Many people look back upon the mid-‘50s as being a period that was relatively shallow, a period in which people were so relieved that World War II was over, that we were still cleaning up the rubble and people were ready to have a good time. And in a way that’s true, although I think it’s overstated.  I enjoyed teaching in the ‘50s at Williams because for one thing the students weren’t preoccupied with grades. I felt free to give students Ds and C-minuses and an occasional failure. It didn’t seem to bug them very much. There were good jobs out there and for some of them it was a point of pride, almost, to get low grades but still scrape through and get their diploma. It was certainly a serious faculty and a serious college. But Bob was serious about life. He was serious about the bigger questions in a way that was unusual for the times. That’s why he was kind of an antidote to the shallowness of the culture. And I think that’s why he had such great appeal to Williams students, the more serious students. You know, that was period in which house parties were very big occasions at Williams. I remember how astonished I was when I first came. The Williams Record, the student newspaper, would publish the name of every house party date and which college they came from. And faculty members would sit around and keep score, how many from Wellesley, how many from Smith and so forth, how many from Vassar.  It was such a trivial pursuit. I suspect Bob was rather bemused and even amused by all that, but those were not games that interested him.

I think the bigger questions were the same questions that were big questions for Plato and Socrates. What is justice? What is beauty? What is right? What is wrong? What is the best form of government to insure a just society? What is reality? What is honesty? Is it always an obligation to tell the truth? The questions that occupied Plato, Aristotle, Emmanuel Kant, the really deep, serious philosophers who hadn’t bought into the notion that the trajectory of the human story is straight-line upward, better, better, better. He was a philosopher fundamentally.

John Chandler,
former Williams College president