Dr. William Charron has spent 45 years teaching Philosophy at Saint Louis University. With topics ranging from Ethics to Modern Philosophy, he has imparted wisdom to students through his unique perspectives and sense of humor. On April 11, he gave a lecture titled “In My Beginning is My End” as part of the Last Lecture Series.
Charron detailed the development of his philosophical nature, which would turn out to be his calling. Charron was often ill as a child, and he said that because of his illnesses, he had a lot of time to think about philosophical questions while he recovered in bed.
“I would lay there in bed and look at the bedpost down there and my foot would hurt, but the bedpost wouldn’t. I thought ‘Why doesn’t the bedpost hurt, why my foot?’,” Charron said.
Charron would also suffer fevers and hallucinations as a child, which played a role in his philosophical mindset.
“When my mom walked into the room I would hallucinate and her face would distort. I got into the problem of perception–which one of these will I call real, and do we really perceive what is real and under what conditions,” Charron said. “Time became an issue too—the past is gone, the future isn’t here, it’s just the now. Then you get thinking, what is the now? Next you get thinking, ‘Gosh, there is no time.’ Then I learned you don’t talk to people about these stories.”
Charron said his father pressured him to figure out a career, but he remained undecided until his junior year of high school when he discovered Greek philosophers.
“I saw the questions they were asking and said, ‘Those are my questions!’ I had found my beloved,” Charron said. “I ran home and told my father that I wanted to be a philosopher. My father told me that there was no such thing anymore.”
Charron attended Benedictine College where he majored in Philosophy and also minored in Economics to, as he said, “throw [my father] off the scent”. He applied to law schools and graduate schools, but also considered becoming a Navy pilot. The Navy didn’t have any pilot openings at the time, leading Charron to attend the University of Detroit for his master’s degree in Philosophy. After completing his master’s degree, he attended Marquette University and received his doctorate in Philosophy.
After receiving his doctorate, Charron was looking for a professorship. He said that the relationships between the board members of Jesuit philosophy departments gave him an opportunity to teach at SLU. According to Charron, his doctorate thesis was on the esoteric ‘mind-body problem’. Ironically, SLU asked him to teach Modern Philosophy.
Charron’s lecture focused on his philosophical reflections of tradition. Inspired by the works T.S. Eliot, someone he said he admires, he recorded nine of his thoughts on tradition and its impact on existence. He asserted that cultural tradition plays a prominent role in shaping human thoughts and feelings, and that tradition requires effort to perpetuate.
“To think of an individual with no profound cultural tradition shaping one’s feelings, thoughts, and manner of meeting the world is to think of a vacuous placeholder, a ‘hollow man’,” Charron said. “The thinner the cultural tradition imbibed by an individual, the closer to mere animal agitation is one’s emotional life, one’s thoughts, and one’s conduct.
Aside from dedicating 45 years to SLU, Charron has served as the editor of The Modern Schoolman, a prominent quarterly journal of Philosophy, and has contributed to the study of subjects such as game theory and international and political philosophy.
At the end of the ceremony, Charron was given a plaque commemorating the evening by sophomore Ben Conover.
“A plaque doesn’t do justice at all to the contribution he has made to the community, to the impact he has had on his students, and the legacy he will leave behind when he leaves us,” Conover said.