Zena Hitz

Special guest

I am a Tutor at St. John’s College. My book, Lost In Thought, just appeared from Princeton University Press. (Order here or here.) The book explores the meaning and the value of learning for its own sake, through images and stories of bookworms, philosophers, scientists, and other learners, both fictional and historical. I also give lectures at colleges for the Thomistic Institute, recently on the theme of leisure and its necessity for human beings.

My essays, lectures and podcasts are on the human need to learn for its own sake and what it means for educational institutions to take that need seriously. My scholarly work is on law, virtue, friendship, and human nature in Plato and Aristotle.

I first thought I might want to read, write, and think for a living while writing an essay on Oedipus Rex as a freshman at St. John’s College in Annapolis. After graduating I studied classics and philosophy at Cambridge and the University of Chicago before finishing up my PhD at Princeton. I studied for a time self-knowledge in Plato and Aristotle. Self-knowledge for them is not a matter of awareness of subjective states, but knowledge of human nature and of what it means to be a human being. I wrote my dissertation on the criticisms of democracy in those thinkers, focusing on the conception of democracy as driven by appetite rather than reason.

After finishing my degree I taught philosophy, briefly at McGill University, then at Auburn University and finally for some years at UMBC. I then spent three years living and working in the Madonna House Apostolate before coming back to teach at St. John’s in 2015. I have also taught in prison programs and have a general interest in bringing humanist studies to non-traditional students.

I have been thinking recently about the moral fragility of human beings. We tell stories of the moral decline and fall of individuals and communities: such stories are at least as old as the book of Genesis and as recent as The Godfather. What do such stories mean to communicate? I suspect that they mean to reveal the terrifying passivity of the human mind and heart. It is not obvious what force within us or outside of us could remedy this susceptibility to the outside, nor how, without it, we could change for the better.

Zena Hitz has been a guest on 1 episode.