when we play and only play when we are fully human. [Friedrich] Nietzsche suggests that we only attain full maturity insofar as we recapture the “seriousness” we had as children at play.

What has philosophy taught you about your life?
I am a brooder and a talker. I love to argue and to contemplate the large questions of life. In fact, philosophy has taught me to live with the ultimate questions of who I am, why I am, and what shall be the nature and destiny of my life. The examined life is the philosopher’s life.

What is one example of something people are afraid of nowadays?
People seem to be afraid to create themselves. Philosophers have encouraged us to become the heroes of our own lives. Nietzsche said it best: “Give style to one’s character—that is a grand and rare art!” Shakespeare made a similar point in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”

What questions do philosophers struggle with today?
Philosophers have pondered the questions of self-identity and the nature of the self that many in our time need but avoid as they escape into modern technologies, entertainment, and frantic busyness, which in the end leave them bored and empty. We seem to struggle with love, relationships, and multiple career choices. Philosophers bring into the discussion questions about what we humans should really value.

How can philosophy affect those in the workplace?
We seem to have lost the story about human history that has a future, and that we have a part to play, however small. Many don’t feel they have a contribution to make. However, work is enhanced if you believe you are contributing to a larger cause, which you believe contributes to the meaning and direction of human history. Then work becomes a vocation that is meaningful, it doesn’t just zap your energy, but one feels one is giving to some larger purpose.

What is the most important concept that you try to bring across to your students?
I teach them to be honest and sincere; to be true to themselves. In the words of Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” This is something I try to get students to understand and I urge them to live that kind of life, if possible.