In the Fall of 1951, as a first semester sophomore, I took Henry Aiken’s course on Hume’s Treatise at Harvard. The next year, as a first semester senior, I took Clarence Irving Lewis’ course on Epistemology. For my final paper in Lewis’ course, I wrote a slashing attack on Hume, very sharp and, or so I thought, clever. Lewis, then in his final year of a long and enormously distinguished career, wrote a comment on the paper that has stayed with me over the intervening sixty-six years as the defining statement of how one ought to approach the study of the field I had chosen for myself. For a long time, I simply kept the term paper on the last page of which the comment was written, but as the pages darkened and began to crumble, I carefully cut off the comment and placed it gently in an envelope. As I continue the sorting of my papers, I came across the envelope this morning. Here is Lewis’ gentle rebuke, preserved from two thirds of a century ago. In my defense, all I can say is that I was at the time eighteen.
“The points made are individually acute. In this paper, it would be out of place to ask that they should “add up” to something in conclusion. However, I should hope that the general character of the paper – which is in no way a shortcoming in this case – is not a symptom of that type of mind, in philosophy, which can find the objection to everything but advance the solution of nothing.”
Today, when I am fifteen years older than he was then, I can only hope that my life has to some degree been a fulfilment of Lewis’ hope for me.