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Philosophy Newsletter: October 2019

Hello Alumni and Friends!

First things first: this year the Department’s annual homecoming reception will be held on Friday, October 18. If you’re in town for the game – or for any other reason – please join us from 3:00 to 4:30 pm in the Frank MacDonald Library (James Blair Hall 127). If you haven’t come in a few years, there will be some new faces to meet. And if you don’t like new faces, there will also be some old ones, along with wine, cheese, fruit, and other drinks and snacks. We’d love to catch up with you.

One big piece of news is that our office manager of 28 years, Debbie Wilson, retired at the end of last year.  The event was celebrated with many baked goods.  Happily, we still see Debbie in James Blair from time to time.  Our new manager, Pamela Barber, started at the end of February.  From these two facts you can deduce that we were without any manager for a couple of months.  But – against the odds – we survived without disasters of any kind.

As the new COLL curriculum has been rolling out, our faculty have been developing new courses to contribute.  This Spring we’ll be offering Chinese Philosophy for the first time, and we’ve recently added Philosophy of Love and Friendship and Ethics and Data Science to our regular catalog of recurring courses. The department is proud to say that each semester roughly 80% of our classes are contributing to the new curriculum.

As always, thank you for your contributions! This past year was really remarkable; we received gifts from nearly eighty alumni, for a total of over $22,000 dollars!  It is really your contributions that allow the department to function the way that it does, funding faculty travel to national and international conferences, hosting picnics for the majors, paying for distinguished speakers to come and talk to faculty and students, and keeping our library and seminar room in good shape.  We cannot thank you enough!

 ~Student News~

This past May the Department graduated a record thirty-seven Philosophy majors! Blow 201 was full to overflowing with graduates and their families. There were also a record six students completing Honors Theses: Nathaniel Anderson, Riley Covert, Bryce Herndon, Lynette Shen, Taro Shirakawa, and Will Siegmund.  These students defended theses on topics ranging from philosophy of consciousness, political philosophy, ethics, and, of course, ghosts.

Lynette Chen has gone on to graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Both Nathaniel Anderson (’19) and Megan Kitts (’18) are now pursuing PhDs in Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Sue Su is in the Law program at Columbia.  Thomas Mattessich (’14) is now in the Masters’ program in Philosophy at Brandeis.  And Jackson Eskay (’17) is now in Law School at Emory University. 

This October Grayce Burns was the recipient of the Jennifer Bosanko Memorial Scholarships. The Bosanko scholarships are awarded each fall to one or two Philosophy majors who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, industriousness, and a well-rounded approach to the world: the sort of virtues that characterized Jen Bosanko. Grayce is a Sharpe Community Scholar and double-major in Philosophy and Public Policy.  She is the leader of a UNICEF chapter at William & Mary, serves on the public-relations team for the campus magazine ROCKET, has volunteered with Branch Out, and – when she found herself with too much free time – taught English to orphans in Taiwan.  We received many contributions to the Bosanko Fund this past year and are very grateful to everyone who helped celebrate the memory of Jen.

The Jerry Miller Essay Prize was awarded in May to graduating seniors Yifan (Sue) Su and Will Siegmund.  Will’s essay discussed the best way to accommodate minority groups, while Sue’s paper addressed empirical challenges to the idea that we are truly responsible for our actions. Once again, our heartfelt thanks go to Bill and Mary Richardson, whose generosity was instrumental in establishing the prize fund, and who renew the memory of Jerry Miller every year at our graduation ceremony.

The Diverse Philosophies Club was led by students Noah Terrell and Michael Cairo again this past year.  It held weekly meetings where the students discussed a huge range of topics.  Here is a brief list: the problem of evil, Rawls on justice, the use of gendered pronouns, Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, Heidegger's Being and Time, mystical theory, Catharine MacKinnon on the exploitation of women and rights to free speech, Foucault and race, free will, and conceptions of equality.  As you can see, the club is well-named! 

With support from the Department and the Reves center, the club also held its annual undergraduate conference that on April 6th and 7th. The keynote speaker was Dr. Chris Tweedt of Christopher Newport University. It also featured talks by William & Mary students, as well as students from other excellent Philosophy departments, such as Rutgers, Wake Forest, Northeastern, and Calvin College. You can find the conference program here along with more information about the club.

~Faculty News~

Elizabeth Radcliffe, along with a co-director from Portland State University in Oregon, received a grant of $186,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The grant will allow them to co-direct a Summer Institute, called “Hume in the 21st Century: Perpetuating the Enlightenment.”  The purpose of the Institute is to provide an opportunity for participants – about thirty college and university professors, along with a few grad students – to meet for four weeks.  They will study with a rotating faculty of twelve experts, who will discuss various topics in Hume's philosophy, many with a contemporary themes. Professor Radcliffe’s own book on Hume, Hume, Passion, and Action, will be the subject of an author-meets-critics session this January at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

Chris Tucker has been awarded a “Bridges in Latin America” Mentoring Fellowship, through the Templeton Foundation.  He will be mentoring Felipe Medeiros of the Pontifical Catholic University of the Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.  Felipe is a graduate student who will be studying religious ethics with Professor Tucker.

~Department Events~

We have an exciting lineup of guest speakers in our colloquium series.  On Friday, October 4th Michael Zimmerman of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, gave a talk entitled “Willful Ignorance and Moral Responsibility.”  Additional speakers this academic year include Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke), on November 15th, Sarah Stroud (UNC-Chapel Hill), on Valentine’s Day, and Myisha Cherry (UC-Riverside) on April 24th.  And on March 6th and 7th the department will be hosting a Mini-Conference on the intersection of Ethics & Metaphysics.  You can find the times and places for these events on our homepage

All these conferences, workshops, and colloquium talks are made possible by the support of Teresa Thompson and Michael Foradas. Their very generous gifts, along with gifts from so many of you, have contributed a great deal to the intellectual vibrancy of the department, and have helped raise the profile of William & Mary, and the Philosophy department.

~Alumni News~

Dr. Gregory Pence (’70), a renowned Bioethics scholar at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, was named the 2019 winner of the Caroline P. & Charles W. Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.  Congratulations!  For more on Dr. Pence and the Ireland Prize, check out this link.

Please let us know what and how you are doing; submit your updates online using this form, or send them to me via email, and we’ll post them on our website.

We hope to see you at the Homecoming reception on October 18th!

Best wishes,
Joshua Gert
Philosophy Department Chair