The Prime Mover

I officially studied philosophy for the first time during my freshman year in college. By “study philosophy” I mean I read works by philosophers, listened to philosophy professors explain the works of these philosophers, and then took tests and wrote papers demonstrating that I understood what I had read and what the professor had explained. Not long into my studies of the Great Western Philosophers I thought to myself, I can do that. All philosophers do is look around at the world, reflect on what they see, and write down what they believe to be the truth about what they have perceived. Why spend all this time reading the conclusions other people have drawn when you are just as capable of drawing them yourself?

One of those philosophers I studied was Aristotle. I liked Aristotle. It seemed like all his little ideas fit together into one big idea. The professor taught Aristotle by building and building these ideas one on top of the other, building toward the Big Idea, which waited for us at the end of the semester. He even primed us in the penultimate class, saying the Big Reveal was coming tomorrow. I was excited. This was Aristotle, after all. I believed I would be learning the meaning of life. That would be tuition money well spent.

The day came and my professor tied it all together. I don’t remember what he said—something about a Prime Mover. I was deeply disappointed. Listening to the professor describe Aristotle’s vision of the universe was like having the rules to an elaborate game explained. The professor didn’t even seem to care if Aristotle was right or wrong. The meaning of life wasn’t the point. The meaning of Aristotle was the point.

I left the class with a calloused heart. Why had I taken this class? Why was I in this school? Why was I on this planet? I felt vaguely betrayed and thoroughly alone. Clearly, no one was going to help me. Clearly, not only could I do that, I was going to have to do that. Clearly, I was going to have to figure it out for myself.

I marched back to my room, to my stories, to my life, with no notion of the gift my professor had just given me.

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