Fred’s philosophy studied in professor’s book

By John Rogan

Professors Eric and Holly Mohr's recent book. (Source: Amazon)

Dr. Eric Mohr, assistant professor of philosophy, celebrated the launch of his book Mister Rogers and Philosophy: Wondering through the Neighborhood on Oct. 15. The completed book is a collection of essays composed by various philosophers on the philosophical qualities of Fred Rogers’ work. In conjunction with the release, Mohr held a panel with several other professors on Oct. 22 to discuss both the book and Fred Rogers.

Mohr stated that a study of Rogers’ work wasn’t mandatory for philosophers.

“[However,] a philosopher could look at his work and find a very thoughtfully

articulated approach, not just to education, but to questions of philosophical significance,” he said.

Mohr explores how Rogers’ life brought innovation to philosophy in his chapter titled “A Party to Celebrate the Personal,” which discusses the implications of Rogers's core message that all people are special.

“I take this further and ask, ‘what is it about us that makes us special?’” Mohr stated. “I suggest that it's our own particular value-orientation to the world, expressed through our loves and hates, that is our most personal dimension.”

Additionally, he sees philosophical significance in Rogers’ approach to education: “to inspire learning through wonder, which, is the beginning of philosophy.”

Mohr said he and his wife, Holly Mohr, who was co-editor of the book, were initially inspired by exploring why Rogers’ work was so resonant, and finding various philosophical connections.

The book includes chapters about: Rogers’ view on education; feelings and how to manage them; art, aesthetics, and the philosophy of puppets; specialness; and social matters, such as Rogers’ lesson for democracy and “what Rogers would say about recent [US] policy on immigration and the splitting up of families,” Mohr said.

“Rogers embodies, in every episode, what Martin Buber calls the ‘I-Thou relation,’ which does not look at someone as a thing for the sake of one's own ends, but with the respect of another subject.” - Eric Mohr

Mohr is particularly proud of his chapter “Philosophy for Children,” in which he discovered that Rogers’ approach to education “is similar to a technique of teaching philosophy to children.”

In addition, he explores a connection between play and reality in pragmatist philosophy which relates to Rogers.

“There's a few chapters on how the philosophical significance of puppets and the way they break down anthropocentric stereotypes and speaking of personhood beyond the human realm. And finally, there's a chapter on how Rogers embodies, in every episode, what Martin Buber calls the ‘I-Thou relation,’ which does not look at someone as a thing for the sake of one's own ends, but with the respect of another subject.”

"There's a few chapters on how the philosophical significance of puppets and the way they break down anthropocentric stereotypes and speaking of personhood beyond the human realm," said Mohr. (Source: Fred Rogers Productions)

Mohr stated that writing a book, especially one that is attempting to reach the same kind of audience that he teaches, constantly makes him think of how he can convey academic ideas to non-academics, and philosophical ideas to non-philosophers.

“As editors, Holly and I had to keep this in mind in every page we read,” he said.

The writing affected his teaching in a number of ways, Mohr said, such as referring more to Rogers and “even showing some episodes in classes to demonstrate philosophical points.”

Mister Rogers and Philosophy: Wondering through the Neighborhood is available for purchase from Target, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and the Saint Vincent College Bookstore.

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