Dean Pickard, PhD

Dean Pickard

Title: (Retired) Philosophy and Humanities Educator
Company: Santa Monica College
Location: Venice, California, United States

Dean Pickard, Retired Philosophy and Humanities Educator, has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Educators for dedication, achievements, and leadership in the field of higher education.

When asked “What factors or attributes do you feel have played a role in your success,” Dr. Pickard answered “I have a multifaceted personality and diverse abilities and interests. I was a top athlete when young, physically disciplined, curious, and sensitive. I inwardly questioned authority but felt the need to work hard to carry out fair criticism of other points of view.” Dr. Pickard says the combination of these traits and abilities and his parents’ influence led him to pursue learning. His mother hailed from New Zealand and was artistic and well-read despite having little schooling. His American father, who grew up in the Great Depression, also initially had little schooling, but high intelligence. After serving in the U.S. Marines from 1939 to 1952, his father earned a high school equivalency certificate to enter university and then completed a bachelor’s degree and some work toward a master’s before being called back into service during the Korean War. Dr. Pickard attended six different high schools, all in different states and briefly, one in New Zealand. He had no siblings and each new school was a change of environment which taught him how to adapt and gave him a considerable advantage in developing a broader perspective. Before becoming a serious university student, Dr. Pickard was professional guitarist. After starting his university studies, he supported himself and his family this way until his achievements in university brought him full financial support from scholarships, fellowships, and grants.

In 1973, Dr. Pickard earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, history and psychology, cum laude, from the University of California Riverside. He continued his studies, earning a Master of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Long Beach, in 1977, and then completed coursework at a variety of foreign and domestic universities and institutes in graduate psychology, Asian Studies, French and German. In 1992, he earned a PhD in philosophy from Claremont Graduate University. As a professional educator, Dr. Pickard worked as an instructor of physical education teaching martial arts at the Claremont Colleges from 1975 to 1984. He taught philosophy, physical education, and humanities for Moorpark College and Ventura College from 1978 to 1982. In 1979, he became an associate professor at Los Angeles Mission College, and from 1983, he was a full professor at Los Angeles Pierce College for 22 years. Dr. Pickard was also an adjunct professor of philosophy at California State University, Northridge from 1988 to 1999 and 2009. After retiring from full-time teaching, Dr. Pickard ran Pickard Investments from 2005 to 2013 and also taught part-time at Santa Monica College from 2006 to 2011, returning for a semester in 2016 after retiring from his investment business.

Dr. Pickard believes teaching is a calling that arises from passion for learning and for sharing this with others. Only a teacher who is caught in this throe of wonder can provide the best environment for students. This can more readily elicit their own passion for discovery, wisdom, and self-overcoming. Dr. Pickard saw students as “fellow travelers” faced with the same basic challenges and rewards of life. He was thrilled to share with them the best insights the humanities and sciences can provide as well as what his own diverse and practical experience had given him. Modern institutions of education are based on a corporate business model. So it essential that individual teachers breath powerful life into that structure. The word education, comes from Latin “educare,” and literally means to educe or bring forth. In Goethe’s and Humboldt’s sense of Bildung or “formation of self” it means the process of enquiry, discovery, and self-overcoming in which the critical, creative, and affective potential of human beings is brought forth. It is a “spiritual” development of the whole person, not merely an intellectual process or preparation for a profession. Dr. Pickard would like to be remembered by his students as a turning point in their lives or a great enhancement of the path they were already on, and that he, in the most deeply human sense of education, elicited in them a sense of wonder and facilitated their Bildungs-process.

During his career, Dr. Pickard was selected for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, a Liberty Fund grant and was selected five times for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. He published a variety of books, articles and reviews and gave public presentations at universities abroad and in the U.S. and in public forums, such as radio talk shows. He served as a member on many academic committees and councils and was director of the Pacific Cultural Arts Foundation from 2006 to 2008 which sponsored and hosted presentations at various venues such as the UCLA Philosophy Department. Dr. Pickard has been a long-time member of the American Philosophical Association and the North American Nietzsche Society. As a testament to his success and esteem, Dr. Pickard has been featured in multiple editions of Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in the West, and Who’s Who in America.

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Dr. Pickard’s Comments on Philosophy: 

“Philosophy is concerned with the most basic questions about meaning and intelligibility.  All philosophical questioning about reality, knowledge, truth, morality, politics, law, art, religion, science, etc. are species of this questioning.  Philosophy is the attempt to understand ourselves and what we call the world which leads at its deepest level to the attempt to understand understanding itself, that is, the very interpretive limits and means by which intelligibility is possible.  Philosophy involves very careful and rigorous questioning of our most basic assumptions and cherished beliefs, even about reason and the process of questioning itself.

“In Western philosophy there are two interrelated traditions that stem from Pre-Socratic philosophy, and especially from Socrates: One is philosophy as a kind of “theoretical enterprise” where we seek understanding for its own sake.  This is similar to the sciences.   It asks “What is there?” and “How do we know it?”  The other tradition is philosophy as a “spiritual practice” where the insights that result from the highly rigorous questioning in philosophy are brought to bear on our daily activities and our overall attitude toward things.  “Spiritual” here does not mean religious in the usual sense.  The aim is similar: to live a better human life, not merely achieve a better understanding of things.  But religion usually involves a dogma, required beliefs.  Philosophy is not dogmatic.  Insofar as it is, it is not philosophy.  To truly be a philosopher is to be prepared to move beyond any view you hold toward further insight and be as aware as possible of your presuppositions and prejudices.  Whereas the practical or spiritual approach to philosophy tended to dominate in Greek and Roman philosophy from Socrates to the Stoics and tends to dominate in Eastern or Asian philosophy, theoretical philosophy came to dominate in the modern period in the West from the time of Bacon and Descartes through contemporary AngloAmerican analytic philosophy.  But the other approach has been powerfully continued in thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and to some extent in American Pragmatism, philosophical hermeneutics and phenomenology.

“The goal of living a better human life is reflected in Socrates famous remark “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  This is essentially the same message of the Buddha about living a wakeful life.   Socrates’ method was a careful examination of our actions and beliefs to promote a more virtuous life.  The Buddha used careful description of immediate awareness to reveal the basic features of experience to free us from habits of mind that lead to suffering and unethical action.

“There is a collection of the teachings of Jesus called “The Gospel of Thomas” that was not included in the New Testament when it was canonized in the 3rd and 4th centuries because it does not mention the central tenants of what became Christian dogma: crucifixion, resurrection, divinity of Jesus, and the  immanent end of the world and second coming.  It is a book of wisdom about the human condition and the possible emancipation open to all people.  Like the questioning of Socrates and the teachings of the Buddha, the book engenders ‘wakefulness.’

“Regardless of our various beliefs and commitments, at the core of being human is vulnerability, finitude, and the fact that things matter to us.  Without this core condition, ethics would not be an issue, nor would our theoretical curiosity and wonder.  All human striving to understand arises from this core.  The fundamental task of every human being beyond mere survival, security, and comfort is this self-transparency or self-understanding.  The reflexive and ironic position we are in is that we must use the very limits of meaningfulness that make possible our language, culture, and personal history to finally become aware of these limits as enabling horizons of meaningfulness but also inescapable conditions of finitude.  We are limited and fallible and experience intelligibility only from this standpoint.  “Truth” is always perspectival.  So any absolutism is a sign of hubris.  But the embracing of relativism, the idea that all points of view are equally good or justified, is also absurd and not supportable by philosophical reason or common sense.

“We are always faced with the challenge of how to live a genuine and meaningful life in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.  The greatest thinkers and teachers from Zhuangzi, Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus to Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche never lost sight of this.  There is a strong attraction to the illusion of certainty in some form or other.  Ironically, this cuts us off from our spiritual core, cuts us off from the sacred, which is not a truth, but that deep vulnerability out of which all meaning arises.  The word Islam means to surrender or submit.  To move toward the sacred is to completely open yourself, to completely empty out, to leave behind all “truths.”  There is an old Christian mystic saying that you must empty out before God can come in.  In Zen Buddhism there is the saying that one must “empty one’s cup” before real spiritual growth can take place.  Socratic humility: you must first recognize your own ignorance before you can move toward wisdom.  Wisdom is not knowledge.  The word means “to see,” or “to see into,” or “to have insight into.”  That self-transparency and self-understanding is the human task.  Your presuppositions, beliefs, and prejudices are what make it possible for you to engage in a meaningful life.  Yet these are the very limits that must finally be confronted and overcome.  Philosophy pursues this attempting always to take these limits into account.  It is the ultimate risk to question your most cherished beliefs but it is the only path to living an emancipated life, as we see in the models of Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, and others, who confronted and transformed the status quo in themselves and in the world around them.  This gave them a freedom and an integrity that we find astonishing.  But they are models of what is possible for us all.”

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