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..."