CHAPEL HILL, NC—Ascribing himself to an etiquette of open scholastic dialogue, the man sporting a maroon turtleneck is not about to raise his hand before offering his thoughts in your 20-person philosophy class.
“Um, well I think,” began the warm-necked man, apparently not noticing his classmate who had started to raise her hand, “that we are seeing a difference in definitions of morality. We really must distinguish between categorical and hypothetical imperatives if we hope to appeal to anything beyond sui generis constructs.”
The man let his argument unfold slowly and contemplatively over the next 90 seconds, pausing, at points, to puzzle over interesting questions implied in his discourse and nodding toward your professor each of the many times he mentioned an assigned reading.
As all other students persisted in raising their hands before speaking, the man intermittently looked up from his Moleskine notebook and heavily annotated text to articulate his views without warning several times more. Occasionally, he followed classmates’ comments by trying to engage them in direct dialogue, an effort which was not reciprocated.
Even so, many in the class were impressed, if not also intimidated, by the man whose neck was almost completely covered by a birthday gift from his mother.
“When he jumps right into speaking without raising his hand, you can see he understands the concepts so fully,” said classmate Gill Sanders. “I hope he won’t mind if I ask him to study with me.”
On the tail end of his fourth consecutive response to the professor’s questions, the man quipped that he “knew he was dominating the discussion a little bit” and that he was “interested to hear what the others have to say.”
While each of the next several questions was followed by longer-than-usual silence, the man looked in anticipation at his classmates before pursing his lips and giving a knowing look to the professor.
He then, without raising his hand, said that he would “venture out onto the ice, if need be,” and spoke virtually uninterrupted for the last three minutes of class.
Speaking to reporters afterward, your professor said that he took notice.
“From practically the first day of class, James dispensed entirely with raising his hand,” he said. “It’s clear that he’s here for a serious academic discussion. If only the other students were so mature! Alas, it is as if James and I are engaging in a Socratic tutelage or conversing in a Parisian salon amidst a sea of hand-raising plebeians.”
“Hand raising. What a laugh,” he said. “I never did it myself.”