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Philosophy Newsletter: September 2017

Dear Alumni and Friends of the W&M Philosophy Department:

Greetings and happy autumn! We are well into the 2017 fall term here at William & Mary. I have much news to share about the Philosophy Department's past academic year and about coming events. First, however, I extend a cordial invitation to join us at the Department’s annual homecoming open house on Friday, October 20, from 3:00 to 4:30 pm, in the Frank MacDonald Library, James Blair Hall 127. If you’re in town for the festivities, please drop in for refreshments and conversation with our faculty and philosophy majors. It’s always a pleasure to see you, hear about your endeavors, and reminisce about your time at William & Mary.

As always, we are very grateful for your contributions to our Department. I’m excited to say that we have been able to make some significant improvements with your gracious support. Our Philosophy seminar room, which we use for our first-year and junior-senior seminars, discussion club meetings, and Department meetings, now has the latest electronic technology! We’ve installed a 65-inch flat-screen monitor with “Air Media,” which allows anyone in the room to project presentations wirelessly from a laptop computer or other remote device. This move transforms the interactions we have in that room, which before had no electronics at all. We’re also planning for further upgrades in the near future: new carpeting and paint in the seminar room, plus new carpeting in the McDonald Library. The carpeting has not been replaced for more than twenty years in either location. Your donations, no matter the size, are making a huge difference to the quality of life in the Philosophy Department. Thank you!

 ~Student News~

Last October, students Catherine Denton and Anastasia Rivera became the first recipients of Jennifer Bosanko Memorial Scholarships. The Bosanko scholarships are now awarded each fall to one or two Philosophy majors who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, industriousness, and a well-rounded approach to the world. Kudos to Catherine and Anastasia! We received many contributions to the Bosanko Fund this past year and are appreciative to all who continue to donate in memory of Jen.

The Jerry Miller Essay Prize was bestowed upon graduating senior Nate Wahrenberger for his excellent essay, “Reason and Practical-Regret.” Thank you to Bill and Mary Richardson, whose generosity was instrumental in establishing the prize fund. Bill spoke about Jerry’s life and presented the award at our diploma ceremony on May 14. Congratulations to Nate! At that ceremony, the Department graduated twenty-five majors, thirteen of whom were double majors with another discipline. Special recognition also goes to our Honors students Kristen Ekstrom, Hunter Gentry, Cody Turner, and Samantha Kim!

The Diverse Philosophies Club had a very active year in 2016-17. Led by seniors Ellen Yates, Hunter Gentry, and Nate Wahrenberger, Diverse Philosophies had weekly meetings, with student-led discussions on such topics as Chinese epistemology, the ethics of punishment, the mind-body problem, and queer theory. They and the Department together sponsored our annual two-day student conference, which featured William & Mary students, plus students from Vassar, Louisiana State, University of Georgia, American University, University of Virginia, and Central Michigan. The full program is linked from this web page.

Diverse Philosophies is already off to another great start this year, under the facilitation of students Noah Terrell and Michael Cairo, along with faculty mentors Aaron Griffith and Philip Swenson, our newest faculty member. (Read about Philip just below.)

~Faculty News~

The Department is excited to welcome to its ranks Assistant Professor Philip Swenson. Philip holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Riverside and specializes in the area of moral responsibility. He will be teaching courses in philosophy of law and various courses in ethics, including environmental ethics, plus upper-level seminars on moral responsibility. You can read an interview with Professor Swenson about his interests and avocations here.

I am happy to report that Professors Joshua Gert and Chris Freiman each published books at the end of the summer. Professor Freiman’s book, Unequivocal Justice, is already receiving attention for its provocative arguments on how to think about justice. You can see a recent interview with Chris on his views about the morality of immigration here.

And Professor Gerts’s new book, Primitive Colors, about the complexities of color perception, is the subject of a feature article here.

In faculty honors, Joshua Gert was named Leslie and Naomi Legum Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, bringing the number of Legum professors in the Department to two; Noah Lemos is the other. Laura Ekstrom has been appointed Francis S. Haserot Distinguished Professor for the next five years. And Chris Freiman is now Class of 1963 Distinguished Term Associate Professor. Congratulations to my outstanding colleagues! I was also privileged and surprised to receive a Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence this past spring; I am grateful to Joseph Plumeri for his unstinting support of W&M faculty. The Philosophy Department is a collection of very engaged scholars and teachers. To quote the Department’s glowing external program review report received this past spring: “The faculty is committed to striving for excellence both in scholarship and in teaching, and to having a welcoming and supportive climate….. The Department has an outstanding research profile, and it is providing a truly first-class education for its students.”

~Department Events~

This October 5-7, the Department is sponsoring a Workshop on Theistic Ethics, organized by Professor Chris Tucker, in cooperation with philosophical colleagues from Georgetown and Wake Forest universities. The workshop will feature nine presentations, representing various perspectives on the connection between God and the content of morality. You can read more about the workshop here.

This year, the Department is hosting four colloquium speakers: Professor David Sobel (Syracuse University) spoke on “Valuing Can Ground Value” in mid-September. Upcoming fall speakers are Professor Jonathan Neufeld (College of Charleston), who works in aesthetics, and Professor Filipe De Brigard (Duke), who does research on memory and imagination. Professor Carla Merino-Rajme (UNC-Chapel Hill), who specializes in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, will visit us in the spring.

Planning is well underway for our next Biennial Conference, to be held September 20-21, 2018. The conference, organized by Josh Gert, will be on “Applied Neo-Pragmatism,” the attempt to solve problems involved with talk about truth by replacing such talk with reference to usefulness. It promises to feature a stellar cast of speakers including renowned philosophers Simon Blackburn (Cambridge and UNC-Chapel Hill) and Huw Price (University of Cambridge). You can find more information about the conference here.

We invite you to join us at any and all of these events! You can find times and places on our homepage as each event approaches. Our conferences, the special workshop, and our colloquium series are all made possible by the support of Teresa Thompson and Michael Foradas, whose contributions have had a large impact on the intellectual life of the Department. We are very grateful.

~Send Us your News~

We would be delighted to hear from you. We invite you to submit your updates online, and we’ll be pleased to post them on our website. Please catch us up on your activities! We especially enjoy hearing how your philosophical studies have made a difference in your life. You can use this convenient form, if you’d like.

This is my last fall newsletter, since I conclude my term as Philosophy Department chair at the end of this academic year. It has been a gratifying experience, and I have especially enjoyed my contact with our alumni. For now, though, I look forward to a very productive and dynamic 2017-18 and hope to see you at the Homecoming reception on October 20!

Best wishes,
Elizabeth Radcliffe
Philosophy Department Chair