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Welcome from the Chair
Elaine Miller
Pandemic Philosophy
Dear Alumni and Friends,
For the past nine months, like everyone else, the Philosophy Department has been contending with the COVID-19 virus. While it now seems second nature to put on a mask and stand 6 feet apart from others, the pandemic took over quietly, at first as a curiosity, then a somewhat ambiguous concern, and suddenly, on March 10 of the spring semester, classes were forced online by the pandemic, with the semester less than halfway accomplished. 
Faculty scrambled to learn how to teach online with little preparation for this new format. Things were initially rough, as we contended with sometimes faulty connections, unfamiliar technology, and chaotic, as everyone struggled to figure out how classes were going to proceed.  Despite this precipitous start, things began to even out, as technology allowed for regular face-to-face contact with students with whom we had already had significant interaction in person.
The spring semester was rough but serviceable, from the perspective of teaching, even as we watched with concern the mental health issues the shift exacerbated among students. Most faculty spent the summer preparing for an unknown fall semester, not sure whether fall courses would meet online or in person. The fall semester proceeded without disruptions as we began with and acclimated to the pace of online teaching.
Many of us were pleasantly surprised how well we could get to know our students on Zoom; as Gaile Pohlhaus writes, “there is a feeling of closeness afforded by the technology when faces appear no farther than your computer screen.” We looked into home study spaces, saw which posters hung on the walls, met students’ pets.  Class discussions were for the most part not hindered by videoconferencing, and in some cases the change of format seemed to draw out students who might have remained silent or detached in a classroom.
Significantly, we enrolled a record number of new majors and minors this fall. I was reminded of some passages from Camus’ novel The Plague, which I have assigned many times in my Existentialism class, but with no personal experience of the extreme conditions it describes. Camus has a character, Tarrou, exclaim “I had plague already, long before I came to this town and encountered it here.  Which is tantamount to saying I’m like everyone else. Only there are some people who don’t know it, or feel at ease in that condition; others know and want to get out of it.”
Michael Hicks talks about the devastating “pedagogical implications of social isolation” brought about by the pandemic, and in his laptop lecture he highlights the responsibility of professors to contribute to the creation of a “we,” however disembodied, to which students are moved to respond.
Tarrou’s point is that in whatever we do, whether it is in isolation or with others, we exist within complex relations of interdependence, or as Pascal Massie puts it, “a universal web, a network where everything affects and is affected by everything else”; “plague” (or pandemic) is not so much an exception to ordinary existence, but rather a condition in which issues already diffusely present are condensed and made conspicuous, stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to contemplate our finitude. 
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, and look forward to hearing your stories next year. You can give back to the department on the Make a Gift button on the side of this letter. We are looking to support student research with small departmental grants; your donations, no matter how small, will help us in this endeavor. 
Elaine Miller
Philosophy in a Time of Pandemic
Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus
Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus
Teaching and researching through the pandemic has been difficult. For me at least, thinking requires time in between where I am occupied doing everyday things like picking up the groceries, going to the gym, and having coffee with a friend. The loss of these “distractions” has actually made it more difficult for me to concentrate and to give my full attention to sustained philosophical thought. Of course, the circumstances of living in the pandemic give me much to think about: why is time so weird? how is it that the loss of "not thinking" tasks makes the task of thinking harder (I would have thought the opposite!)? How is it that humans can manage to disassemble and creatively reassemble relations of interdependence (on a dime no less!) yet we still cannot manage to trust and value each other to the extent that I think we ought? (Also, how much is packed (that deserves unpacking, untangling, distinguishing) in the "we...cannot" in the previous question?) Per usual, I have a million questions and very few answers.
With respect to teaching, I have been amazed by my students this past semester. Discussions over Zoom have been much better than I had anticipated. The beginning was rough--at one point Zoom actually would not give me permission to start a class meeting I had scheduled (how is this rational? It isn't.). But once I got the hang of things, we were able to have some really good philosophical discussions. Interestingly, there is a feeling of closeness afforded by the technology when faces appear no farther than your computer screen. Still, I miss the classroom. And I miss the ease of dropping into people's offices to ask a question or just say hi. It will be interesting to see how classroom teaching feels when we are able to transition back to it safely. Hopefully I will be able to take the things I am learning from the experience of teaching during the pandemic with me when we emerge on the other side.
Dr. Pascal Massie
Dr. Pascal Massie
I think it is important to see how philosophy can respond to the event and not just how it is affected by it. Of course, there is a multiplicity of approaches and issues that could be mentioned but I will focus on two basic notions: irreducible complexity, and normality.
Let’s start with the last one, normality. I hear people asking “when will things be normal again?” By this, they mean: “when will we go back to the order of things as it was before?” This is a wrong question. When something of great magnitude occurs (wars or disasters for instance) the post-event time is never a return to the pre-event time (America in 1865 did not return to antebellum America any more than Europe at the close of World War I returned to the 19th century). A chasm separates the past and the future. This is what we are going though right now and we are confusing normality with past habits. Why do we assume that “normal” = “how things use to be”? That is to say, why assume that what was (and is no more) is the measure of what ought to be? Why identify the norm and the past? I would like to quote the conclusion of George Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological: “The concept of norm is an original concept which, in physiology more than elsewhere, cannot be reduced to an objective concept determinable by scientific methods. Strictly speaking then, there is no biological science of the normal.” (1978, 138).
By irreducible complexity I mean that the situation we are wrestling with is not reducible to a matter of epidemiology alone; it is simultaneously a political and ideological situation (I saw a person wearing a mask with the message: “The government makes me wear this.”) To refuse to wear a mask and practice social distancing or to insist on social gathering are meant to be forms of protest. It is simultaneously a legal situation: the supreme court ruled that restriction on the size of religious gathering violates the freedom of religion. It is simultaneously a socio-economic situation, a racial situation (minorities are more affected), a sexist situation (“real men don’t wear masks”), an institutional one etc. All these factors cannot be neatly disentangled; they all affect and are affected by the others.
One way to understand the idea of irreducible complexity is to contrast the modern conception of causality with the Ancient Stoic one. We tend to think of causality as linear and deterministic. The model is the billiard cue that hits a ball at a certain angle with a certain momentum that causes the ball to hit another ball which lands in the pocket: a series of one-on-one events. When the Stoics reflected on nature, they thought of causality in terms of a universal web, a network where everything affects and is affected by everything else. It is a total nexus of causes that act and interact. Chrysippus famously said that “a drop of wine penetrates the whole ocean.” This was a way of illustrating one of the consequences of the Stoic doctrine of cosmic cohesiveness. I believe that this approach is closer to what we need to think upon in our present situation.
Dr. Michael Hicks
I gave a 2-minute "laptop lecture" on the pandemic for the humanities center last May:
Laptop Lecture Series, Episode 9: "Community, Classrooms, and COVID-19" by Michael Hicks
Faculty Notes
Dr. Facundo Alonzo
Dr. Facundo Alonso
Dr. Keith Fennen
Dr. Keith Fennen
Dr. Chris King
Dr. Chris King
Dr Facundo Alonso participated in a symposium on the nature of intention at the Central Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, in Chicago (February 2020). The paper he presented there, "The Limits of Partial Doxasticism," was accepted for publication at The Philosophical Quarterly last month.
His paper, "Planning on a Prior Intention," came out in The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy this fall.
He designed and taught a new course in Spring 2020: Special Topics in Ethics.
He also supervised five undergraduate research projects this calendar year:
  • Henry Roach (Geoffrion Fellow and Dept. Honors, on the topic of temptation and diachronic rationality, 19/20)
  • Madison Weaver (USS 20, on the nature of grit)
  • Quintin Pace (USS 20, on intentional action and knowing how)
  • Henry Roach (Dean's Scholar 20/21, on fickleness in action)
  • Quintin Pace (Dept. Honors 20/21, on meaningful life projects and rationality)
Drs. Keith Fennen, Elaine Miller, and Gaile Pohlhaus received the Roger and Joyce Howe Award for Excellence in Disciplinary Writing Instruction and are co-authoring an essay on the complexities of teaching writing in philosophy.
Dr. Michael Hicks is working on spelling out themes from Wilfrid Sellars in contemporary philosophy.  He published two papers on Sellars, one on his philosophy of mind ("Sellars, Price, and the Myth of the Given") and one on the relationship between his philosophy of science and his meta-philosophy ("Wilfrid Sellars and the Task of Philosophy").
Dr. Christopher King published “Hypothetical Consent and Political Obligation,” in Southwest Philosophy Review.
Dr. Pascal Massie published two essays: “Seeing Darkness, Hearing Silence: Meta-Sensation and the Limits of Perception in Aristotle’s De anima” in Epoche, A Journal for the History of Philosophy and (forthcoming), “Contradiction, Being, and Meaning in Aristotle’s Metaphysics Gamma” in the Journal of Ancient Philosophy. He is currently working on the problem of the ontological status of matter in ancient philosophy. In the spring 2021 semester he will be teaching what is for him a new course: Medical Ethics.
Dr. Elaine Miller published two essays: “Julia Kristeva on the Severed Head and other Maternal ‘Capital’ Visions,” in the Library of Living Philosophers volume on Julia Kristeva, and “Sensibility, Reflection, and Play: Early German Romanticism and its Legacy in Contemporary Continental Philosophy,” in the Palgrave Handbook to German Romantic Philosophy.
Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus published three essays: "Gaslighting and Echoing, or Why Collective Epistemic Resistance is not a ‘Witch Hunt’" in the journal Hypatia, "Epistemic Agency Under Oppression" in the journal Philosophical Papers, and "The Disintegration of Sense and Bodies in Pain: Woolf, Wittgenstein, and the Rhetoric of War” co-authored with M. Detloff in the edited volume Woolf, Europe, and Peace.
She gave a keynote address at the Complexity, Social Cognition, and Social Explanation workshop held at the University of Cincinnati in February 2020. She also designed and taught a new course in Fall 2019, Philosophy of Disability.
Alumni Notes
Alfred Steiner (class of 1995)
I'm an artist and a lawyer living in New York City. I've recently been working on a book of works that are best understood as text, including works like:
Public License for Criminal Use (2014), which provides a license to use any of my artworks for any criminal purposes; and Refund (2012), which may be purchased with paper currency only and comprises the currency with which it is purchased. You may not be surprised to learn that I'm still looking for a publisher.
Elizabeth Joniak-Grant (class of 2000)
After my time at Miami I earned a Ph.D. in the Department of Sociology at UCLA while conducting ethnographic and in-depth interview research projects on unhoused youth in Los Angeles and at a mobile HIV testing site. I then moved to San Francisco and lectured at Sonoma State University. It was during this time that I began my work as a Patient Representative to the Food and Drugs Administration. I now live in the Raleigh-Durham area of NC and am a qualitative research consultant to the UNC Injury Prevention Center (Chapel Hill, NC) where I consult on a variety of drug-related projects. In one current project, I am examining the unintended consequences of state-mandated opioid prescribing limits. I continue my patient advocacy work as a member of the inaugural Patient Engagement Collaborative, a joint effort of CTTI and the FDA, which seeks to improve patient engagement in product development at regulatory discussion at FDA. I have been married to a lovely bloke for 10+ years, have a super easy-going two-year-old and three cats.
Sarah Stitzlein (class of 2001)
The news on my end is my latest book Learning How to Hope: Reviving Democracy through Schools and Civil Society (Oxford University Press, 2020). The book is especially relevant to our upcoming election and our polarized society. The best part is that the book received a large grant enabling it to be open access. In other words, it's free to all to download by clicking on "open access" at this link
I'm currently a Professor of Education and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati.
Democracy is struggling in America. Citizens increasingly feel cynical about our system and doubt they can influence public policy. Distrustful of other Americans and elected officials, some are even turning to authoritarian alternatives. Hyper-partisanship and recent contentious presidential elections have deepened political despair. While some citizens get swept up in optimism during campaign cycles, they often later find themselves frustrated with elected leaders as they wait for change.
This book seeks to revive democracy by teaching citizens how to hope. Hope animates life in a democracy, moving citizens forward through new challenges, new ideas, and new experiments. The form of hope described in this book is more than just a campaign slogan or a self-help program, it is an informed call to citizen engagement that opens new possibilities for our country. Drawing on examples from life in America today and pragmatist philosophy, this book explains how schools can cultivate hope through our habits and how action in our communities can sustain hope. It shows how we can build trust, grow political agency, and shape an improved American identity through hoping together.
This book provides guidance for learning how to hope in schools, universities, and civil society.  It describes what hope is, why it matters to democracy, and how to teach it.
Pamela Miller (class of 2005)
In March 2020, I published an article entitled "Intrafamilial Child Torture: Training Mandated Reporters". I also recently had a paper accepted: "Intrafamilial Child Torture: Making the Case for a New Category of Child Maltreatment". I am one of two leading experts in the nation on child torture in families, writing on evidence-based identification, risk assessment, and intervention on behalf of severely maltreated children. I also address philosophical questions about torture, theories of evil, and philosophy of mind as it relates to torture. This year I also appeared as an expert witness in multiple Ohio cases involving child sexual abuse and child fatalities, and was awarded for Outstanding Service to Social Work by the state of Ohio's National Association of Social Workers. I continue to serve as social work expert and attorney-advisor to the Center for Child Policy, a think-tank that seeks to improve society's response to child abuse and neglect.
I graduated from Miami in 2005 with BA, cum laude, in Philosophy and a minor in Critical Family Issues (from the social work department). In the philosophy department, I focused my studies on feminist philosophy, philosophies of oppression, and social justice theory. My mentor was Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr. I went on to earn a JD and MSW in 2009.
Julia Carroll (class of 2020)
I graduated May 2020 and the idea of being an alum is finally sinking in. It was definitely weird to not return to Oxford this fall and I already miss schoolwork.
Since graduating, I have moved to the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, where I work (virtually for the moment) for an e-commerce marketing agency. I began in June and am part of the Programmatic Advertising team. For those who are unfamiliar, this type of advertising is responsible for those creepy ads that pop up on the side of your browser for a pair of jeans, for example, when you just recently shopped for jeans online, though there are many other interesting advertising strategies you can pursue with this technology. In my day to day, I build and manage campaigns for our mostly Amazon-based clients which target certain audiences while negating others in order to deliver ads to the intended shoppers. Although many are surprised to hear I came from a Philosophy/Political Science/Statistics background and ended up in marketing, what I learned in my time at Miami has certainly benefited me at my job. Anything from the boolean logic used for audience targeting to writing a persuasive summary of ad campaign performance to developing a campaign strategy comes easier when I utilize the skills sharpened through pursuing a Philosophy major.
As I mentioned earlier, I already miss schoolwork and no, I'm not being sarcastic. I recently started taking a Coursera course on SQL programming language though this is more related to professional goals than academic interests. I still find myself craving the academic setting and the lively discussions that come with it. I plan on applying to law school in the next couple of years as becoming an attorney has always been a dream of mine. In the meantime, I've been trying to engage with the academic realm on my own through continued reading. If anyone has read an article or a book recently they'd like to recommend, I'm all ears.
Thank you to the department for all you have taught me! I am thankful to have been a Philosophy major and grateful for all the skills that came with it. I love the idea of this newsletter as a way to stay connected with faculty and classmates and am looking forward to reading what everyone else has been up to!
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