Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017



    During construction of Emerson Hall at Harvard University, President Charles Eliot invited psychologist and philosopher William James to suggest a suitable inscription to be placed over the front door of the new home of the philosophy department.  After some reflection, James sent Eliot a line from the Greek philosopher Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.”


    James never heard back from Eliot, so his curiosity was aroused.  After the building was completed, he stopped by to have a look.  The inscription above the door was a biblical quotation: “What is man that thou art mindful of him” (Psalm 8:4).


    Eliot had selected a quotation from the ancient psalmist rather than the one from the ancient philosopher.  There is great distance between these two lines; it’s the distance between the God-centered and the human-centered points of view.


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