Faculty Spotlight: Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc

photo of Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc

  • visiting assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy
  • previously taught at Michigan State University
  • BA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; PhD, Harvard University
  • teaches courses and does research related to moral philosophy and ideas of dehumanization


"I completed my BA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008, and then a year later I pursued a PhD in Philosophy at Harvard University, where I spent about 8 years of my adult life. I finished in fall 2017 and, after working at Michigan State University for a year and a half, I then came to Miami University. I'm excited to be here!

"I was sort of an unusual case, because I was 16 or 17 when I knew I wanted to be a philosophy professor. I don't know of any other person for whom that was true; it might mean that I was a pretty odd teenager. Basically, once the idea of doing philosophy for a living was presented to me, I took it up enthusiastically. I haven't looked back.

"I think what drew me to philosophy was that it promised the opportunity to think deeply and critically about how to live one's life. In fact, I first got interested after reading Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a novel about a man who goes on a spiritual journey in pursuit of enlightenment. And I think that what really struck me about the book was the possibility that by thinking clearly and carefully you could actually reach rational (and potentially correct!) conclusions about how to live your own life, which may be radically different than what you were inclined to think."


"I am teaching two sections of Introduction to Ethics, as well as a course on dehumanization (Humanity and Inhumanity). We are looking at a variety of forms of dehumanization, broadly construed: gender-based subordination and sexual objectification; wrongful acts such as torture and rape; the horrors of slavery, colonialism, and racism — all to determine whether or not people who are mistreated in these ways are seen as objects, subhuman creatures, or animals, in some sense (or, perhaps, even as monsters). This course brings together my interests in moral philosophy and social philosophy, fields that are not always in dialogue.

"As a teacher, I am interested in evoking in my students a sense of wonder at the complexity and puzzling character of some of these topics, which might seem so familiar that we don't notice how strange they are. But I also put a high premium on building certain intellectual and practical skills in my students, especially learning how to write clearly, intelligently, and charitably. Charity is a virtue that's not emphasized very much nowadays, especially in climates where fraught political debates tend to be structured by incentives to represent the other side as crazy or deeply misguided. Still, it is indispensable, especially now.

"I also want my students to walk away from my class with intellectual humility. No one has all the right answers, particularly to the difficult, complex question that philosophers address. And when you are humble as a thinker, one advantage that you have over somebody who is not is that you are usually in a position to understand their arguments better than they'll understand yours. This is a very important skill to have, especially in political discussions on sensitive topics marked by partisan divisions.

"What I have really liked so far is how eager my students have been to learn (even, sometimes, early in the morning!). Miami students are very earnest and very motivated to succeed in my courses. They actually engage with the material in a good faith, serious way. And this seriousness on their part is matched by the faculty's equally serious commitment to pedagogy. I think this speaks to Miami's quality as an educational institution.

"I believe that the value of philosophy resides in the fact that it emphasizes certain intellectual virtues like clarity and argumentative rigor. Learning how to write philosophically can also just make one a better writer in general, as well as a better thinker. If you want to think critically to the maximal degree and you want to know how to write clearly, succinctly, and persuasively, there is really no better field than philosophy for cultivating all of those skills!

"Philosophy is also valuable because it is oriented toward analyzing some of the most basic concepts that we employ in our daily lives — concepts such as beauty, goodness, and knowledge. It requires taking a critical eye to our key assumptions about the world.  I think that this stance can make it much easier for people to reframe some of the questions and problems that they face in their professional lives, which is why philosophy majors end up doing quite well professionally after graduation even in fields that don't seem to have any connection to philosophy."


"Currently I'm working on a project on what's called the moral psychology of dehumanization. I look at complaints made by victims of inhumanity and oppression, with a focus on their use of language that suggests dehumanization, understood broadly as the disregard or repudiation of a person's humanity, particularly through acts of violence.

"For example, there are certain forms of treatment that make it natural for people to say that they have been treated as objects or as animals, or that their humanity was invisible to the people who did them wrong. What I want to know is this: Could these sorts of claims be true? How should we understand those claims to begin with? And do the categories invoked by this sort of talk help us to understand what it is that we owe to other people?

"I think that vindicating claims about dehumanization, in this broad sense, involves significantly rethinking, at the very least, the idea of what it is to recognize someone as a person like ourselves. And gaining some clarity on this topic is important for all of us, philosophers and non-philosophers alike."

Outside the Classroom

"When I'm not writing philosophy, I'm writing poetry. I'm also starting to write a little bit of creative nonfiction. We will have to see what happens with that, but I'm kind of excited about that project. I also really like listening to contemporary music and trying to keep up with the tide, although there is just so much of it.

"Oh, and I love dogs. A lot."

[October 2019]