2018 Newsletter

Welcome from the Chair

Welcome to the Miami University Philosophy Department annual newsletter. I’m writing this having just finished my last class of the fall semester, a seminar on the French philosopher Michel Foucault. The course concluded with an invigorating discussion of the relations between philosophy, pedagogy, and parrhesia, a Greek term that literally means “to say everything.”

This can have a pejorative meaning (as when one says just anything and everything that comes to mind), but Foucault also attends to its positive meaning—to speak truthfully, frankly, sincerely, and courageously. Parrhesia, as Foucault elaborates the term, is what he calls a “philosophical ethos,” and it is directly related to both the Socratic practice of caring for the self and the Kantian legacy of the Enlightenment which underlies the fundamental mission of the Philosophy Department: to promote the courage to use one’s own understanding.

Foucault writes of this work of thought that it is a practice of freedom and that it involves taking a “step back” to “think what we are doing.” As we end the semester and anticipate a new year, it is a good time for us, as philosophers, to take a step back and experiment with what we can think and do.

We’ve had another successful and promising year, and a year full of change. Bill McKenna retired (though he will still be teaching in the department on occasion). We also completed a search for a new colleague in Ethics and are happy to have Facundo Alonso joining us on the faculty.

We had an exciting array of colloquium speakers visit us, including Daniel Selcer, Francisco Gonzalez, Lynne Huffer who gave the annual Harris Lecture, and Alia Al-Saji who gave the annual Singer Lecture. The department is committed to our strong undergraduate program, and we are offering students more sustained advising, career planning, increased focus on undergraduate research, and a revitalized philosophy club.

We’d love to know what our former students are up to. We look forward to hearing from you and hearing about you. We invite you to check out our website and Facebook page, and we also welcome your feedback, questions, and suggestions.

Emily Zakin

Philosophy and the Altman Program

In the 2016–17 academic year, the Humanities Center Altman Program theme is “Medicine and the Humanities,” and Philosophy Department faculty member Emily Zakin is participating as a faculty scholar. Faculty and student participants work together in an interdisciplinary community that includes lectures, seminars, and classes.

This year’s focus on the intersection of medicine and the humanities opens a number of avenues for discussion, including:

  • How we can understand the development and transformation of medical perception?
  • What counts as medical knowledge?
  • Who has the epistemic standing to speak and be heard?
  • How is health figured within and by social and civic institutions?
  • What is the meaning and value of health and well-being (individually and collectively)?
  • How can humanistic insight inform the medical perception of bodies, aging, and death?

Professor Zakin’s interest in “Medicine and the Humanities” emerges from her interests in Freud, psychoanalysis more generally, and the work of Foucault. In particular, she is interested in questions concerning the limits and conditions of medical knowledge and the emergence of diagnostic categories to capture ideas of mental health and illness. Freud defines hysteria as the body’s suffering from representations. Foucault investigates madness not as an “immutable identity” but as something that emerges as a problem for knowledge and becomes integral to the development of medical consciousness and scientific rationality. But in different ways, both authors cast doubt upon our current technocratic temperaments—our tendency to diagnose and remedy problems of political and educational institutions or to discipline them by using data-driven means of assessment that are suspect but go largely unquestioned.

Professor Zakin has particularly enjoyed being part of an interdisciplinary collaboration and interacting with her colleagues across the university as scholars. She has also appreciated finding numerous connections between the graduate course on Foucault she taught in the fall and the seminar themes. Her own Altman research project looks at the relationship between norms, normativity and nature and the confusion of social norms with normative values.

Altman Program events for the rest of the year include:

George Packer: History, Literature, and the American Promise
Thursday, February 16, 7 pm
Wilkes Theater, Armstrong Student Center

Judith Farquhar: Medicine, Culture, and Modern China
Monday, February 27, 4 pm
Heritage Room, Shriver Center

Arthur W. Frank: The Two Solitudes of Doctors’ and Patients’ Stories
Thursday, March 9, 7 pm
John E. Dolibois Room, Shriver Center

Philip van der Eijk: Health Responsibility, and Lifestyle in Ancient Medical and Philosophical Thought
Thursday, April 6, 4 pm
John E. Dolibois Room, Shriver Center

2016 Altman Symposium
Thursday, April 20–Friday, April 21
Location TBA

Welcome Dr. Facundo Alonso

Dr. Facundo Alonso

This semester the philosophy department welcomes a new Assistant Professor, Dr. Facundo Alonso, to the Miami University faculty. With an impressive resume and a drive to help young adults learn, Dr. Alonso is already a great asset to the department.

Dr. Alonso’s undergraduate career began at the University of Buenos Aires where he received Bachelor degrees in Political Science and in Economics. In the course of studying political and economic theory, Dr. Alonso found that he wanted to devote his life to answering foundational questions. This is what pushed him to realize his true passion: philosophy.

Since he was already so far along in his two bachelor degrees, Dr. Alonso decided to wait to attain a philosophy degree until attending the University of London for his Master’s Degree. After finishing his degree in London, Dr.Alonso traveled to the United States, completing his PhD in Philosophy at Stanford University.

Since graduating, Dr. Alonso has taught students in philosophy classrooms throughout the United States including Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of San Francisco. He has also taught in the Yale Law School. Although he has taught at many universities throughout his career, Dr. Alonso is excited to start a new adventure teaching philosophy at Miami in Oxford.

Dr. Alonso believes exposure to philosophy is beneficial for all students. “Philosophy,” he says, “is thinking really hard about the foundation of things, why things are the way they are and whether we have reason to change them.” But philosophy is also great preparation for professional careers. So Dr. Alonso isn’t surprised he has students from all disciplines and majors.

In the fall semester, Dr. Alonso taught two classes: Introduction to Ethics and Ethical Theory. He is currently teaching a graduate seminar on the Philosophy of Action. His teaching style is a mix between lecture and discussion. The lecture is important because students need to learn the content, but Dr. Alonso finds discussions are also quite valuable. “I enjoy entering into a dialogue with students, Dr. Alonso said. “As the semester progresses the dialogue becomes richer and students become more confident about their own thoughts and about expressing them publicly in class.”

As the class discussions might indicate, one of the most meaningful parts of teaching for Dr. Alonso is watching students’ progress. When Dr. Alonso taught philosophy at Stanford University he wrote some students recommendation letters for law school, only to see those same students again when he taught at Yale Law School. Dr. Alonso believes that watching students grow personally and academically makes teaching extremely rewarding.

Outside of work, Dr. Alonso enjoys spending time with his wife, doing philosophical research, and running. But it doesn’t matter what Dr. Alonso is doing as he applies to the same mantra to everything he does, stating, “I always try to do things a little bit better than I’ve done in the past.”

Faculty Notes

Dr. Elaine Miller with Julia Kristeva

  • Facundo Alonso has recently published “Reasons for Reliance,” Ethics 126 (2016): 311-338 and “A Dual Aspect Theory of Shared Intention,” Journal of Social Ontology 2 (2016): 271-302.
  • Scott Clifton has recently published in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, “A Notorious Example of Failed Mind-reading: Dramatic Irony and the Moral and Epistemic Value of Art,” and in Philosophy and Literature, “Trusting the Author: Narrative Tension and the Puzzle of Audience Anxiety."
  • Gaile Polhaus has published “Propaganda, Inequality, and Epistemic Movement” in Theoria 31(3). She also has an edited volume, The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice with J. Medina & IJ Kidd. This volume contains 37 essays, including one of her own, “Varieties of Epistemic Injustice.” It will be released in Spring 2017.
  • Chris King read “Explaining Political Authority” at the 2016 meeting of the Central Division APA in Chicago. A longer version is currently under review for publication. The paper defends appeals to a hypothetical situation in order to explain when it is that political authority can be present in actual cases. He also published a book review in The Journal of Moral Philosophy on Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.”
  • Pascal Massie has several articles in publication or in progress: “Diodorus Chronus and the Logic of Time,” Review of Metaphysics; “Ethics of Property, Ethics of Poverty (on the 13th century Mendicant debate),” The Saint Anselm Journal; “Chard de Saint Victor et la Métaphysique de la Pluralité Première (in either an edited volume or a special issue of a journal dedicated to Medieval philosophy); “Ataraxia: Tranquility at the End” in Companion to Ancient Philosophy (Northwestern University Press). He also an article in progress, “Masks and the Space of Play.”
  • In the past year Elaine Miller has traveled to several conferences, including the Kristeva Circle in Stockholm. There she had the pleasure of meeting Julia Kristeva herself. She also attended SPEP in Salt Lake City. She has now finished what will probably be the last two pieces she will likely write “at least for a while” on Kristeva and Irigaray, as well as an article on Kant and Nietzsche and an entry in the Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy on 19th Century Philosophy. This year she became executive director of philoSOPHIA, a continental feminist society. Her current research focuses on reflective judgment and productive imagination in Kant, and its legacy in 19th and 20th century philosophy.

Philosophy and War: A Philosophy Undergraduate's Perspective

Alex Hale in Marine gear, standing in front of military transports

Academia and academics have a complicated history with war and warriors. There are general cultural reasons for this. There has not, for instance, been a draft in the United States for a long time; and those who do not choose a military career and have alternatives for funding education are not required to enlist. Consequently, most students at four-year colleges (and many educators) have never served in a branch of the military. Moreover, higher education has in the recent past been a source of resistance against the militarization of youth and society—most evidently during the Vietnam War.

Even now, for many intellectuals military life smacks of conformism and anti-intellectualism. And some of them believe (wrongly perhaps) that humanist education inoculates us from this. Yet, many of the texts of central interest to humanist education (both ancient and modern) are preoccupied with conflict if not with war. Plato’s Republic is a case in point. In that work, Plato seems to defend the claim that education in the polis is centrally concerned with identifying and training those who would defend the city against its enemies.

War, and thinking about war, is part of the DNA of Philosophy. Many of the greatest philosophers both ancient and contemporary were themselves participants in war. Others spent much of their intellectual lives trying to challenge if not war-making, then the way wars are prosecuted. Socrates (reportedly) acquired a reputation for fearlessness in battle. Wittgenstein was a prisoner of war in Italy during the Austro-Hungarian war and began to formulate the moral vision presented in his magnificent Tractatus during that time. John Rawls completed military service prior to becoming part of the American professoriate at Harvard. He reports that his experience in Europe set the stage for his formulation of A Theory of Justice. Elizabeth Anscombe wrote persuasive essays rejecting both pacifism and certain ways of war-making, and actively protested events in which those who promoted the latter (e.g. Harry Truman) were honored.

Presently, many veterans of recent wars are returning to civilian life in the U.S., using their veterans’ benefits to pursue higher education. Some of these veterans, like Alex Hale ’18, aspire to complete degrees at Miami. Alex is a former Marine from Liberty Township, graduating from Lakota East High School in 2009. He was shipped to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on 10 October 2010. He was a logistician in an F-18 fighter jet unit (VMFA(AW)-121) and an Infantry unit (1st Battalion, 4th Marines). He is also a Philosophy major.

Alex served as a Marine for 4 years, completing two tours of duty—one in mainland Japan and one in Kuwait. During his time in service, Alex attained the rank of Corporal. But the Marines works differently from other branches of the armed forces. A Marine does not start out with a rank. Each individual begins as mere recruit and has to earn even the rank of a Private to be considered a Marine proper. And while everyone learns a particular job, every Marine is, according to Alex, “a rifleman.” Every Marine is, in short, always preparing for combat.

At the time Alex entered service the nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were changing; and many combat units were stashed in various places around the world to train. “They place you there,” Alex said, “in case something crazy happens. The Marine force is a force of readiness. We’ll be training until somebody pegs us to cease training and to go do. It’s a lot of waiting, waiting, waiting….”

When asked why he joined, Alex replies with characteristic frankness. “I joined because I had changes that needed to be made in my life but I was not aware of what they actually were. When I graduated high school nobody had money. [This was just after the financial crash.] And if my parents asked what I was going to do in college, I didn’t know what to tell them.”

Like many veterans, joining the Marines had to do in the beginning with financial benefits and trying to work out some direction in life. But for Alex it turned out to be a lot more than that. “It was,” Alex says, “a trial.” He continues, “Requirements for society have changed…you’re supposed to achieve these checkpoints in life. They have become more concrete…you graduate high school, you go to college, find a prospective mate, get a job…it’s all checkmarks. In the military, you’re on a whole different checklist. People in general don’t know what that means. In the military, you go through all this training and all this misery. And at the end of it, you’re like, I want to go test it. You build up this nerve...”

At first glance, it’s not hard to see that military life does not seem very much like scholarly life. But it is, in fact, the differences that Alex finds attractive. About majoring in Philosophy, Alex says, “Being in the military is a black and white life as far as friends and enemies and military regulations. Rules are rules. I already had the experience in logistics that I could use to get a job. But I knew that philosophy was a gray zone. It’s abstract. I was excited to do it because of how much bouncing I had done.”

The excitement of it for Alex was actually about being in one place for a while, and the chance to reflect. Military life, particularly Marine life, he continues, “is hard on people and their relationships. And it’s not just the multiple deployments. It’s the lifestyle. The military masks all this as having a real job, but it’s more than that.” He continues, “I hadn’t seen my parents in a year and a half and was slated to go home. Five days before I was supposed to catch my flight [the Marines] said, ‘Hopefully you got insurance on your plane ticket.’ We had all those plans and now you’re not going home. But [your parents or family] don’t know why.”

As for returning to the Marines, Alex says that he thinks about that every day. “I loved my job. That’s what I still miss in the Marine Corps, that and my friends and the people and the mentality of the people you’re surrounded with. When you get out all you want to do is go back. I was a mythical creature for four years because people knew I was in the Marine Corps.”

If Alex returns to the Marines, he’ll apparently do so with a Philosophy degree from Miami in hand.

Student Achievements and Research

  • Ben Hillin (MA ’17) presented the paper “Analyzing Stand Your Ground: Race, Law, Gender” at Miami’s English Graduate and Adjunct Association Conference. He also gave comments for Jason Walsh’s paper on Wittgenstein at Kent State University’s Philosophy Graduate Student Conference. In addition, he presented the short paper, “Visualizing Destructive Plasticity: Senses, Affect, Narrative,” at both the International Visual Literacy Conference in Montreal and at Miami’s own Graduate Research Forum.
  • Jason Walsh (MA ’17) gave his papers “Adorno’s Critique of the Kantian Subject,” at the 8th Annual Miami University Graduate Research Forum, and “Wittgenstein and the Figure of the Skeptic,” at the 23rd Annual Philosophy Graduate Student Conference in Remembrance of May 4th, Kent State University.

Hall Prize and Linda Singer Scholarship Awarded

  • The winner of the Hall Prize in Philosophy for 2016 was Louis Mantush (’16) for his essay, “Democracy: What Exactly is Socrates Claiming?” Louis is majoring in Business Economics while completing a thematic sequence in Philosophy, specifically in Metaphysics and Epistemology.
  • The winner of the Linda Singer Scholarship in Philosophy for 2016 was Wesley Ramsey (’18). Wesley is a Philosophy major. The Singer Scholarship is given using various criteria including an essay, GPA, philosophical promise, and contributions to the department in the spirit of Linda Singer.

Congratulations to Louis and to Wesley!

Alumni Notes

  • Ryan Agee (’14) is in his second year at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. He has worked at criminal defense, family law and personal injury firms. He is also a member of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law and serves on the Simon Kenton Council for the Boy Scouts of America. He aims to pursue a career in criminal law.
  • Martin Armstrong (MA ’16) is pursuing a second MA (this time in Political Science) at The University of Chicago.
  • Ted Bergsma (MA ’15) is currently a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the Pennsylvania State University. His research there has been focused on Continental approaches to subjectivity and temporality and their derivation and deviation form Husserlian phenomenology (e.g., in Heidegger, Levinas, and Adorno.) He has also been working on questions of creativity in 19th-century thought, particularly in J.S. Mill and Nietzsche, and hopes to continue that investigation this semester with the German Idealists (especially Schelling). His dissertation will be centered on Deleuze’s approach to temporality as it emerges out of Difference and Repetition. Ted says, “this will likely draw on some of my work in phenomenology as well as my background in Nietzsche and my current research in psychoanalysis.”
  • Alex Lange (’14) is in his second year at the William and Mary Law School. Last summer he interned with the local Commonwealth’s Attorney (i.e. District Attorney) in Williamsburg, VA. He will be externing for the Tax Division of the Department of Justice this spring in Washington, DC.
  • Kevin Lower (MA ’16) is pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at Villanova University.
  • Laura Paprocki (’16) is working as a legal assistant at Lavelle Law Ltd. in Chicago, IL. She plans to attend law school or pursue a Masters relating to the legal field. She is also on the board of the Chicago Figure Skating Club.
  • Alex Shillito (BA/MA ’14) is pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of South Florida. Currently, he is preparing for comprehensive exams and hoping to start work on his dissertation next fall. His research in the past year focused on 17th century medicine. He’ll be giving a paper in that vein on Nicholas Steno and Leibniz this spring at the Southeast Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy. He plans to write his dissertation on the various understandings of the heart’s motion in the 17th century. Specifically he’ll focus on how different theories of the heart’s motion were more often the result of different metaphysical commitments and not a disagreement over experimentation and anatomy.

2017 Singer Lecture

Each year the Department of Philosophy hosts the The Linda Singer Memorial Lecture. The Singer Lecture was established in honor of the memory of Dr. Linda Singer who was a member of the Philosophy Department until 1990. The annual lecture series bring distinguished scholars to address feminist theory, political theory, aesthetics, and social activism. Previous speakers include Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Marilyn Frye, Elizabeth Spelman, Susan Bordo, Nancy Fraser,Joan Scott, Jane Gallop, Ewa Plonowska Ziarek, and Robyn Wiegman.

The Singer Lecture for 2017 will be delivered by Jennifer Lackey, Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University. Professor Lackey specializes in epistemology and philosophy of mind. Her recent research focuses on the epistemology of testimony, norms of assertion, epistemic luck, credit for knowledge, and the epistemic significance of disagreement. She has co-edited (with Ernest Sosa) The Epistemology of Testimony (2006, Oxford University Press) and is the author of Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge (2008, Oxford: Oxford University Press).

The 2017 Linda Singer Memorial Lecture will take place on March 16 (time TBA), and a seminar will follow on March 17 at 11:30 am.