Recollections of O.K. Bouwsma

     For four years at the University of Nebraska I was fortunate enough to experience the joy and terror of studying with O.K. Bouwsma.  The joy of studying with Bouwsma derived from the excitement of dealing with a mind constantly in movement, constantly probing.  The terror arose from the fear that one was not well-prepared enough and not quick-minded enough to avoid making a fool of oneself.  I vividly remember an occasion in a Theory of Knowledge class when Bouwsma was discussing solipsism.  A pert young woman in the front row raised her hand and declared:  "I am a solipsist!"  Bouwsma paused and looked at her and then asked:  Miss C., do you have a telephone?"  Mis C. replied: "Yes."  "What color is it?" Bouwsma asked.  "Red," replied miss C.  Bouwsma looked at the class and said, while quietly chuckling, "Imagine that! A solipsist with a red telephone and no one to talk to!"  It was impossible to study with Bouwsma for very long and not feel an obligation to think. I regard that as Bouwsma's greatest gift to his many students--the gentle persistent demand to think and to learn to express ones ideas in a clear and coherent fashion.  The specific content mattered less than the process. The same demand was there whether one was discussing the ideas of G.E. Moore, Wittgenstein, Plato, Dostoievski, Camus, Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard.

    In a course on Aesthetics, he asked us to write an essay on the following little passage which he handed out to us.

        "You are a spectator at the fireworks display.   People about you 'Oh' and 'Ah' at the eruption of stars. At the peak of the shot of a thunderbolt,  sometimes you hear people ask, 'What are you ah-ing about?' And then someone might say, 'At the fireworks--look!' You might soon 'Oh' and 'Ah' too and  you do not find this puzzling.  One might wonder,  isn't it odd that we should love fireworks, parades, brass bands, football games, who would have ever expected that? And ventriloquism and card tricks.  Well, why do you say 'Ah'? What's 'Ah' in the fireworks?  What do the 'Ahs' have in common?  Suppose that you had described the fireworks as   'Ah-ful' or 'Oh-ful'.  Would people begin to ask what  is   'Ah' or what is the quality 'Ah' that all these things  have in common?  And is this also how it is with the words Beauty and beautiful?  How Beautiful!  How 'Ah-ful" What is beauty?  What is 'Ah'?"

Clearly, he was giving us a challenge to think about that troublesome notion of "in common" which shows up again and again in philosophical discussions and he managed to do it in a provocative and stimulating manner.

    From the time I was an undergraduate, Bouwsma and I had a running controversy over my interest in the existentialists, and especially regarding Heidegger.  One afternoon Bouwsma and I were having coffee in a cafe near the campus and I was making a rather feeble attempt to explain Heidegger's distinction between the structure of human existence and the being of objects as availabe for use.  Bouwsma listened patiently until I had run down and then after a moment's pause, he said, "Oh, you mean:  Howey is not a coffeepot."

    The next year, I left Nebraska to go off to California to work on my Ph.D. Shortly after my arrival in Los Angeles, I received a postcard from Bouwsma the last line of which read as follows:  "and if you ever manage to translate one single sentence of Heidegger into navigable English--Oh Promise Me!"  Undaunted, as a graduate student must be in order to survive the hurdle race, I responded with a long letter trying to make a case that the existentialists were doing something like aesthetics in their dealing with philosophical problems.  Mercifully time has obliterated most of the nonsense which I wrote in that letter, but I do still have his reply which follows here.

                            Dec. 24, 1963

        Dear Howey:

          I had hoped that you might be in Lincoln for your vacation, but I see now that you won't.  So I'll write to you.  You wrote that Heidegger is like Beethoven.  That is no doubt an advantage.  You can have Heidegger and reproduce it stereophonic on your own without expense.You furnish your own woofer, etc. in your throat, head, etc. In any case one doesn't argue with Beethoven and a part of what you must mean is that Heidegger doesn't argue.  No one says to Beethoven:  "That isn't true."  So too with Heidegger? But apparently no one misunderstands Beethoven in these ways either.  In any case, I take it, that you read H., aloud preferably, and at the end you feel like applauding.  Any note is the right note. But if someone asks you what you and H. were doing together you can't explain.  And this bothers you.  In the case of your listening to Beethoven the difficulty does not arise.  Or if it does you know how to dismiss it.  Send him to music-school. but where does one send someone who asks what you and H. are doing?  It occurs to me at the moment that this should not bother you.  If you read it and this warms you and at intervals you exclaim: "Ah!" and you are having the time of your life, what more can you ask?  If other people can't understand this, well, that's too bad.  You might like to help them too, to an understanding, but if this cannot be done, well, this is nothing new.  The best things are like that.  In connection with Beethoven we are used to it.  H. is another thing.  If someone doesn't care to listen to Beethoven then you can persuade him to listen anyhow a hundred times.  Perhaps he'll catch on. If someone does care to read H. then you can persuade him to listen to you or Basil Rathbone read it a hundered times and perhaps he'll catch on.  There hadn't better be too many footnotes.

    The trouble with your explanation is that you haven't made clear what you are explaining.  I mentioned H.; you didn't.  You referred to "certain things in philosophy."  Well, what is one of them?  Can you introduce one paragraph, one sentence?  If you were to do that we could try it out. Perhaps we could set it to music and sing it.

    In Ulysses (Joyce) one of my favorite chapters is the Miss Kennedy--Miss Douce chapter.  The design of that is a lot like the design of music--variations on themes, etc.  Would it be like that in the case of H.?  In any case are you alluding to Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Plato?  What are your examples?  Can you give me a paragraph? 

    I don't want you to be talking to me about a cloud or the shadow of a cloud.  By the way I take it that you are something of a musical existentialist--which isn't at all the way they describe themselves.  Heidegger on the flute.  There are, however, at least one or two or three good writers among the existentialists, writers' writers, Nietzsche, Dostoievski, and Camus.  So I'll ask you to explain to me what Camus is doing in The Fall.  That is certainly your line.  And to prompt you I'm sending you a note I wrote.  With your background you should be able to help me.  There must be a way of reading Camus' The Fall without having to transpose it for full orchestra.  Today is fine weather.  And tomorrow it is Christmas.  You mentioned K. [Kafka].  I take it that everything he wrote should send you to the Bible when the big words are few.  At any rate I appreciate your making use of analogy in trying to understand something.  That too you might have gotten from the Bible.  It's the hidden analogies you must be wary of.

                                  (signed)  Bouwsma

    The reference to Camus' The Fall has to do with some notes which Bouwsma sent along with his letter. Brashly I responded with another long letter commenting on the notes.  Over the years, Bouwsma and I continued our discussion by letter and in the later years concerned ourselves more and more with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  In 1972 when I was Head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Wyoming, I got a grant from the Council for Philosophical Studies to invite Bouwsma to visit us and give a paper. The grant provided an honorarium for two days and with typical generosity Professor and Mrs. Bouswma stayed twice that long.  He gave a paper, held an open discussion the next day, talked with students and faculty and gave unstintingly of his time and energy. At that time he was working through (he never read philosophy--he worked through it, wrestled with it, thought it) Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript.  With characteristic modesty, he said:  There is so much here that I don't understand.  One could spend an entire lifetime on this book."

    Bouwsma was famous for his wit and humor, his love of language, and his love of word-play.  This is as evident in his writing as it was in his teaching.  Behind this playfulness, however, there was always a sense of direction and, in fact, the very playfulness often served to provide a direction for a discussion.  His sense for language was truly amazing and Bouwsma was the only person I have ever met about whom I can believe that he actually read Joyce's Finnegan's Wake in its entirety.  He was also especially fond of convoluted wordplays and conundrums.  I wrote down the following one long ago in a class.

    To be is be somewhere

    So, when you are in motion

    you must be somewhere.


    Nowhere. So when in motion,

    you are not!

Naturally, he also had a special fondness for Lewis Carroll.

    Bouwsma also had the wonderful ability to extract just the right sort of example or analogy to sharpen the focus of a problem.  In addition, he had an extraordinary talent for reshaping questions in such a way that one came to see more clearly the nature of the problem or else to see that what one had asked was either a misstatement or a misunderstanding. In a discussion at the University of Wyoming, one student was puzzled about how one could dream in color.  Bouwsma turned the problem around in a wonderful way. He asked:  "Isn't it true that when you perceive the world, you perceive it in color with all sorts of rich variations and shading?  So now, shouldn't we expect it to be perfectly natural that we would also dream in color?  The hard part would be dreaming in black and white.  It would be rather like taking our original vibrant colorful dream and then going through and erasing all the colors.  Now we can dream in black and white!"  In that same discussion another student was puzzled about how we arrive at abstract qualities of objects.  This particular discussion was a marvelous example of Bouwsma's technique.  He would propose an example and then ask the student if that was what he meant.  The student would modify the example or come up with another example which seemed to raise problems about Bouwsma's example. Bouwsma would then respond with another suggestion and questions. And so the process continued.  Bouwsma succeeded in giving the student a strong sense of involvement in an inquiry of mutual interest.  Often, in the process, the student would end up clarifying his own question in such a way that he could either see the answer or understand that the way he was asking the question was fundamentally unclear.

    Frequently Bouwsma's method of tackling questions was Socratic.  He would pick and probe at words and phrases, he would conjure up an analogy and then ask:  "Is this something like what you were getting at?"  Bouwsma was the only teacher I ever knew who so excited students about ideas that they would faithfully show up on Saturday mornings for a three hour non-credit seminar. And most importantly the inquiry didn't stop when the seminar session was over.  We would wrangle with each other over coffee or beer and by the next session, Bouwsma invariably had three or four mimeographed pages of further reflections on the previous discussion which he would hand out to us for our further reflection.

    In many respects, Bouwsma fitted a certain ideal image of the philosopher. His presence radiated a calm and composure which at the same time permitted him to make ideas dance and sparkle.  He was able to convince one that whatever was being discussed at the moment was the most important thing in the world.  He would puff contentedly on his omnipresent cigar and speak quietly, pause, chuckle, puff on his cigar and thereby create the sense that we had all the time in the world to probe these questions of the moment.  There was no sense of urgency; the immediate pressures of the real world were held in abeyance for a while.  Bouwsma's deep religious convictions had much to do with his sense of calm presence. The beliefs were part of the man, but they never intruded in the form of dogma.  A most wonderful illustration of this came up in a discussion, again, on the occasion of the visit already mentioned.  I quote it here at length, becuase I think that it reveals much about Bouwsma and, at the same time, reveals his remarkable facility with ideas and language.  The pauses, chuckles, and Bouwsma's wonderfully dramatic inflections cannot be preserved in a written text, but the transcript is as faithful a rendition as I could get from the tape recording.  This part of the discussion centered around the theory of evolution as an account for our existence. 

Bouwsma:  Look, is there anything we can agree about?  That we know? For instance, suppose I say, we now know that this man back here said, that we want to know what in the hell's going on. Not what in the heaven is going on, but what in the hell's going on, Hmm? So, we know---I'll put it that strongly, that a long time ago, maybe before the moon, there wasn't this earth at all.  Then it came to be.  I mean, there were all these gases and there was now this spinning of the gases, hmm?, and some kind of coagulation took place and the earth was spun off and so on with the planets--I don't know how the sun got there, but that's there too.  Then, for a long time, there was the earth--not a living thing on it--but a lot of water.  I don't know how that got there either, maybe somebody does. There was a lot of water.  Earth, of course, soil, I mean.  And there must have been a lot of mud.  That's all there was--just  earth, soil, wind, mud.  Anybody think of anything else?


Student: Air.


Bouwsma: Air.  That's right. We have to have air.  Now that's all there was. And then, I don't know, maybe a billion years of wind and mud and air and dirt and so on, and out crawled a little worm.  Hadn't been any worm there before, but then there was a little worm.  And then the wind blew again and it blew for a billion years and out flew a little bird.  Now, no doubt something happened in the interval, between the time when the little worm crept out and the bird flew out.  At least, some people are certain to remind you that something happened to the worm in that interval.  But all there was to make anything happen to the little worm was the wind and the air and the mud and there must have been a lot of splashing around in the mud.  In any case, in some time, out flew the little bird.  And then, of course, the wind began to blow again or was blowing still and this went on for a long, long time, ages, as you know, until--anybody here can, I guess, give you the details of this--there was something like a human being. And now here we are! And let's say we know this history.  What are we but worms that developed?  And now here are the worms talking in this room, hmm? and now, you know the story, you know what happens to human beings, you can read the newspapers to find out--if you want to know what a human being is like. You know that they live for a certain time, they worry, I guess; they want to survive and we are among the fittest.  The fittest--I guess you know that they don't die right away; they die a little later.  And then, there will be other people like us and this will go on and on, until it gets too hot, I guess, or too cold, whatever it is, and then there won't be any of these worms anymore, no human beings, no birds, no worms, back to the mud. Now is this the story of what's going on, of what the hell's going on?

Student: So, are you saying there is no purpose to our existence at all?

Bouwsma: Just the wind blowing; I guess the wind blowing doesn't have any purpose.

Student: But let's say, what about creativity? Is there any purpose in creativity?

Bouwsma:  What about creativity? Well, I suppose that's the wind whistling around the corner. A new corner. This all right?  Now, we have all our problems solved, don't we?  Well, can you fit into this now?  I guess this is a story, this idea of faith and so on. Are we now relieved?  We don't need any of these stories anymore.  We know what's what; we know what to expect; we know what sort of creatures we are, and we needn't hope to be anything different--in a little while, none of us will be here.  Socrates said: "Already the voice of fate calls me.  It will soon call you too." That's it! Is there any way out of this?  Or--Maybe I've given a little picture of the new fate, hmm? It's all in the mud.  Now, does this look hopeless to you?  I mean is this a picture of a kind of, well, a despairing, desperate situation for human beings? Just look what's ahead!

Student: It just looks like a big accident to me.

Bouwsma: A big what?

Student: Accident.

Bouwsma: You mean this with reference to the wind again?  As the wind blows, willy-nilly blowing, millions of bubbles like us--this is Omar Khayyam, by the way. Well now, into this kind of situation you still find the scriptures, hmm, and people going to church.  Don't they know about this?  There are some nice churches along the streets here, I noticed.  United Presbyterian, Newman Chapel, I noticed, and there must be some others--Methodist, Baptists.  I know in Texas there are a lot of Baptists--they must be ignorant people.

Student: What difference does it make whether we were just accidentally evolved from worms and whether there is a God or not--what relationship do these two things have to each other?

Bouwsma: Oh, I didn't say anything about God, I just talked about the wind and the mud.

Student: Well, you're saying these people are ignorant because they go to church and want to believe in God?

Bouwmsa: It looks like it, doesn't it?

Student: Well, I might agree with you, but I still want to know what relevance these two things have to each other. 

Bouwsma: I don't thing you're agreeing with me.  What's that? 

Student: Never mind. 

Bouwmsa:  At any rate, I began this little spiel saying "This we know."  Is that all right?  This we know and if there is to be any talk about God, it isn't coming in as something we know.  There is nothing we know about God, hmm?  There are, as you know, arguments for the existence of God--but, I guess, you're saying, those argument aren't any good.  There aren't any sound arguments whatsoever for the existence of God.  Unless, you want to say, Can you look at a little bird, let's say a cardinal--by the way, do robins come through here? Are they here already?  I thought I saw a robin this morning.  How about cardinals?  Do you have cardinals too?  Too cold for cardinals?  They don't like it here anyway?  Well, there is a bird, the cardinal; it's a red bird, and if you ever see one, you ought to, of course, notice it; it's a flashing beautiful red. It has eyes and it has tiny feet; it's not such a tiny bird, but in relation to feet generally, it has tiny little feet and they're red too.  Now, remember, I said a little while ago, that the wind blew--there had been a worm all this time, perhaps quite a few worms as a matter of fact, good too, because the bird's coming after a while.  There was always "wind blew and there was all the mud"--[snap of fingers] and out flew a bird.  And it had the eyes it now has! Can you imagine the wind making an eye?  Yes?  How else would eyes get to be, except if the wind blew, huh? Of course, it has to blow a long time.  Now, some people think, you see, that if there is a cardinal and it has an eye,--you have an eye too--and you know what a terribly complicated little mechanism the eye is and you have an ear and some people think that the wind couldn't possibly have done this.  They are quite impressed by a little bird.  A flower, of course, is also something quite marvelous when you think of the wind as having brought this about.  A daisy? Daisy? The wind did that?  Some people don't believe it. So, they think there must have been a birdmaker and the wind couldn't have done it and there is a flowermaker too, made daisies. And this is an argument for the existence of God.  God is the birdmaker and the maker of daisies. You were going to say something weren't you?

Student: I think I was going to say what you just said in your last few sentences.

Bouwsma: Oh. quite impressive, isn't it.  I don't mean what I said. I mean, I don't mean my saying it, but what I said is quite impressive. The bird is impressive... Now, I don't know if what I'm going to say is relevant to what you're now saying.  You're saying something like, why haven't we seen the worm at the last stages of wormhood turning into a bird? Well, we didn't live a billion years, I guess. If you could watch the worm for a billion years, then you can see it all happening, happening gradually and then it wouldn't seem so startling.  That's the way the theory of evolution, I guess, is represented, isn't it.  Takes so long.  Is this relevant to what you're saying? 


    Whether one is disposed to accept Bouwsma's account or not, one must, I think, grant it a kind of simple eloquence which is all the more remarkable for being spontaneous.  The discussion that morning was open regarding topics and Bouwsma had no way of knowing what sorts of issues the students and facuty would raise.


    The main event of Bouwma's visit was his presentation of a paper. I did not even inquire about a topic, mainly, because from my point of view, I was certain that whatever he presented would be both instructive and entertaining. By the time it was necessary to print posters and prepare newspaper copy to advertise his visit, it was unnecessary for me to inquire, for Bouwsma had already anticipated the need.  He sent me a short note, part of which reads as follows:

        "You did not ask me what I expect to read but I thought     you might like to know.  I expect to read a paper I have  entitled:  Samuel Johnson and the Stone or  Samuel  Johnson's Refutation of Berkeley. It is not heavy.

        By April 20 you should have  planted your carrots.             Tomatoes you grow in the house.

                                                           Your own


    This paper was, I suspect, one of Bouwsma's favorites.  He presented it in Laramie in 1975, but I know that he had presented it as early as 1960 at a Faculty Round Table at the University of Nebraska. Bouwsma himself never published that paper, but it was published posthumously in a collection of his papers titled:  Toward A New Sensibility, by the University of Nebraska Press, 1982, edited by J.L. Craft and Ronald E. Hustwit. The paper is full of wit and provocative insight and Bouwsma's presentation was always a delightful performance. (I strongly recommend looking it up and reading it.) Before he presented the paper, he sent around a two-page note "describing" the paper.  I wish to include it here, because it gives a very good indication of the kinds of philosophical concerns that Bouwsma had and, as well, it indicates the quickness, the cleverness, and the style of Bouwsma's approach to philosophical questions.



Background remarks for a paper to be read by Professor O.K. Bouwsma at the Faculty Round Table, April 18, 1960

    When William James asked the question: Does consciousness exist? he seems to have gone on to say that it doesn't.  This sounds shocking. What! No consciousness? He might even have gone on to say that there is no sub-consciousness, and what would we do without sub-consciousness? And then, of course, there is unconsciousness. Sticks and stones are unconscious, aren't they? And they never wake up? So perhaps he meant that we are all sticks and stones.  Hume in a similar vein asked: is there a self? and he looked hard wherever it is one looks to find a self and noticed carefully what he did see there, but his self he could not find.  Other men had looked in what you may regard as corresponding places (each self has its own place), and they did find their selves. (Who murdered the English language? "Not I", said the rook.) They reported that nothing was plainer. Hume however said that they were suffering from illusions.  It wasn't really their selves they saw, and nothing which was at all like selves. Berkeley, before Hume, asked himself: Is there matter? and he managed to find out that there was not matter.  It is hard to find this out but with the right sort of patience and ingenuity it can be done.  Of course, Berkeley discovered plenty of consciousness and of self to make up for it.  There have been other philosophers, Hobbes, for instance, who never had to ask: Is there matter? I have an idea he must have known without even looking, by instinct, perhaps, and so well that if anyone had asked him:  Is there matter? he would have said; "Nothing but". And what about consciousness and self? Well, if you mean by consciousness the click or shimmer of atoms (shimmy, if you prefer) well, then, perhaps, there is some and if you mean by the self something like an electric charge, flashes of lightning in the head, Hobbes might have recognized that too.  But obviously James wasn't looking for a shimmer and Hume was not looking for a spark--or were they?  This is by no means the end of it. There are other questions: Are there universals, essences, ideas?  Does God exist? Are there sense-data? and are there other minds? And so to there are always answers.  Plato says: yes, and Aristotle says no and then there is yes, but, and maybe and impossible and we'll see and so on.  And what I have in this fragmentary fashion reminded you of is simple as compared to the overwhelming complexity of philosophical discussion. This roving-eye view of what philosophers have said, unsaid, and gain-said, and again said, I have brought to your attention in order to provide some perspective of the work of Wittgenstein.  The spectacle is nothing new. Kant, in reflecting upon it, called it a scandal.  And he, like so many other philosophers, supposed that if we only had the right method we might then settle all our disputes once and for all. But this only gave rise to new disputes about the method for settling the old disputes.  And this is where Wittgenstein comes in, not, however, as one who introduced a new method of answering all the old questions but as one who introduced a method of regarding all those questions as arising out of certain special forms of confusion.  To see such "questions" in this way is no longer to see them as questions which require answers but as muddles or puzzles, which vanish as one sees through the confusion which gives rise to them. The puzzling aspect arises when we see the meaning of our expressions not as meaning something which they do not mean, which offers little difficulty, but when we see the meaning of an expression as what it means and at the same time as what it cannot mean.  In this predicament, which is natural to all of us, epidemic among all who think, (philosophers specialize in this predicament), one is distressed and does not know which way to turn.  "Does consciousness exist?" Well, 'the patient etherized upon the table' is now stirring and has opened her eyes.  So she is conscious." But does consciousness exist? Are there lizards in Mexico five feet long and are they delicious? Does up-side-down exist?

    I realize that all this requires a five year long explanation.  I have however submitted this as background which "with a little bit of luck" or with a lot bit of luck may prepare anyone who may still be interested for listening to a short paper which I'll read.  The paper might be described as lying on the fringes of what Wittgenstein is doing. The paper is an elaboration of Samuel Johnson's kicking the stone. The elaboration does not consist in my kicking more stones.

    "Words, words, words."


    With an announcement like that, going to hear a paper becomes almost irresistible!  According to some, a special difficulty about dealing with Bouwsma's work is that it is witty, clever, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining. True, some think that some of his essays are more "philosophical " than others, but whenever I hear anyone say that, I suspect that what that person means is simply that more "philosophical" essays are more serious on the surface.  It is extremely important to remember that Bouwsma was not only entertaining, but he was an ironist as well, in the best and most important sense.  This, I think, partly explains his profound attraction to the works of Kierkegaard.  When reading Bouwsma's essays, it is very easy to get caught up in the surface wit and humor and miss the fact that he is making some very important and often complex philosophical points.  Reading Bouwsma is a special kind of challenge.  For example, Bouwsma's wonderful mock-puzzlement over G.E. Moore's instructions for picking out sense-data is much more that just a series of amusing critical jabs.  Bouwsma is there concerned with pointing our a very serious epistemological confusion which Moore and other sense-data theorists swallow whole.  Bouwsma's essays should indeed be read for sheer enjoyment, but they should also be re-read for their splendid, probing philosophical insights.

    Several weeks after his presentation of the Samuel Johnson-Berkeley paper here in Laramie, Bouwsma, always sensitive to the social graces sent me a short note which concluded:

    Thanks again for the good times at Laramie. And greetings from Heidegger.


    In the almost twenty years that I knew Bouwsma, he never let me forget that he remembered our early talks about Heidegger and those reminders serve still to make me struggle to try to remain clear about any philosopher's ideas I am working with and especially those of Heidegger.

    In a very important respect, Bouwsma was a philosopher with a single intent.  He wanted to show people how to discern whether something was sense or nonsense and he never underestimated the difficulty of that enterprise.  He was keenly aware of the intertwining and interminglings of language that could give rise to confusion and a great part of his art as a teacher and thinker was his constant striving to find just the right example or metaphor or parable that would reveal the situation. Finally, anyone who studied seriously with Bouwsma will remember him for his extraordinary ability to provide concise provocative formulations. In the note on Camus' The Fall to which I referred earlier, Bouwsma remarks: I keep on treating Clamence as a human being and I think this is a mistake.  Clamence is an idea that talks." Surely, such a remark opens up a vast territory for investigation. Or in a discussion on censorship, Bouwsma characterized it this way:  "Don't waste your time with such trash.  You can choose more interesting trash than that." Or once he characterized another philosopher in this way:  "His prose style rasps and grates just like his voice."

    For Bouwsma, philosophy was more an art than a methodology and to practice that art one has to refine a wide range of sensibilities to the very best of ones abilities.  In the context of the contemporary university, Bouwsma was a rare being indeed. He hated committees, university politics, and administrative paperwork.  He loved teaching and thinking and writing. He wrote constantly, but published little.  He was a  man with a powerful personality, but one of considerable modesty.  Once I called him on the telephone to ask him about putting together, editing, and publishing a collection of his immense body of reflections and notes and jotting and his reply was: "Oh, nobody's interested in my scribbles."  I, and many others, miss him.