O. K. Bouwsma’s Commonplace Book. Remarks on Philosophy and Education

Author: Bouwsma, O.K.
Craft, J.L.
Hustwit, Ronald
This edition of collected remarks (from the many thousands of pages of notebooks from 1950 to 1978) reflect Bouwsma’s concern with the role of philosophy in education, particularly liberal arts education and the role of reading literature in it. Entries on these and related subjects reflect Bouwsma’s engagement with Wittgenstein – his conversations with him and his reading of Wittegenstein’s philosophy. Over his fifty year teaching career, Bouwsma frequently discussed the value of teaching and studying literature, and kept track of such discussions in his notebooks. His views on this subject were always controversial and guaranteed a lively discussion. The editors have also included some additional general discussions of what a university education is, and some of his commentaries on contemporary society.


"Oets Kolk Bouwsma was, by all accounts, a remarkable teacher. In Bouwsma, what Wittgenstein said and thought was taught. If ever a case could be made for a distinction between 'doing philosophy' and 'teaching philosophy: it could be made with Wittgenstein, the 'doer' and Bouwsma, the 'teacher: But, of course, the distinction is not so simple: for Wittgenstein certainly taught the art of philosophy, and Bouwsma just as certainly practiced it. Of the many so-called 'disciples' of Wittgenstein, Bouwsma was unique. He was not a student in the formal sense, already holding a teaching post at Nebraska when he came into contact with Wittgenstein's work through some of his own students who had gone to Cambridge to study with G. E. Moore and ended up attending Wittgenstein's lec- tures. From Bouwsma's first contact with Wittgenstein's thought, he found an extraordinary affinity with bis own sensibility. Because of his previous immersion in the problems of philosophy, his natural tendency to look for common sense solutions to those problems, and his fine love and command of language, Bouwsma struggled far less than most ofwittgenstein's other students in following his lead. From about his early 40's to the end of his life, Bouwsma studied, practiced, and honed the art of discerning sense and nonsense, incor- cporating the invaluable virtues -so essential for excellent teaching -of wit, patience, and humility. It is these virtues, more than any- thing, that shine through the pages of [this book] ... In tIns volume, editors Ronald E. Hustwit and J. L. Craft -both former students of Bouwsma at Texas -have assembled selected pas- sages from Bouwslna's voluminous notebooks on the topics of the nature and the teaching of philosophy and literature; Wittgenstein and his task and its relation to the subject matter of philosophy; Kierkegaard and his task and its relation to Christianity; and the ends of liberal education. There are also many passages showing Bouwsma's attempts to understand Yorick Smythies' criticism of Wittgenstein. Contrary to so many who claim to have understood Wittgenstein, Bouwsma's understanding of Wittgenstein manifests itself in his doing what Wittgenstein does, rather than in an analysis or a critique of Wittgenstein or his work ... this book reveals to us an individual, a character, a remarkable teacher and thinker. It is full of flavor and wit, struggle and joy, frustration and insight. It is to be enjoyed." - Philosophical Investigations

Table of Contents

Table of contents: About the Author; Preface; Introductory Essay; Commonplace Book; Appendix; “Jack and Jill on a Log” (article by O. K. Bouwsma in 1944 Prairie Schooner); Bibliography; Index