The Department of Philosophy
December 2021 Alumni Newsletter
Dear Alumni and Friends:
As news of upheavals in the employment market and The Great Resignation appear with ever greater regularity in the news, we in the Department of Philosophy have been thinking even more than usual about where a BA or MA in Philosophy can take our students. People all over the country are leaving jobs and demanding more flexibility, more money, and above all, more happiness.
What kind of life does a degree in philosophy promise? There are pragmatic concerns to consider, especially given the university’s growing emphasis on career preparation as an overarching concern for academic departments. We believe that a degree in philosophy can help students become clearer and more imaginative thinkers, better writers and communicators, and ultimately better citizens, but we need to be able to convince families and students themselves that the pursuit of a degree in philosophy will not lead to unemployment.
Happily, we have lots of data to back us up. According to a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, humanities majors are equally gainfully employed as graduates with STEM, Engineering, and Business degrees, and while they may make less money initially, as time goes but the pay gap progressively narrows. Even more significantly, the great majority of graduates with humanities degrees report being satisfied with their jobs, as compared to graduates of virtually every other field.
We know that our graduates go on to an impressive and diverse array of careers, so we are undertaking to:
- track the employment history of our students;
- work with the Career Center to help students learn to fluidly communicate the skills they have learned in Philosophy, and
- identify internship opportunities for our majors.
In addition, Dr. Facundo Alonso works with the Mallory-Wilson Health Care Education Center to conduct mock interviews and advise pre-med students, and our Philosophy and Law minor continues to grow. Dr. Chris King has developed an introductory course on the Philosophy of Work. The course engages an interdisciplinary roster of authors, from Karl Marx to Studs Terkel, to challenge students' conceptions and desires in relation to work.
In this issue of the newsletter, some highlights include articles from Katharine Schweitzer, a 2008 alumna, who participated with others in an impressive Career Diversity Workshop at the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy conference in September 2021, and a description by Dr. Fennen of his new service position.
We enjoyed hearing back from many of you, and encourage you to contact us any time!
Philosophy Career Liaison: Keith Fennen
The Department of Philosophy recently created the position of Career Liaison to systematize and improve the department’s role in fostering each major’s capacity to plan for their post-Miami life and career.
Keith Fennen is heading up this initiative and plans to work with majors to ensure that they know the career options open to them, know how to find and secure interviews and internships, and that they have the ability to articulate the value of their philosophy degree to employers.
In addition, he hopes to create an alumni database so that current majors can have brief conversations with former philosophy majors to better understand what a particular career entails and to better understand how lives and careers develop after graduating from Miami.
If you wish to participate in this database, feel free to pass along a brief career update and your contact info to Keith Fennen at fennenkg@MiamiOH.edu
WE NEED YOUR HELP WITH OUR CAREER DATABASE!
Philosophy as an Invitation into the Expanse
Katherine Schweitzer (Miami University, B.A., 2008)
A new world opened to me when I learned, as a high school student, that being a philosophy professor was a career option. I took a summer philosophy class at a local college, and the professor guided us expertly through Plato’s Republic and Descartes’ Meditations. I was hooked: those classic texts opened my mind to so many questions, and the classroom was a community for exploring those questions together.
I had a singular career goal: become a philosophy professor like the one who inspired me. As an undergraduate philosophy major at Miami University, my professors continued to inspire me. Their classes helped me to develop my skills in understanding and constructing philosophical arguments. I earned a spot in a well-regarded philosophy PhD program, with a tuition waiver and a stipend. Six years later, I defended my dissertation and secured a tenure-track job. I was a professor: I had accomplished my career goal!
I worked as a professor for six years, and I enjoyed the challenge of motivating students to improve their philosophical abilities and to develop their own thoughts about ethics, law, and politics. I’m proud of my dissertation research. It’s satisfying to have shared my ideas at national and international conferences and to know that some of my arguments even made it into print.
But after years of inhabiting the world of professional philosophy, I wanted to explore new spaces. I pivoted from academia into project management: a profession that is relevant in a wide range of industries. I now work in healthcare data and analytics.
By studying philosophy and, more importantly, by doing philosophy—the hard work of imagining new ideas and communicating them—you develop skills that can be applied in many job roles and sectors.
Philosophically-trained people think clearly, make sense of complexity, and envision new possibilities. As someone who loves multitudes and expansiveness and options, I’m a champion for philosophical education. Even though I no longer make my living as a philosophy professor, I’m a more curious and visionary person because I was a student and practitioner of the discipline that pursues and loves wisdom.
If my way of approaching work resonates with you, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at SCHWEIKJ@gmail.com
. I’d love to hear your story!
We welcome Dr. Tony Chackal as a Visiting Assistant Professor to the Department of Philosophy for 2021-22. Tony completed his graduate work in Philosophy at Northern Illinois University (M.A.) and at the University of Georgia (Ph.D.). Prior to his arrival at Miami, Tony taught at Missouri State University and at Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania.
His Ph.D. work was supervised by Dr. Beth Preston. Tony examines and defends a novel form of autonomy in light of Environmental Philosophy. He calls it “Ecological Autonomy.” Most graduate students in philosophy are required to complete a dissertation – a book-length work examining a philosophical problem or the thought of an important and influential figure in philosophy. Tony’s took another shape. Instead of the standard dissertation, he wrote three papers – two of which have been published. Collectively, these papers examine “autonomy through the lens of environmental philosophy.”
Tony explains his project in this way:
“Traditionally, autonomy is criticized as being atomistic. [...] But these accounts often ignore social considerations, and the social effects and obstructions on autonomy. Communitarians and feminist philosophers talk about the social self, and if the self is [related to other people] then we need a similar concept of autonomy – one that is relational. One thing I thought they left out is how the natural environment has some import for autonomy. So I built off notions of relational autonomy and came up with my own version that I call ‘ecological autonomy.’ This allows me to specifically discuss autonomy of thought and autonomy of action or bodily autonomy.”
The traditional discussion of autonomy highlights the competency conditions for autonomy as well as authenticity conditions. That is, it highlights conditions like one’s state of mind and non-coercion as well as conditions under which one could know that one is acting autonomously.
However, Tony claims, it tends to ignore other external conditions of autonomy – specifically those environmental conditions having to do with action that may also, for instance, be obstructive. These conditions can be described as “affordances” or “resources.”
“The assessment of environmental conditions – like affordance or resources – enables us to talk about the external conditions of autonomy," Tony writes. "These conditions not only social but also environmental or ecological.”
For those who would like to read more of Tony’s work, here are the citations:
- Autonomy and the Politics of Food Choice: From Individuals to Communities, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (2): 123-141. 2016.
- Place, Community, and the Generation of Ecological Autonomy, Environmental Ethics 40 (3): 215-239. 2018.
- “From atomism to ecology: embodiment, environment, and race-based obstructions to autonomy,” in Freedom and Society: Essays on Autonomy, Identity, and Political Freedom, ed. by Y. Deng, C. Rosenthal, R. Scott, & R. Simson. Mercer University Press (2021).
James Grunebaum (BA class of 1965)
I taught philosophy at SUNY Buffalo from 1971 to 2005. I continue to enjoy retirement from the State of New York College at Buffalo. Still reading in ethics and political philosophy.
Richard Wagner (BA Class of 1993)
After graduating with a degree in philosophy, I set out to see the world in the tradition of von Humboldt (well, sort of...). I studied Chinese in the military, worked a mission in Hawaii, and then went to law school after briefly studying with Michael Gelven and Ted Kisiel at NIU. I took a job in Asia and have spent the last 20 years focusing on China and Asia related matters with overseas time in Hong Kong, Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, and London. I’m basically an itinerant consulting lawyer at this point. I look to address various China problems for clients and their lawyers, many of which concern disputes in courts in China and the US or government investigations. Currently writing you from Hong Kong. I can be reached at email@example.com
Alfred Steiner (BA, Class of 1995)
I recently started my own law firm with my friend from law school, Gabriel Meister: Meister & Steiner PLLC
. We handle technology and media transactions, as well as copyright, trademark and art law matters. Recently, we've been doing a lot of work related to NFTs, whose intangibility raise questions of a nearly philosophical nature (e.g., What is ownership?). I'm also still working as an artist, and I have work in a couple group shows in New York City this fall as well as my own NFTs on OpenSea
Heather Kendrick (formerly Fieldhouse) MA Class of 1998
I don’t have anything very new going on in my life, but it’s been a while since I last sent in an alumni update for the newsletter, so I thought I might as well.
I’m still a Senior Lecturer at Central Michigan University and I still live in Lansing, Michigan, with my husband Joseph Nebus. My most recent publication, “Autonomy, Slavery, and Companion Animals” (Between the Species 22.1) is on the subject of the morality of pet ownership. Speaking of companion animals, I have a pet rabbit named Sunshine and a lot of goldfish who live in a pond in the backyard. I am also the director of the Lansing Pinball League, and my husband and I are both very active in the Michigan competitive pinball scene.
Robin James (BA Class of 2000)
I’m excited to share that I am writing a book about the former Oxford modern rock radio station WOXY for UNC Press. I’ve been digging into archives and chatting with former station staff and owners, and hope the book will be out sometime late 2022 or early 2023. The book focuses on the station’s idea of independence and how it can help us make alternatives to today’s corporate mainstream.
Pamela Miller (BA class of 2005)
In 2021, I published two papers- "Intrafamilial Child Torture: A New Category of Child Maltreatment" and an accompanying case study. These papers look at both the social science and philosophy of torture, particularly when parents become torturers of their children. These were published as white papers by The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) and the APSAC Center for Child Policy. They are available at centerforchildpolicy.org
The project was funded by the Institute for Human Services, and they have committed to funding a total of 7 papers on torture in families. A revised version is forthcoming in the journal of Child Abuse and Neglect. In the next month, my second paper in the series will be released: "Intrafamilial Child Torture: Impact and Intervention", which educates a multidisciplinary audience on how to help child torture survivors recover.
Also in 2021, I had the chance to appear before the Ohio Supreme Court as attorney for amicus curiae APSAC in the case Smathers v. Glass. I authored two briefs in support of Smathers, sharing expert information about the torture of children by their parents, as well as industry standards in child protection work. Just recently, I also co-authored a brief in Brandt v. Pompa, also before the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that a child sexual abuse victim suffers both mental harm and "physical-functional" harm, and therefore should not be subject to a cap on damages awarded in a lawsuit against the perpetrator.
My daughter Lila is almost 3-years-old. She loves painting, chasing the dogs, and spending time with our au pair, Karla. Karla joined our family In April, coming from El Salvador, and we're thrilled that she plans to stay long term.
Daniel Volkman (BA class of 2013)
I have obtained a new job. I am the 9th Grade Literature teacher at Achievement First Brooklyn High School in NYC.
I’m halfway into my second year of medical school here at Toledo. I’m having a difficult, but good time learning material, making friends, and growing up.
When I started, I felt something missing from my education. How was it that I came to school to treat humans, but was forgetting how to be one? All I did was sit at my desk studying all day. I was grateful to find the Medical Humanities Club, through which I led the creation and publication of The Lumen, a digital and print medical humanities magazine. It is populated with submissions from students and physicians alike, and it renewed my hope in medicine—that there were indeed people who remembered how to listen to their hearts with something other than a stethoscope.
I have always been grateful for people telling me that I made some difference in their lives. This is why I write to you today—philosophy, unequivocally, has a place in medicine, in love, in argument, and in life. Being a doctor is great, but mostly, I’ll be helping people live. Philosophy, among other things (art, music, literature, movies, etc.), is what we life for.
Studying philosophy has been, by far, the wisest and most fruitful decision I have made. I hope you see some of that echoed in my piece and throughout my magazine.
Keith Fennen, Elaine Miller, and Gaile Pohlhaus co-wrote an article called “Teaching Philosophical Reading and Writing by Making Invisible Disciplinary Practices Visible” that will be published in Changing Conceptions, Changing Practices: Innovating Teaching Across Disciplines, ed by Glotfelter, et al.
Facundo Alonso taught two new courses this year: PHL 410/510D Seminar in Metaethics (spring 2021), where he discussed the normativity of reasons; and PHL 310D: Action and Responsibility (Fall 2021) in which he analyzed key concepts in the philosophy of action and looking at their applications in the law -especially, in criminal law.
- He supervised three department honor theses (Henry Roach, Quintin Pace, Cameron Metz) and two summer research scholars (Kennedy Hughes, Cameron Metz).
- He organized and chaired a Symposium on Intention for the Society for the Philosophy of Agency at the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Online, February 2021.
- He was a commentator at the St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality, August 2021.
- His paper, “The Limits of Partial Doxasticism,” was accepted for publication in The Philosophical Quarterly.
Michael Hicks got tenured (congratulations!). He published two papers on Sellars: “Sellars, Price, and the Myth of the Given” (Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy vol 8, 2020) and “Wilfrid Sellars and the Task of Philosophy” (Synthese, vol 198, 2021).
He gave three presentations: “Liberal Acquaintance and the Myth of the Given,” at the (monthly) International Sellars Colloquium. “Idealism, quietism, conceptual change: Sellars and McDowell on the knowability of the world,” in the Summer 2021 Padua University colloquium, Themes from Sellars and “Sellars on Carnap and Conceptual Voluntarism,” at the 2021 meeting of the Society for the Study of the History of Analytic Philosophy (SSHAP 2021: Vienna).
Surprisingly, Michael has a forthcoming paper that has nothing to do with Sellars! "Singular Mental Abilities," in the European Journal of Philosophy.
Christopher King published “Hypothetical Consent and Political Obligation,” in The Southwest Philosophy Review (2020).
Pascal Massie presented a paper at the Ancient Philosophy Society annual meeting (the meeting was organized by DePaul University but it was via zoom). He taught for the first time the Medical Ethics course in the spring 2021 semester. His paper “Contradiction, Being, and Meaning” (after many imbroglio) will appear in the spring 2022 issue of the Journal for Ancient Philosophy.
Elaine Miller published "Sensibility, Reflection, and Play: Early German Romanticism and Its Legacy in Contemporary Continental Philosophy" in the Palgrave Handbook of German Romantic Philosophy (December 2020).
Gaile Polhaus gave an invited lecture titled “Epistemology of the Oppressed.” this summer for the Vienna Circle Institute and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna.
In 2021 Gaile published the following:
- “What Philosophy Does (Not) Know” in Making the Case: Feminist and Critical Race Theorists Investigate Case Studies (SUNY Press) ed. Grasswick and McHugh.
- “Epistemic Oppression, Resistance, and Ignorance” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Philosophy (Oxford Press) ed. Hall and Ásta.
- “Epistemic Pushback and Harm to Educators” in Incarnating Feelings, Constructing Communities (Palgrave) ed. A.M. Forero Angel et al.