September 26, 2011 6:30 AM Subscribe
Chris Phillips used to be a journalist and photographer, a public school teacher, and a college instructor with three master’s degrees. Today, at forty, he’s underemployed, deeply in debt, and completely ecstatic about how his life has turned out. While studying for a master of arts in teaching at Montclair State University in 1996, Phillips chanced to pick up
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Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, the seminal collection of existentialist and proto-existentialist texts that Walter Kaufmann compiled in 1956 as a means of preparing humankind for a genuinely philosophical form of life. Something Phillips read in Kaufmann’s introduction to the book soon sent him rocketing across America, visiting jails, hospices, nursing homes, and other public venues — all on his own dime. “I didn’t have any master plan when I started doing this,” he told me recently. (I’d tracked him down in Baltimore, though he lives now in Scottsdale, Arizona.) “I just had this little idea: Let’s give philosophy back to the people.”
This essay is more than a decade old; Phillips
is in his early fifties now.