Real-World Philosopher - Charlie Hobbs

Philosophy professor Charlie Hobbs believes in making the abstract real for his students. “Education is not a passive endeavor,” he says. Among many tools, Hobbs uses examples from history and personal experience to illustrate philosophical questions and answers. His students respond to his methods with enthusiasm.

Hobbs’ introductory philosophy course is on his students’ list of favorite classes. It is one of his favorite courses to teach as well. The course, which is required for all students regardless of major, makes for a dynamic classroom scene, with students jumping in to respond to Hobbs’ questions and posing their own examples of philosophical theory in practice.

The interaction inspires Hobbs, who can make a lesson on Lucretius’ “Symmetry Argument” against the fear of death seem remarkably relevant. In a recent class meeting, he pointedly remarked to his students, “Lucretius is saying, ‘Look, we’re all going to die. Now, how are you going to deal with that?’” That is, Hobbs believes that philosophy is a deadly serious and personal activity, as opposed to conceiving of it and presenting it merely as a set of abstract arguments or doctrines.

Critical thinking is also routine in Hobbs’ classroom, whether the philosopher under consideration is Lucretius, or Plato and Aristotle of ancient Greece, or more recent American philosophers such as William James and John Dewey. He encourages this in a variety of ways, including student presentations, in-class writing, and, in general, through shared reflection on philosophical texts and the issues and questions they raise, such as questions about the nature of knowledge and reality, questions about the nature of happiness and how to get it, and questions about political and social problems.

In addition to the introductory philosophy course, Hobbs singles out the history of American philosophy as a subject he particularly enjoys teaching. “It’s important that we know something about our own uniquely American traditions in philosophy and such course readily lend themselves to discussions about community and democracy, education, and lived human experience,” he says.

Hobbs earned both his master’s degree in philosophy and his Ph.D. in philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where he also taught an introductory philosophy course, a political philosophy course, and as a teaching assistant for courses in ethics and in world humanities. He has been teaching at Saint Mary’s since August of 2008. Hobbs’ areas of expertise include American philosophy, ethics, and history of philosophy.

In addition to his passion for teaching, Hobbs is also regularly engaged in his own philosophical research. He has published articles in such scholarly journals as Contemporary Pragmatism, William James Studies, and Southwest Philosophical Studies. Hobbs is currently working on three research projects in particular: a book on pragmatism (the quintessentially American philosophy) as applied to beliefs about death, a series of articles on John Dewey’s relationship with ancient philosophy, and a more long-term collaborative project, with anthropology professor Gabriel Torres on Dewey’s relationship with anthropologist Franz Boas.