Philosophy Newsletter

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Spotlight on Pre-Med and Philosophy

1The Department of Philosophy has been reflecting for the past year on the ways in which an undergraduate degree in philosophy can benefit students interested in professional school.

While law school is a common destination for Philosophy BA's, Philosophy with a co-major in Pre-Medical Studies may seem like a less likely academic path. However, as some of our students attest here, philosophy pairs naturally with pre-medical study. Relevant skills and values cultivated in philosophy include the capacity to think critically and consider multiple perspectives in analyzing a situation, the ability to address and solve complex problems based on the best evidence, and the careful consideration of the ethical ramifications of forms of care for the whole person. Philosophy also considers justice in health care, including who has access to needed medicines and services, and who is excluded.

In 2018-19 our pre-medical advisor, Dr. Facundo Alonso, gave a guest lecture at the Mallory-Wilson Center for Health Care Education on different ethical theories and their application to medicine, and Dr. Alonso and I also spoke with the Phi Delta Epsilon medical fraternity about philosophy and medicine.

Two of our outstanding students, Harsh Agrawal and Ethan Saulnier, both headed to medical school, write here of the ways in which their philosophy major and minor, respectively, enhanced their pre-medical studies. Next semester, Dr. David Hirsch, an alumnus of our program who is currently a physician and professor at Emory University Medical School, will speak at our Career Pathways event.

We enjoyed hearing back from many of you, and encourage you to contact us anytime!

Elaine Miller
Chair

Philosophy Student Spotlight

Harsh Agrawal '20 Senior Major in Philosophy, Premedical Studies co-major.

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"One of the most useful skills I've learned from philosophy is the art of arguing: it involves just as much listening as it does making clear, rational points. It has helped foster my growth-mindset, made me more empathetic, and forced me to slow down and think deeply. As a result, I think it has helped me become a better friend, partner, colleague, leader, and hopefully, physician."

Philosophy and Medicine

Written by Ethan Saulnier '19

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While various family members’ brain tumor, dementia, and depression spurred my interest in medicine, philosophy has enriched my pursuit of medicine. Philosophy offers a multitude of ways to think and provides a broad, multidisciplinary approach as I aim to better other’s lives.

For example, the class Confronting Death and my ensuing reflections on mortality elicited a serious reconsideration of my values. Thanks to this class and my later interest in environmental philosophy, I arrived at a very positive outlook on life itself and a more grim view of many historical developments. Philosophy, then, added as one of my motives for pursuing medicine the prospect of aiding those barred by illness to glimpse and engage this joy of existence and appreciate opportunity. Moreover, through studying such puzzles as the Epicurean and Lucretian problem, the class helped me to wade through misconceptions around death and understand some people’s fear of death. The class’s section on the ethics of suicide interested me in medical ethics, which I took next.

If rational suicide is ethical, should a medical professional be able to assist? And if so, can a physician prescribe a lethal medication or should they withhold life-sustaining treatment? The latter may be less humane and morally sinister, since it involves a drawn-out dying process, filled with more pain and suffering. Moreover, those committing rational suicide usually prefer agency and want to exercise control over how their life ends. Now if physician-assisted active suicide is permissible, should voluntary euthanasia be permitted for disabled patients who are unable to administer their own medication? Moreover, if the intention and consent of patient and physician are identical, is there a moral difference between whose hand administers the medication?

Overall, I found medical ethics to be highly relevant to my career path. Besides the above thorny issue, the general pattern of technology outpacing our ethical thinking, coupled with the medical field’s richness in human value and emotion, means that medical ethics is an invaluable field to study.

Existentialism was pertinent in so far as it helped me realize that I preferred the osteopathic medical philosophy (DO program) to the allopathic one (MD program). Ideally, medicine is evenhanded science and humanities. Yet the current scientific paradigm of matter-based objectivity as the ultimate truth ignores the mental life and agency of the patient.

To the contrary, each body is different as they belong to individuals of varying hopes, beliefs, cultures, languages, which all compound the illness in myriad ways. Hence, the phenomenological perspective acknowledges the patient’s perceptions, desires and fears, and emphasizes their lived experience. Illness, similar to a random act of violence on the shell of one’s sense of self – that is, the body – disrupts the projects that one is engaged in. Focusing on the patient’s direct lived experience serves to counterweight science’s lens on the biology of illness, which, of course, it does very well.

Feminist theory has heightened my sensitivity to and sympathy for various group’s marginalization. I’ve gained an understanding of the interplay of constructivism and societal oppression – how gender and race are collective and interdependent fictions, which are reified through differential treatment, norms, structural inequities – and hence one’s chances at upward socioeconomic mobility – which then cement cultural beliefs, perceptions, and prejudices toward a group and perpetuate their disenfranchisement.

Just as mind and body cannot be separated because our emotional lives affect our physical health or compound our illness body and environment cannot be separated. For example, a study showed that when pregnant women breathed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (in polluted areas), their children were more likely to have behavior problems by school age. Here the disease is poverty-induced. A 2004 Johns-Hopkins study found that a fetus’s reactivity to stress is affected by the mother’s stress, depression or anxiety. So the environment that the pregnant woman finds herself in – supportive or possibly stressful – impacts the unborn child. If disease reflects environment, or socioeconomic status, rather than individual fault, then the lines become blurred between medicine on the one hand, and public health or social justice work on the other hand. Hence, advocacy through medicine can strongly contribute to a group’s empowerment and emancipation.

Environmental philosophy, evolutionary biology and history combine to give the umbrella framework of evolutionary medicine, and the subsets of eco-psychology, functional medicine, and integrative medicine. Evolutionary medicine studies the behavior of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – such as what we evolved to eat – in order to suggest various means of acquiring optimum physical and mental health.

Depression qualifies as a disease of civilization as it’s virtually unknown in all remaining Indigenous peoples, while the World Health Organization projects depression as the second most prominent illness by 2020. The last 10,000 years have witnessed a drastic reconfiguration in our lifestyle, and human evolution is much slower – it’s this struggling to keep up in a fast-paced world that leads to stress. The hunter-gatherers had a varied and balanced diet, mobility, a spiritual and animistic connection to nature, and close friendships and familial relationships. Walking the earth at 3 mph allows us to absorb the landscape’s details, while this is difficult in an autocentric society.

As I hope I’ve demonstrated, philosophy has had a colossal impact on my thoughts about medicine and will continue to serve as an invaluable toolbox as I enter this profession and explore my current interests of palliative & hospice medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry.

Reflections by a Geoffrion Fellow

Written by Henry Roach '19

 

4This year, the theme of the John W. Altman Program in the Humanities is time and temporality, so we have been exploring those issues from the unique interdisciplinary standpoint provided by the Humanities Center. As part of the lecture series, we have heard differing perspectives on the subject from Jonathan Crary, an art professor at Columbia, Jack Halberstam, an English professor at the same institution, Marcia Bjornerud, a geology professor at Lawrence University, Matthew Burtner, a music professor at UVA, and Jenann Ismael, a philosophy professor at Columbia. Additionally, this semester Dr. Jonathan Strauss from the French department and the Philosophy department’s own Dr. Elaine Miller co-taught a class on Time and Temporality that surveyed various views on time, incorporating such diverse sources as Alison Bechdel and St. Augustine.

Personally, being part of the Altman program has exposed me to a wide variety of subject matter that I wouldn’t necessarily encounter in the Philosophy and English departments, which has been very welcome. Additionally, being able to get one-on-one time with all of these speakers has been really cool, and I was even able to ask Dr. Ismael a question about how one of my philosophical fields of interest (free will) relates to her subject. Attending the faculty seminars has been eye-opening, especially for someone considering a career in academia, as it’s been the first time I’ve really heard how professors talk about academic subjects among their peers. I’ve found that it can be the little things that have the most impact; for instance, I was once at dinner with three English professors, and one of the other fellows and I got to hear them discuss their perspectives on the academic publishing process and talk with them about my research.

As a Geoffrion Fellow, I have been part of interviewing the speakers and I recently finished editing the first draft of a podcast based on the Jonathan Crary interview which will eventually be released as part of the fellows’ public humanities project. While the editing process was fun, I can safely say that I’m ok not listening to myself talk for a while. Next semester, I’ll be pursuing an independent research project on diachronic agency, supervised by Dr. Alonso, and I’ll be presenting my work at the Symposium at the end of next semester, which is very exciting. Overall, I’m really glad the Humanities Center has given me this opportunity, and I think I speak for all of the students in the Time and Temporality class when I say that I’ll miss the unconventional and always interesting ways Drs. Miller and Strauss made us think about time

Contextualizing the Horrific Spectacle of Lynching

Written by Dania Puente, CAS communications intern

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On September 26, Miami's Department of Philosophy hosted Melvin Rogers, an associate professor of political science at Brown University, to give its annual Harris Memorial Lecture.

The title of his talk was "The Spectacle of Lynching Redeployed: On the Performance of Democratic Regard," in which he showcased several public lynching images in the context of the classic 1939 jazz song "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday.

Rogers' interests and research mainly focus on contemporary democratic theory and the history of American and African-American political and ethical philosophy.

Continue reading.

Philosophy Faculty Spotlights

Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc Visiting Assistant Professor

6.1"I 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."

Sam Gault Visiting Assistant Professor

6"My teaching goal is to help students think through philosophical concepts for themselves. I don't view it as really transmitting knowledge per se; it’s fairly pointless to sit there and try to memorize what a bunch of dead people thought on various issues. People will arrive at these ideas for themselves. That’s the thing that I love about philosophy -- it's a conversation that’s been going on for thousands of years!

Philosophy Graduate Pursues Applied Intelligence

Miami has prepared me immensely for my Applied Intelligence program here at Mercyhurst University. In fact, the two other students in the program who also came from Miami feel the same, despite us all coming from different majors (history and political science on their part).7

 

Specifically, the critical thinking, writing, argumentation, and debate skills I practiced in philosophy classes, social psychology phenomena, and programming/statistical software knowledge from my stats classes are very helpful. The readings are not more than the average philosophy student (almost comforting because I'm so used to it!). As I had hoped, all of my courses benefit me in some way. In fact, my Miami peers and I are the most involved and are performing the best. I hope our performance continues to set a foundation for Miami alumni to go to Mercyhurst.

I've even been thinking of a specific list of courses regardless of major, which a Miami student could take to prepare for this program. The classes that I've found most useful to the career I'm pursuing are Introduction to Ethics, Formal Logic, Symbolic Logic, Ancient and Modern Philosophy, and Advanced Ethical Theory.

Eleni Vidalis '19

Faculty Notes

Chris King gave a colloquium paper at the Pacific American Philosophical Association entitled "Is Normative Consent a Theory of Authority?" and a publication in Southwest Philosophy Review entitled "Authority, Particularity, and the Districting Solution."

Facundo Alonso presented a paper entitled "Prichard's Gambit" at the Conference on Social Agency and Relational Normativity, University of Vienna, on June 26.

Gaile Pohlhaus gave the keynote address at the Epistemic Injustice, Reasons, and Agency workshop hosted by the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. In May she presented at the Bled Philosophical Conference on Social Epistemology and the Politics of Knowing in Slovenia. She is currently co-organizing (with Miami alum Jeanine Weekes Schroer) the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory conference, which will take place in Clearwater Beach, Florida in October. She is also teaching a new class on “Philosophy of Disability.”

Michal Hicks attended the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of the History of Analytical Philosophy, in Boston and spent a month at the University of New Hampshire as an NEH Scholar, at an NEH Summer School entitled, "Philosophical Responses to Empiricism: Kant, Hegel, Sellars." His current project concerns whether Sellars's attack on the myth of the given requires us to reject all forms of the 20th century empiricist notion of knowledge by acquaintance.

Pascal Massie presented a paper entitled “Reality, Virtuality, and Play” at Northwestern Philosophy Conference, held by Pacific University (Forest Grove, OR) and responded to a paper on Plato at the Ancient Philosophy Society meeting at Trinity College in Hartford (CT). He completed a paper on the “common sense” in Aristotle’s De Anima and another one on the principle of non-contradiction.

Alumni Notes

James Grunebaum (Class of 1965)

I retired from SUNY Buffalo State and remain living in Buffalo. Besides teaching philosophy, I ran the All-College Honors Program for over a decade. I am sure I have mentioned my two books Private Ownership, Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1987, and Friendship, Liberty, Equality, and Utility, SUNY Press, 2003. I continue to be active in department activities and travel abroad.

8Frank Ingwersen (class of 1979)

I have fond memories of my days as a philosophy student in Oxford. My daughter graduated from Miami last spring and she had a wonderful college experience as well. Keep up the good work. Love and honor!

David Houghtaling (class of 1962)

I am a retired philosophy professor (Everett Community College). I'm a widower: Ruth Dills Houghtaling (Miami 1962) and I became a Miami Merger in 1961, she passed away 5 days after our 56th wedding anniversary. We had 3 wonderful children together, and they in turn gave us 4 incredibly bright grandchildren --- 3 of whom have graduate degrees ... I might add I now have a great-grand daughter who at 2 1/2 years of age is already in preschool. The lot of them define our legacy which Ruth and I owe to Miami University.

Heather Kendrick (class of 1998)

I am still living in Lansing, Michigan with my husband Joseph Nebus and teaching at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant. A relatively new and passionate interest I have picked up is competitive pinball. I currently run the Lansing Pinball League and play in other leagues and tournaments around the state. On the academic side, I recently published a piece in the animal ethics journal Between the Species (22.1) titled "Autonomy, Slavery, and Companion Animals." I would love to hear from other graduate students from the class of '98.

9 Ken Resnick (class of 1977)

Ken Resnick currently resides in Santa Fe, NM, after a 30+ year career as a trial lawyer in private practice and as General Counsel for one of General Electric Company's global businesses. He continues to do consulting work in the areas of corporate compliance, risk-management and governance for international companies, and teaches part-time a course on business ethics at Syracuse University in Florence, Italy. In May of 2019, Ken graduated from the Graduate Institute of St. John's College in Santa Fe with a Masters of Arts in Liberal Arts. Ken recently was invited to join the Board of Visitors and Governors of St. John's College. Otherwise, you will likely find Ken fly fishing, hiking or generally exploring the natural wonders of New Mexico.

Daniel Volkman (Class of 2013)

Getting my Masters of Science in TESOL at City College of New York. Teaching full time as an “English as a New Language” teacher in NYC.

Robert Kirkman (class of 1990)

I am currently Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for Advising in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech; I have been with the School since 2002. My research program has turned increasingly toward the teaching and learning of practical ethics, rooted in moral psychology, cognitive theory and phenomenology.

William Cannon (class of 1975)

Fond memories of Wilder, Schuller, and of Rick Momeyer throwing an eraser at my head because I fell asleep in his class after a hardy party night. I think there were about 60 philosophy majors in the mid 70s. it was a small department. I will publish my second novel this year, ever thankful that the argument, discourse, and consistent intellectual challenge of MU philosophy were solid foundations, though life has revealed that ‘mu’ may be a sweeter truth.

Pamela Miller (class of 2005)

I recently began a new position as a Senior Policy Analyst with The Center for Child Policy, a think tank that focuses on issues related to child maltreatment and child welfare system. My partner, Rob, and infant daughter Lila will soon be relocating to Nashville, TN for his new job.  Baby Lila was born March 21, 2019.

 10Sarah Stitzlein (class of 2001)

I am a professor of philosophy of education and an affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. My newest book is just about to be released from Oxford University Press and is available for all on the OUP website through an open access grant from the Association of Research Libraries. The book is called "Learning How to Hope: Reviving Democracy through Schools and Civil Society." The book explains what hope is, why it matters to democracy, and how to teach it. It draws heavily on American pragmatist philosophers.

Ben Hillin (class of 2017)

After finishing my MA, I moved to NYC to pursue work in the private sector. After a few brief stints in marketing, film criticism and publishing, I now currently work for a start-up. I still actively read philosophy, mostly works in Early Modern and German Idealist traditions. I recently presented his paper "Divergent Affirmations of Joy" a comparative paper on Spinoza and Deleuze. I live in Brooklyn with my 9 year old rescued pit bull Apollo.

Elizabeth Joniak-Grant (class of 2000)

I completed my Ph.D. at UCLA in sociology in 2010 and am currently a qualitative researcher at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center in Chapel Hill, NC working on two research studies related to opioid use. I have served as a patient representative to the FDA since 2014, representing patient interests in product development and on advisory committees. I am also beginning my second year of a three-year appointment to the CTTI/FDA Patient Engagement Collaborative, a forum focused on developing concrete ways to increase patient engagement in all stages of medical product development and regulation. Previously, I taught at Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, CA). I reside in NC with my husband, 20-month old son, and three cats.