The Reading Room

Phillis Wheatley: A First

Being first holds a significant place in American culture, for Americans love being Number One, being winners, being the First. For African Americans, being a first has a somewhat different meaning – it signifies another barrier having fallen. It signifies that above all odds, another one has made it! But always accompanying the “first” were counter-pronouncements – that this is an exception; that this person received special privileges; that this only happened because of affirmative action; that this person cheated to get here. Still, the record, in the end, speaks for itself, and the first stands. 

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Ethan Allen: Yankee Extraordinaire

In many ways, Ethan Allen is the quintessential Yankee. A farmer, he speculated in land and involved himself in colonial politics regarding land.  He plunged into the War of Independence and became its first hero. Captured by the British and enduring years of severe imprisonment, when released he rushed to join Washington at Valley Forge. And he later fought to make Vermont a state. 

Richard Henry Lee: Founding Revolutionary and Anti-Corruption Advocate

Richard Henry Lee was born at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland, Virginia, on January 20, 1732. At age 16, Lee moved to Yorkshire, England, for his formal education at Wakefield Academy. In 1750, when he was 18, both of Lee’s parents died; he returned to Virginia in 1752 to help his brothers divide the family’s estate.

Thinking About Government with John Adams

In philosophy classes, students sometimes wonder why we continue to read long-dead thinkers like Plato or Descartes, and there are two sorts of answers I usually give. One is that, for better or worse, their ideas set the stage for debates that are still engaging, or raised questions that defy easy answers. The other is that, unlike in physics or chemistry, it’s not the case that the newer stuff is the truer stuff. It’s certainly possible that some 19th-century thinker was trying to refute an argument made by an 18th-century thinker, but failed. Aristotle isn’t necessarily wrong about ethics just because he is writing earlier than Jeremy Bentham. Maybe there are valuable insights in the thinkers of the past.

OLL's September Birthday: The Marquis de Condorcet

September’s featured birthday anniversary belongs to Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, The Marquis de Condorcet, usually referred to simply by his title, or sometimes as Nicolas Condorcet.  Sometimes called “the Last Witness of the Enlightenment” or “the Last Philosophe,” he was also a pioneer of the emerging social sciences.