Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Falling in Love with Philosophy Again

In a life that has been spent falling in and out of love with philosophy, over and over again (see "Unleaving Philosophy"), I just spent a few days back at DePauw University falling in love once more.

I flew back to Indiana for the "Young Philosophers Lecture Series," created by Prindle Institute for Ethics director Andy Cullison when he was a faculty member at SUNY-Fredonia. It's a competitive lecture series, with four philosophers in the early years of their careers selected by blind review from a good-sized pool. The winners come to campus to give both an intro-level talk accessible to students and colleagues in other departments, and a research talk aimed at specialists in the field.

Last year when I attended my first Young Philosophers event, I was initially skeptical. I've spent so much of my own career sitting in the back of a room listening to incomprehensible, jargon-filled, needlessly technical, and frankly boring talks, just to be a good citizen of my academic community. I would avoid asking questions during the Q&A period for fear I'd look dumb in front of colleagues who excelled in dazzling thrust-and-parry argumentative sword play. (I did, however, get a lot of sonnets written as I tuned out and thought my own thoughts about other things.)

But Young Philosophers was fun. Tons of fun, actually. So I was pleased when Andy asked me to serve on the reviewers' panel this year: I could pick papers that I'd know in advance were NOT incomprehensible, jargon-filled, needlessly technical, and boring. I'd have an excuse to come back to my beloved DePauw, not that I needed an excuse, but still, it helps to have a reason to come some particular week rather than some other random time. And I could spend two days luxuriating in philosophy.

This year's four speakers were: Nina Emery, Brown University; John Pittard, Yale Divinity School; Jason D'Cruz, SUNY-Albany; and Samuel Kahn, IUPUI. Here are a few titles from the eight talks I heard over a period of two days:

"What's the Big Deal with Lethal Injection?"
"How Is It Possible to Deceive Yourself?"
"Two Very Different Reasons to Believe in Multiple Universes"
"A Scientific Realist's Guide to Objective Chance"

I listened, I learned, I asked questions as good as anybody else's questions, I ate delicious free Prindle Institute food and had wonderful wide-ranging conversations with fascinating visitors and colleagues.

I found myself thinking of the lyrics of my favorite Dolly Parton song, this time sung by me to philosophy: "Here you come again, lookin' better than a body has a right to, and shaking me up so, that I all I really know, is here you come again, and here I go..."


  1. "A Scientific Realist's Guide to Objective Chance" sounds very interesting. At NIST we are working on a system to exploit the objective chance provided by quantum mechanics to generate secure, objectively unpredictable, random numbers.

    1. I wish you could have been there to hear the talk. One of her claims was that the notion of objective probabilities, which has been rejected by many philosophers as too ontologically weird and mysterious, has been much more accepted by scientists.