By Anand Venigalla
Dr. Shawn Welnak, assistant professor of philosophy, has recently returned from a year- long sabbatical. During the 2017-2018 academic year, he explored modernity through the eyes of the ancient Greeks in New Orleans, Louisiana. He wanted to translate Homer’s poetry, and aims to write a book on Homer and the creation of the Western mind.
This semester, Welnak continues to ponder similar matters. Many events worldwide concern- ing social figures such as President Donald Trump or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban create diversity in what people today consider to be modernity. In order to find new ways to understand the world, he turned to Homer and the ancient Greeks.
“My thought was that by turning to the beginning, which also may be accidentally the pinnacle and high point of civilization, I could reexamine that beginning in the hope of finding some way forward, a new way of conceiving politics,” Welnak explained. He finds the ultimate division to be between human excellence and equality, and he believes the Greeks found a balance between the two. “[I want] to find a new way forward by reconceiving the past, or looking at aspects that were not visible to scholars until now,” he added.
“I’ve come to see [the West] as a civilization that, more than any other, has accomplished what Homer calls ‘great deeds,’” Welnak said. He believes in the importance of having a sense of wonder. “Wonder arises in the human soul from perplexity; it is the opposite of the mind of an ideologue who thinks he possesses knowledge.”
Welnak believes his sabbatical has made him wiser. “The last two years made visible things that were invisible to me,” he said. “I’ve been able to take seriously and think through things I couldn’t previously think through with sufficient seriousness.”
Philosophy and politics, according to Welnak, are incompatible. “Custom rules political life,” he explained. “The ground of political life is unexamined common opinion, and the ground of philosophy is the examined life.”
Welnak is also teaching Business Ethics, and Happiness and the Good Life this semester, as well as his recurring course Philosophy and Film.