The Philosophical Addiction of Professor Robert H. Thompson
When looking at Robert H. Thompson for the first time you will see a studious individual wearing a mustache that curls upward at both ends and a pair of round spectacles. He resembles something from a seventh grade history textbook.
Thompson does not consider himself a philosopher, but many people know him as “Professor Robert Thompson: philosophy instructor.”
Before Thompson began studying philosophy, he was a welder. He received a $10,000 grant at 18 years old for welding, and chose to pursue the skill. Thompson remarks, “I was an A-rate welder in the union, made tons of money, and had my own place… I couldn’t get fired as long as I showed up and didn’t hit anybody, but…it was work, it wasn’t life.”
Thompson describes his experience as a welder as an epiphany to further his education and change his career. Thompson was inspired by Pennsylvania State University, and decided to enroll. He had no idea what he wanted to do, he just knew that he needed to change his life, and he knew Penn State could help him achieve that.
At Penn State University, Thompson sat in an Introduction to Humanities class. The instructor approached him and lent him a book called The Iliad, by Homer. “It was the first book I ever sat down and read,” Thompson said.
Thompson was intrigued by The Iliad and wanted to decipher every piece of knowledge Homer had to offer. Thompson began to wonder, “How can these guys know so much?” It was the beginning of Thompson’s journey where he wanted to make every book count; to read it and be able to understand it completely. “I was going to understand that author in and out, up and down, so that when I put it down, I could say yeah, I got something out of that,” Thompson said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University, Thompson proceeded to West Chester University where he obtained his master’s degree (ABD), and then went on to Temple University where he received his Ph.D. Thompson admits that his first thoughts about a new career were not even philosophy. “Yeah it’s a weird thing I really didn’t even choose it…as I went down different majors, philosophy just fell into my lap.”
Thompson’s life changed a lot over the years, from failed relationships to losing and gaining houses, but philosophy always remained a constant. “Philosophy was my go-to drug. It was my go-to self-edification…no matter how things got in my life, I always had the class and the students,” Thompson said.
Many students are struggling to figure out which career path to go down. For Thompson, he pretended money did not exist, while he figured it all out. “I tell students all the time, focus on what you love and the money comes…I’ve never been without money or a job.” Thompson said.
Thompson is now forty-six and teaching philosophy to community college students in Pennsylvania. “Why would somebody want to take a class in philosophy with somebody like me? So that they could maybe for once in their life sit down and read what some people took a lot of time to write,” Thompson said.
What Thompson likes most about his job is how students respond to his lectures. “I like to hear what students have to say about the thinkers we read…these guys are going to be raising kids in a world that my son’s going to live in,” he said. Thompson keeps his ten year old son, Maximus, at the forefront of his mind while he is teaching. “I found a medium where when I’m not with my son, I’m actually helping my son by helping other people think about things,” Thomas remarks.
Thompson’s love for philosophy and his son has inspired many, including the author of this article, and the encounter with this unique individual will always remain memorable. Thompson is currently representing the world’s greatest philosophers to many students at both Northampton and Montgomery County Community Colleges.