Paid to think the big thoughts

For over 50 years, Jack MacIntosh has been pondering the greatest questions life has to offer.

A philosophy professor for the University of Calgary, MacIntosh declared that everyone has an innate interest in the field.

“Everyone thinks about philosophical questions all the time,” MacIntosh said while seated in his office, one of the walls completely concealed by shelves of books.

“There’s no way not to get into it. You’re already there.”

MacIntosh said that both teaching and researching are too intertwined in philosophy to prefer one to the other. Philosophy is dialectical, which means philosophers are required to engage in discussions with their students and colleagues in order to develop ideas.

MacIntosh does admit that there is a certain amount of drudgery involved in philosophy. However, like many other enterprises, it is achieving your goal that is most enjoyable.

“I’ve had friends who are mountaineers,” he said.

“I don’t think they enjoy gasping for breath and almost falling, but they enjoy the end result.”

MacIntosh was born at North Bay, Ont. in 1934 and spent most of his childhood in the Maritimes. He then lived in British Columbia between the ages of 12 to 18. He was enrolled in the University of British Columbia for one year before dropping out due to being tired.

“I was never a model student.”

MacIntosh then got on a freighter and made his way to New Zealand. For several years, he did a variety of jobs there, including being a letter carrier and a production manager for a company that made woman’s dresses.

He eventually got a double degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Auckland, the equivalent of a double major. In 1959, he then did a degree at Oxford and taught there afterwards.

MacIntoch then came to the University of Calgary in 1966 as an associate professor and became a professor four years later.

Aveangelian Collings is a student who’s currently only taking one course at the University of Calgary – medieval philosophy that’s taught by MacIntosh. A first-time student of MacIntosh’s, Collings said he is a good lecturer that keeps his pupils following along.

Colling also said he likes philosophy because it’s “broadly applicable.”

“These are the questions most people think about, but you normally don’t get the time to think about it [in depth].”

Mikaela Mackenzie, a philosophy major who has taken three classes with MacIntosh, said that she took the third class solely because he was teaching it.

“He’s impacted my philosophical mind.”

According to Mackenzie, MacIntosh is known to show up out of nowhere and start talking about himself. He is also known for saving elevators and his random stories.

Mackenzie believes MacIntosh’s best quality to be his wit; she describes him as intelligent, well spoken and enthusiastic. She was drawn to philosophy because she found it “fun” and intriguing to read and think about.

Jess Ruffolo, another philosophy major who has taken two classes with MacIntosh, described him as engaging, knowledgeable and entertaining.

The thing Ruffolo most enjoys is how MacIntosh structures the material that he teaches and treats his students as equals.

“It’s like a discussion,” she said.

Although many believe that philosophical questions can’t be answered, MacIntosh is opposed to such thinking. He said that we have definite answers in at least certain formal endeavours.

MacIntosh said some fields, such as mathematics, are not complete, which means one cannot prove every truth in the system. Even then, the fact that you can prove such a thing about mathematics is an interesting and useful result.

While you may not have definite answers to certain questions in areas of philosophy such as ethics and religion, MacIntosh said an obvious progression is apparent.

When looking at novels written several centuries ago, one can see a progression in how they were written. According to MacIntosh, philosophy is similar in that sense.

MacIntosh declares he is interested in all areas of philosophy, but he is mainly interested in the history of philosophy, the history of science and personal identity theory. He has also written a number of books, including some on Robert Boyle, and is currently teaching several courses at the University of Calgary.

MacIntosh wouldn’t describe himself as a bookworm, but he would say he enjoys reading.

For the foreseeable future, MacIntosh plans to write a book called The Arguments of Aquinas, which will be an analysis of the major arguments of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Catholic theologian.

MacIntosh said he wants to work at the university for as long as he can. He also plans to continue being the third-best cook in his household, visit friends in Australia, New Zealand and England, and continue walking his dogs.

“At least the dogs will enjoy that.”

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