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To confront the questions and challenges in life that have no easy answers requires, in Kant’s words, the courage to use one’s own understanding. Our mission in the philosophy department at Miami University is to empower our students to live courageous and thoughtful lives by passing on to them the rich inheritance of the philosophical tradition: its great texts, its central problems and questions, and its distinctive methods of critical thought, reflection, questioning and self-questioning, lucid argumentation, and cogent writing.
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Welcome from the Chair
Emily Zakin
Dear Alumni and Friends,
Welcome once again to the Philosophy Department’s annual newsletter. As a new year begins, the hiatus between terms gives us moment to pause and consider the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
The department recently completed a comprehensive self-study as part of the process of academic program review – a chance to reflect on who we are, where we have been, and where we are going as a department. Our programs continue to flourish. Our core commitments to the transformative value of a liberal education and to our teaching and research missions remain durable. Even as our curricula evolve along with the changing needs of students in the 21st century, we are encouraged by students’ continued desire to grapple with complexity and to approach their own personal, professional, civic, and intellectual prospects with curiosity, analytical clarity, thoughtful consideration of the past and the present, and creative perspectives. We are fortunate that our enrollments are holding steady as students continue to seek out the unique avenues of inquiry that philosophy provides. Students want to be prepared for their careers, but they also want to be prepared for, and open to, the vagaries of life and the possibilities of transformation.
The Philosophy department remains committed to a vision of philosophical education that empowers students to engage in thoughtful reflection on themselves, their values, and the world in which they live. At a time in which questions of truth and judgment are pressing, the epistemological, ethical, and political questions and insights provided by philosophical study are integral to democracy and citizenship. Our aim is to prepare students, through all our curricula, not only for employment and economic success, but also for the myriad undertakings and adventures that lie in their future.
2017 was an eventful year, as you will see from the stories of student and faculty accomplishments and initiatives included here. Among other highlights, we introduced a new minor in Philosophy and Law, undergraduate research continues to thrive through apprenticeship and summer scholar opportunities, and graduate students presented their scholarship at national conferences. One of our graduate students, Kevin Doherty, was, through a highly competitive process, selected by the Humanities Center to be the Altman Graduate Fellow for 2018-19. In these and other ways, the department contributes to the vitality of the University and the profession. 
Finally, we offer our sincere gratitude to all of you who provided gifts to the department this year. Your contributions enrich our programming and foster community.
We’d love to hear from you!
Emily Zakin
New Minor in Philosophy and Law
In the Fall of 2017, the Philosophy Department introduced a new minor in Philosophy and Law. The Philosophy and Law Minor will be beneficial to students who are considering law school and/or careers in government, public policy, and administration, as well as students who are interested in questions of social justice, or who simply want to find out more about the complex connections that exist between philosophy, society, and the law. The minor provides training in areas of philosophy—especially logic, ethics, and political philosophy—that help develop the capacities for analytical and critical thinking that are central for success in law school, in legal professions, and for citizenship more generally. In particular, students will learn formal reasoning and philosophy of law, and will have opportunities to choose from a set of elective courses that will allow them to tailor their own plan of studies with the help of an advisor. 
With this focus on an individualized plan of study, the minor combines general training in philosophical ideas, debates, and methods with more focused work on the analytical, critical, and normative questions and issues that arise within legal systems, public and private institutions, and the professions. There will also be opportunities for reflection on such issues as they relate to citizenship, the state, and the relation between the individual and the public sphere.
The new minor replaces the minor in the History of Philosophy. The department hopes that it will better leverage the strengths of the department and the discipline of philosophy. While the American Bar Association does not recommend any particular field of study as a means to acquiring such skills, it is widely acknowledged the study of philosophy is among the most effective way to acquire them. This is reflected in the success that philosophy students have had in the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The success of philosophy graduates on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is persistent, and, despite changes in the content and scoring, students of philosophy regularly outperform their peers. Philosophy majors rank significantly better on the LSAT than any other humanities degree, with an average score tied with economics for the highest of any field with more than 2,000 students taking the exam for the 2007-2008 year.
Dr. Katherine Davies
Introducing Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Katherine Davies
Dr. Katherine Davies is a new Visiting Assistant Professor in our department. She is originally from Boise, Idaho but lived in both Atlanta, Georgia and Guatemala for the last six years. Here are some excerpts of an interview that she did with CAS communications intern Maya Fenter.
What is your educational background?
I got my Ph.D from Emory University very recently and I was living there for the last six years doing my Ph.D and my master’s degree, it was a combined program. Before that, I received my bachelors of arts in philosophy from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. I went to a few different universities before that, but that’s where I finished my undergraduate degree.
What philosophy courses are you currently teaching at Miami?
I’m teaching two sections of Introduction to Ethics (PHL 131) and I’m teaching an upper-level course, PHL 360A entitled, Confronting Death.
How did you get interested in philosophy?
Oh, that’s such a big question. I started reading philosophy, in particular Plato, at a very young age, like 12 or 13. To encounter a subject that was very difficult and opaque to me was challenging and exciting. I knew I was sort of interested in philosophy before I even got to college, and then I got there and started taking philosophy classes immediately. 
What is your area of specialization?
I have a few areas. Ethics is one. I also work in 19th and 20th Century Continental Philosophy – specifically phenomenology, existentialism – in addition to American transcendentalism. I also have three areas of competency – feminist philosophy, ancient philosophy and philosophy of art and literature.
What did you do your dissertation on?
I wrote my dissertation on the intersection of phenomenology and ethics. The title was “Heidegger’s Conversations: Relationality, Language and Ethics.”
Can you explain what you did or what was important about it?
The general motivation of the project was the question, “What happens when a rational philosophical argument fails to persuade someone?” So, I was interested in the stakes of a moment when someone says something like “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, I understand that that seems to be the right conclusion given the premises and given the relevant evidence, but I don’t accept it.” What does philosophy do then – that was sort of my initial question going into the project. I started writing specifically on Heidegger because he wrote conversations or dialogues. Plato also wrote dialogues I had been thinking about why Plato had written this way for a long time. I was interested in how Plato dramatized his conversations, but I also noticed how Heidegger wrote his conversations differently. I noticed that there seems to be more attention to things like affect, that he seems to care more about how his characters are feeling, for example, when one of Heidegger’s characters says, “I’m afraid that my whole way of seeing the world is wrong” instead of just being like, “Yes, you should be,” Heidegger’s other character responds, “Let’s talk about your fear, let’s stop and understand what’s going on there.” So I think that Heidegger really does have an ethics, which is new because most commentators say that there is no ethics in Heidegger’s philosophy. Making a case for there being what I call a performative ethics is pushing the limits of Heidegger’s scholarship a bit. In another way, my dissertation explores the ethics of conversation, broadly construed, including questions like, What does it mean to talk to someone? How are conversational partners obligated to be sensitive to power dynamics? How are intersections of identities related to gender, sex, race, ethnicity, or dis/ability infusing conversational spaces? I don’t think we can only pay attention to what we might explicitly say in a conversation, but we also need to attend to who we are speaking with and the accompanying histories, identities, and backgrounds which make any given conversation possible or impossible.
What do you like most or least about teaching?
I had a lot of experiences where someone would ask me a philosophy-related question and I would think to myself, “That’s a good question, that’s a hard question, I don’t know what the answer might be,” but then I would have this experience I opened my mouth and start thinking through and talking through the idea with them, and I would hear myself give myself this interesting answer that I never would have come to sitting in a room by myself. It was something about having someone to ask questions with that was just so stimulating for me. I wanted to become a teacher to get to keep asking good, hard questions with my students.
What are three books that you think everyone should read, philosophy-related or otherwise?
I do think that Plato’s dialogue, “Gorgias,” ought to be required reading for anyone who is a citizen. Teaching that text during politically tumultuous times in our country has been so illuminating and I think students are continually surprised at how relevant this classical text still is today. What does it mean when politicians use oratory for their own benefit and not necessarily for the good of the people? Do we expect politicians to only look out for themselves or ought we expect better? 
I would also say Heidegger’s “What is Called Thinking?” and Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance.”
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Just that I’m so excited to be at Miami. I’ve been so impressed with my students, and with my new colleagues. Thank you for the warm welcome!
Dr. Elaine Miller
Dr. Elaine Miller
Dr. Suzanne McCullagh
Dr. Suzanne McCullagh
Two Apprenticeships in Philosophy
The Humanities Center at Miami University offers apprenticeships to students interested in learning how to produce scholarship. The program enables students to gain knowledge of research techniques in the Humanities and to gain firsthand experience with the procedure of crafting a research project,. This year the Department of Philosophy is pleased to announce two apprenticed projects. Sophia Fremont and Annie Lazarski will be working with Dr. Elaine Miller this year on her book project. Sarah Camino and Angus Cady will be working with Dr. Suzanne McCullagh.
Dr. Miller’s project concerns the legacy of Kant's reflective judgment. In particular, it concerns the ways in which objects and phenomena can be categorized, According to Kant, determinate cognition and moral evaluation proceed by subsuming particular, observed phenomena or actions under universals that we already possess. Late in life Kant, however, Kant was dissatisfied with the lacuna between judgments about nature and about freedom So he introduced a new type of judgment -- the reflective judgment, which begins from a singular object or event, and proceeds from there to "search for" a universal, one which remains undetermined yet can communicate across differences. Although he conceived of reflective judgment as the kind of judging we do of beauty, sublimity, or teleology in nature, later thinkers have found it to be important for science, as when an overarching theory goes beyond what can be observed, for art,as when a singular creation may nonetheless have universal communicability, and for politics, as when a single actor or event may have exemplary significance.
Dr. McCullagh’s project –Heterogeneous Belonging and Ecopolitical Community – explores the conceptual possibilities for conceiving of communities as involving humans and nonhumans and the role that the concept of heterogeneity could play. It is a work of ecological political philosophy, in contrast with both environmental and ecological justice, that attempts to work on the concept of the political and in doing so reconfigure it so as to reveal political community (the sphere of political belonging and action) as populated and constituted by nonhuman entities and elements. While such thinking runs counter to our thoroughly entrenched commitments to the idea that humans are the only animal capable of politics (Aristotle) and that politics requires rationality (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), this work argues that we fail to register significant features of political thought and action when we hold too fast to our inherited assumptions about the nature of the political. The dominant tendency to delimit political community from the natural and more than human world by seeing it as produced by exclusively human attributes and actions undermines our ability to think both social and ecological justice adequately.
Kevin Doherty
An Interview with Kevin Doherty about Urban Futures and Philosophy
Kevin Doherty, a current graduate student in Philosophy at Miami is participating in this year’s Altman Program, Urban Futures. Below, he speaks with Maya Fenter about the program and the relationship it has to his work in philosophy.
What is the Altman Program?
Every year in the Altman Program, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students pursue academic work around an annual theme. The leading faculty scholars also organize a guest speakers series, which gives all of us an opportunity to spend time with scholars working on similar issues across disciplines in the humanities.
What is your role in the program?
I generally spend time with the visiting speakers and act as an informal advisor to the undergraduates in the program.
Explain the idea of Urban Futures as you understand it and why you think it is important.
Many economic, ecological, political, and social facets of our lives are mediated by the urban, even for those of us who do not live in cities. By holding together these intersecting facets, the question of urban futures opens onto another question: how to foster sustainable relationships with each other and the lands that give us food and shelter. Or else, a question of how to sustain and be sustained beyond transactional exchange flows and use-value.
What sort of work do you do in philosophy?
Usually I’ve worked in German Idealism and facets of twentieth century French philosophy.
How does the topic of Urban Futures relate to your philosophical interests?
One question raised by Derrida is relevant to the city: who counts? Who does the counting and who is counted? How are present inaugurations of the city grounded in and beyond our past material and conceptual inheritances? Here the question of the city is a distinctly political question, one that intersects with work by Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, among many others. With respect to my interests, I hope to look toward the way in which legacies of the ancient polis are invoked today. Looking back to look ahead is my attitude here, one that finds the city and the political caught between the not yet of tomorrow and the too late of yesterday.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about yourself, area of study, etc.?
I burn tea more than I usually admit!
Faculty Notes
  • Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus has recently published "Knowing without Borders and the Work of Epistemic Gathering" in Margaret McLaren's (‘82) Decolonizing Feminism.  She has also delivered the keynote address at Claremont McKenna College's "Gaslighting and Epistemic Injustice" conference in September. 
  • Dr. Facundo Alonso has recently published two items: “Reductive Views of Shared Intention,” in Routledge Handbook on Collective Intentionality, edited by Kirk Ludwig and Marija Jankovic. London: Routledge, 2007. “Intending, Settling, and Relying,” in Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, Volume 4, edited by David Shoemaker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 50-74.
  • Dr. Pascal Massie has recently published "Masks and the Space of Play" in Research in Phenomenology and "Reflections on Robert C. Scharff’s How History Matters to Philosophy" in the Fall issue ofPhilosophy Today. 
  • Dr. Chris King’s paper “Is Normative Consent a Theory of Authority?” was accepted to the Spring 2018 Pacific APA.
Alumni Notes
  • Emily Stitzlein (B.A. 2001) continues to work as a philosopher of education at the University of Cincinnati in the School of Education and in the Philosophy Department. She has recently been promoted to full professor. Concurrently, she will be publishing a new book with Oxford University Press, American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens: Supporting Democracy in an Age of Accountability. She is working on another collaborative project on hope called
  • Amanda Holmes (M.A. 2011) is alumna of Miami University of Ohio and current Doctoral Student at Villanova University has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to Slovenia in Philosophy from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Holmes will conduct research with the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis as part of her research in phenomenology and psychoanalysis.
  • Jason Walsh (M.A. 2016) is a recent graduate of the Master’s program in Philosophy at Miami. He is currently attending the Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Emory University.
  • Brian Maddox (M.A. 2016) is a recent graduate of the Master’s program in Philosophy at Miami. He is currently attending the Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Depaul University.
  • Kit Connor (M.A. 2016) is a recent graduate of the Master’s program in Philosophy at Miami. She is currently attending the Ph.D. program in Philosophy at the University of Oregon.
Miami Thinkers Merger with Ethics Bowl Club
Two of Miami University’s philosophy-based student organizations have merged to create a larger community. The Thinkers of Miami University is a more traditional philosophy club. During meetings, members have an in-depth discussion about topics chosen prior to the meeting. Past topics include trans-humanism, the meaning of life and science and technology. Ethics Bowl is an intercollegiate debate competition in which teams of three to five students from schools around the country form arguments based on various case studies. Teams receive 15 case studies at the beginning of the semester and are asked to present their argument to one of them during a competition. They are required to explain how they evaluated the case, the conclusions at which they arrived, and what moral theories or methods they used to reach their conclusion. There are 100 regional competitions. The top 22 teams in the country then advance to a national competition.
The two clubs alternate meeting times. The Thinkers meet one week and Ethics Bowl meets the next. “Ethics Bowl is more about arguing one side against another in a stricter sense,” said junior Matthew Marino, Vice President of The Thinkers. “Ethics is obviously talking about morality, so you’re evaluating cases based on their rightness or wrongness in a moral sense. The Thinkers is more about looking deep into one topic as opposed to evaluating a case.”
Next semester, Marino hopes to format meetings differently with the goal of competing in the fall of 2018. “I feel like there’s a growing number of liberal arts majors and I just feel like we could have a lot of success with [Ethics Bowl] here,” Marino said. I think we have a great student body for it. I really see it growing down the road and being something we can really be proud of.” Marino encourages new members to attend meetings. “I always walk away feeling very enlightened,” Marino said. “That’s what we’re trying to cultivate: a lot of critical thinking and an outlet for kids to come and share their opinions and views.”
Upcoming Speakers for Spring 2018
The Harris Lecture will be given this year by Dr. Nomy Arpaly of Brown University on April 5, 2018. Professor Arpaly Her main research interests include ethics, moral psychology, action theory, and free will. Professor Arpaly is author of several articles and of three books: Unprincipled Virtue, published by Oxford in 2002; Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage, published by Princeton University Press in 2006; and In Praise of Desire, co-authored with Timothy Schroeder and published by Oxford University Press in 2014.
Other speakers for Spring 2018 include:
  • Dr. Rachel Zuckert (Northwestern) Feb 9
  • Dr. Hasana Sharp (McGill) Mar 2
  • Dr. Serene Khader (Brooklyn College) April 27
212 Hall Auditorium • Oxford, OH 45056 
© 2018 Miami University.
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