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The Philosophy of Dylan

The Philosophy of Dylan
Greg Schaber

The times may indeed be a-changin’, but Bob Dylan’s poetry resonates with today’s college students just as it did with their parents. Just ask Daniel Dwyer. An assistant professor of philosophy at the University, Dwyer uses Dylan’s lyrics as brainstorming prompts in his ethics and theories of knowledge classes. It’s a practice he began using during his four years teaching at Boston College and continued when he came to the University this past fall.

Dwyer says the songs, which he uses judiciously, are a great way to get students excited about the class. But more than that, recent years have seen an increasing scholarly interest in Dylan’s writing, making his work all the more appropriate for use in the classroom. Dwyer points out that while Dylan initially gained fame as a protest singer, his work in the mid-1960s began to take on an introspective, philosophical quality—a quality that has remained the primary theme of his writing.

“His songs seem to speak to the desire to know oneself and to rip the mask off of our own self-deception,” Dwyer says, “even though he, with his fame and with his songs, also wears masks. But his poetry speaks to people at the level where he takes off the mask, where he does reveal something of the poet and the philosopher.”

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