C.H. Kenneth Knisely, 48, a philosopher, taxi driver, teacher and producer of the award-winning cable-access television talk show "No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed," died of a heart attack Sept. 25 after surgery at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.
Mr. Knisely, clad in a green mechanic's jumpsuit and fashioning himself as a modern-day Diogenes, sought truth from callers to his homegrown philosophical forum. His 15 years of shows, which aired on scores of stations in the United States, Canada and 25 other countries, tackled topics ranging from St. Augustine's theory of a just war to the philosophy of sports.
Mr. Knisely found an audience for lively discussions on the nature of reality, the joy of logic, the limits of tolerance and much more. A stocky, bushy-haired, bearded and energetic guide, he explained Plato's famous lesson on reality and illusion by donning chains and rags in a West Virginia cavern, making shadows on the walls and roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
He conversed with a prerecorded version of himself to illustrate the nature of time. His show's "commercial" breaks included a referee, who whistled down logical fallacies in arguments, and an unshaven friend who suggested, in a spoof ad for the American Nihilism Association, "Why not just accept the fact that everything you will ever do won't make a bit of difference in the long run?"
Mr. Knisely's own reality was that for years he made a living as a Yellow Cab driver, and his shows often started with him cruising Washington and Arlington streets, chatting with fares.
"One of my favorite metaphors for philosophy is the cab," he told Philosophy Now magazine this year. "It's something real. You can make money along the way, and hopefully as a philosopher you grow in wisdom. It takes you on a different path every night. You can miss your turnoff and wind up in a completely different country."
When he started producing the show in 1987 in Richmond, it was distinctly low-budget. Even after he moved to the Washington area in 1990, a Washington Post magazine article noted that the banging and rattling of the studio's hot-water pipes were audible during the show. When a call came in, someone off-camera would yell, "We've got a call!"
The production values improved. The show, which had 119 episodes, is one of the most-honored local access cable programs in the country. It won eight first-place awards in the Hometown USA Video Festivals; it was nominated in 1993 for a Cable Ace Award; and videotapes of the shows are used by 270 universities around the world.
Mr. Knisely was born in North Plainfield, N.J., and graduated from Georgetown University. He then taught high school philosophy classes in Richmond, where he found students immersed in an MTV and video-saturated culture. To compete for their attention, he videotaped them acting Plato's dialogues.
He took up residence in a 45-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide milk bottle, left behind at a derelict dairy that was being used as an artists' cooperative.
Mr. Knisely's work, created in studios in Richmond and in Arlington and other Northern Virginia locations, was sent out on cable access channels, public television airwaves, educational distribution networks and via satellite in hotels, "providing needed relief from Peach Bowl coverage and soft-porn offerings," he once said.
The Washington City Paper in 1991 called him a "Soundbite Socrates," but his sense of humor led him to identify more with Diogenes, the "smartass" philosopher who would ask philosophical questions of random citizens.
Mr. Knisely returned to the classroom in 1995, teaching philosophy to high-schoolers at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington.
His two children, Erik and Kirsten, were not immune from his philosophical inquiry, said his wife of 10 years, Leslie Lagomarcino of Arlington, and they sometimes made appearances on his show. He also was survived by his father, Charles Kenneth Knisely of Vero Beach, Fla., and a brother.
Greg Kitsock, who wrote the magazine and City Paper articles about his old college friend, said Mr. Knisely wanted to provoke "a worldwide conversation" too often abandoned in the halls of academia.
To that end, his Web site prominently displays a quote from Socrates: "You are a citizen of a great and powerful nation. Are you not ashamed that you give so much time to the pursuit of money, and reputation, and honors, and care so little for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your soul?"