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Philosophy 101

Nicholas Schroeder is a philosopher, living in New Orleans, who enjoys writing flash fiction with a philosophical bent.

Charles was a philosophy professor at a small liberal arts college. He prepped for the afternoon lecture on the problem of evil. This was always a fun topic, especially considering that he was an atheist. "Now why is there evil in the world, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good?"
Brandon jumped in, "If I understand correctly evil exists because of human free will, not God?"
Rachel raised her hand fervently.
"Go Rachel."
"What about the evil that God causes directly, you know hell is a pretty evil place, and He sends people there--I mean half the world, right?"
Charles nodded his head in approval, "Good. Why would a good god send people to hell?"
A girl in the back of the class raised her hand. He had never noticed her before. "I'm sorry, I must have forgotten your name."
The girl responded nervously, "It's okay, professor. It's Erica."
"Oh okay, shoot!"
Erica looked at her notes. "Well, I think, why couldn't God give us more than one chance. Even if we're bad, it seems God should do everything he can to give even those that lost our way--even the worst of us--with a redo. If only things could have happened a little differently, we could have been saved."
There was something about this girl that made Charles think about his younger sister. She had tragically died from a drug overdose in her early twenties. He hadn't thought about her in years, but this girl triggered something. She looked nothing like her, but the way she talked, her mannerisms, the way she looked at him was haunting.
"Excellent comments today, class. I'm going to make philosophers out of you yet." Charles packed his briefcase. "Class dismissed."
The topic today was personhood. The class was energetic and ready to go. "What are you? What makes you you? Is it your body, your brain, your consciousness, your memories, your mind, your soul?"
"Well, I think it's your soul that makes you you," Chase replied.
Linda joined in, "But what if your soul can't remember anything? Surely your memories matter, too."
"If you forget, do you cease being you?" Chris asked.
"Well, it depends on how much your soul can't remember; let's say you can't remember the last few months or years, it's still you," Laura said.
As Charles tracked the discussion, it appeared as if light was being emitted from the students, each with a halo above them. Surely I'm seeing things. "Great job, guys! Class dismissed."
The topic was freewill. A third of the class was missing. "Are we free?"
"Well, it depends," John said. "If I'm brought up to be a criminal, it's hard not to be."
"But some people escape their upbringing," Chris replied.
"Good, are we determined?"
"In some ways yes, in other ways no," John said. "My causal history results in me wanting to be in this class, but if I really want to, I can leave, go home, at any time."
"Yes! to be free is to be an unmoved mover, to somehow escape the causal history of the world."
"Hey is that Aristotle?" Linda chimed in.
"Yep. Nice catch," Charles retorted.
After class John and Chris stopped to talk to Charles. "I'm really thankful for this class. It's opening up my mind," John said.
"No problem, John."
"Yes, I never thought that I was truly free to leave. It's liberating," Chris said.
"Glad I could help."
Chris closed the door behind him, "Bye Charlie."
It was odd that his student would call him that; he hadn't been called that name since he was a teenager. I forgot to dismiss class. "Class dismissed," Charles said out loud to the empty room.
Charles was running late. In fact, he couldn't remember why he was late or how he got there. He put his briefcase on the desk. "Sorry I'm late." Half the class was empty. "Um, so yeah, let's talk about ethics. Are people good?"
"Good like a priest or good like Robin Hood?" Kyra exclaimed. Kyra reminded Charles of a girlfriend he had in his twenties, not in looks, but spunk.
"Excellent question. Is there a necessary connection between goodness and legality, or even cherished prohibitions against lying, stealing, harming--"
"Of course not!" Jack blurted out.
Jack had an uncanny resemblance to a best friend that Charles had in college. It got him thinking, and he started blabbering. "You know, I had a friend, who tiptoed the line of evil; he was a liar, and hustler, and player--thief even--but he was the best guy I ever met." Charles scratched his head. "Sorry, that was inappropriate. Shouldn't be talking about my personal life."
Jack hit his desk, "Sounds like my kind of guy!"
After recovering from the gaffe, the class went on. Charles was at ease. It reminded him of old times. "Class dismi--"
"Wait. I have one more question." It was Erica in the back. "If you're bad, I mean truly bad, can you become good?"
"That's a good question." Charles made a note. "We can talk about it next time if you like."
Charles packed his briefcase. It felt like ages since he left the classroom. He figured he would walk to the sandwich shop right outside of campus. When he approached the edge of campus all he could see was a blinding white light.
Charles unpacked his briefcase and sat down. "Let's review for the final exam." He looked around. There was only one student left in class. "I hope the other students show up for the final."
"I think they're ready," Erica said.
"Yeah, me too," Charles boasted.
"Charlie, where do you think we are?"
"You know you remind me of my sister. She always wanted to go to college."
Erica smiled, "This is heaven for you, huh?"
"Can't imagine doing anything else. Oh, just so you know, I'm teaching a brand-new class next semester."
Erica smiled, "I'll be there, professor."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 30th, 2021

Author Comments

I wanted to create a story with a Twilight Zone-esque feel involving a philosophy class. What type of afterlife would a philosopher have? Maybe teaching philosophy forever--it's not as bad as you think. And what if the people who loved him came to visit and sit in on one of his classes. What would that look like? The biggest challenge for me was trying to maintain ambiguity regarding whether Charles' existence is to be pitied or praised.

- Nicholas Schroeder
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