Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Reply To: Lions, and Tigers, Athena, oh my!” with Professor Mark C.E. Peterson”


Hi Stephen!  It’s a pleasure to join the conversation!

I guess I was introduced to Campbell’s work by my instructor in kundalini yoga when I was about 18.  So, starting around 1975 I began hacking my way through Hero and then all four volumes of Masks of God.  I have to confess that it took YEARS to really get through the Masks of God.  I guess I’m still reading it.  ;^)

Hilariously, all of this was well before the famous Bill Moyer’s interviews, which I caught by accident.  I had never seen or heard Campbell before so when I tuned in, late, to Moyer’s interview, here was this guy with a New Yorkish accent talking to Moyers about mythology.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “this guy sounds exactly like Joseph Campbell… I wonder who he is?”

I had always loved mythology and was, by the time I discovered Campbell, already deeply interested in exploring religious symbolism.  No other writing, at that time, had really done the work Campbell did to begin constellating these ideas into a coherent structure.  Mircea Eliade and maybe Maria Gimbutas come to mind — but I was still years away from being exposed to their work.   So, technically, a happy accident?

I imagine nearly everyone has a story about how they “stumbled” into Campbell’s work.

Philosophy and play?  Grin, this has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years, but here goes:

Philosophy tends to be a deadly serious business and, most of the time these days, is focused largely on the logical structure of arguments.  This sort of attention to rigor and clarity is, of course, critically important when you want to unpack difficult ideas…. but…. it can also be deathly dull unless properly leavened with a bit of play.  It’s easy to get stuck on logic in pretty much the same way Campbell warns us not to get stuck on metaphors.  The logical structures of argument are the skeletons that scaffold and support our understanding but, think about it, fetishizing the skeleton over the body it supports kind of misses the point of living.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of Plato’s Republic where he says that enforced learning never stays in the mind and that education should be conducted more like play than work.  My wonderful mentor in Philosophy, Robert Perkins, made a big deal out of this idea.  Playfulness produces the kind of wonder about the world that helps us remember the most important thing: that we might not really know everything we think we know — that we might be more ignorant than we think we are.

Remembering our own ignorance might not sound like a lot of fun, but it’s actually liberating.

I mentioned it in the Mythblast but let me flesh it out here: wisdom, for Plato, meant recognizing your own ignorance.  It takes a bit of chew-time to see how that works, but it’s a brilliant insight.  Philosophy then, literally means learning to love this ongoing recognition of your own ignorance, of the limits of your knowledge.  If you think about it, failing to recognize your own ignorance about — shoot, anything! — usually lands you in hot water, and so learning to keep an eye on that, and to enjoy keeping an eye on that summarizes my way of understanding philosophy.

If I really geeked out (Greeked out?) about this I’d mention Aristotle’s famous observation that all philosophy begins with wonder and I’d argue that it’s playfulness what gets us there.

One more Greek reference then, to bait the hook for our COHO:

Socrates defined philosophy as “conversation with your friends.”   And that’s what we’re doing here!