2022 Philosophy Department Newsletter
Message from the Chair
Greetings to all of our alumni from the George Washington University Department of Philosophy! The department has kept busy since our last newsletter. We are pleased to share with you a few of the exciting things happening in the department, including the achievements of our philosophy community.
I want to note that we have a new member of our community: Alice Baker is our new senior academic department administrator. Alice hit the ground running, immediately turning her considerable energy, diligence and talents to challenges like organizing the Peter Caws Memorial, scheduled for only a few weeks after her first day in March 2022! The transfer of departmental operations into Alice’s capable, conscientious hands could not have been more smooth or seamless. We are very fortunate to have Alice in the department’s most important administrative position. Thank you, Alice, for everything you do!
And thank you, alumni, so much for your support and involvement. Please stay in touch.
Return of Short-Term Abroad Programs
GW philosophy students traveled through Greece through the short-term study abroad program.
The Philosophy Department was thrilled to offer its short-term study abroad program after two years of cancellations due to COVID-19. From May 17-28, Philosophy Professor Mark Ralkowski and the Department’s Senior Academic Department Administrator Alice Baker traveled with 21 GW students to Athens, Delphi, Santorini and Crete.
While staying in apartments in Pangrati, Athens, students visited the Acropolis and Parthenon, the Pnyx (where the ancient Assembly met), the Acropolis Museum, the Ancient Agora, the streets of modern Athens and the archeological site and museum at Delphi. They watched the sunset from Mt. Lycabettus, and some saw the sunrise behind the Parthenon while hiking with Professor Ralkowski to the top of Filopappou Hill, also called “Hill of the Muses,” at 5:00 a.m.
After these first few days in Athens, the program set sail from the Piraeus and traveled by ferry to the island of Santorini, where students visited the Bronze Age site of Akrotiri, the destruction of which is a possible inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis Myth in his Timaeus and Critias; the Museum of Prehistoric Thira; the volcano crater; and the iconic town of Oia. While on the island, students visited a local winery where they watched the sunset, swam in the volcanic hot springs, went cliff jumping at Amoudi Bay and spent late nights talking philosophy at the beach in Kamari.
After these encounters with the sublime and the beautiful on Santorini, the program set sail again, this time for the island of Crete. The unsettled seas tested everyone’s tolerance for sea sickness, but the ferry made it safely to Heraklion, which served as the home base for visiting the Bronze Age site of Knossos and the Heraklion Archeological Museum, arguably the most extraordinary museum in all of Greece.
While on Crete, everyone spent a full day hiking the Samaria Gorge, which begins in the mountains and finishes in a remote fishing village called Agia Roumeli. For the final two nights on Crete, everyone stayed in the charming town of Chania, which is full of seaside restaurants and bars that are open all night. The last day on the island was spent taking a day-long cruise to Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa, the site of a 16th century Venetian fort.
The program returned to Athens by overnight ferry—everyone was housed in cabins with beds and bathrooms—and the final day was spent traveling down the coast of Attica to the Temple of Poseidon, where we visited the famous archeological site and spent most of our time reflecting on our experiences together. The program wrapped up at a farewell dinner in Athens, and then a smaller “after hours” group migrated to the Pnyx where students took turns giving short speeches about their experiences while looking out toward the Parthenon and the city below.
There was unprecedented interest in this short-term study abroad program this year, and the program continues to develop through experience, trial and error. In future versions of the program, Professor Ralkowski plans to incorporate an extra day on Crete to include an introduction to traditional Cretan cooking.
Thacher-Reynolds prize winners (from left) Eliza Wizner, Shawky Darwish and Dylan Sapienza with donor and philosophy alumnus Michael Thacher, BA ’70.
This year, the Philosophy Department was privileged to have three recipients of the Thacher-Reynolds prize: Shawky Darwish, BA ’22, Dylan Sapienza, BA ’22, and Eliza Wizner, BA ’22. The Thacher-Reynolds prize is made possible by the generosity of philosophy alumnus, Michael Thacher, BA ’70. The prize supports research by outstanding philosophy majors in their final summer and academic year at the university and includes a stipend of $3,000.
The Philosophy Department has offered the Thacher-Reynold prize since 2004. The names of the recipients appear on a plaque, which is displayed prominently in the department’s reception area. Each of our three 2021-2022 Thacher-Reynolds fellows worked closely with a member of our faculty to write a thesis. On April 22, the theses were presented to the department and invited guests.
Shawky presented: "Capitalism ad Absurdum?: Re-Entangling Race and Class in the work of Charles Mills." He was supervised by faculty mentor Vanessa Wills. His abstract states:
“Charles Mills is perhaps most known for his stunning critique of racial exploitation as an enduring and central feature of currently-existing Liberal democratic societies. Less notable, however, is Mills’ insistence that a capitalist economy can, with a focus on mediating inequities in opportunity and respect, foster deracialization. This puts Mills at odds with contemporary Marxist scholars (Ferguson, Wills, and others) who view capitalism as inevitably producing, or at the very least maintaining, racial exploitation. What follows is a systematic review of ten key claims, across three major argumentative categories, asserted consistently throughout Charles Mills’ scholarship. I attempt to problematize these arguments, and more generally, his assertion that the eradication of racial exploitation can be achieved within a Liberal framework. I begin and end with a weighing of the prospects of recovering a historical-materialist analysis of racial domination that makes race central to any good-faith Marxist analysis of exploitation and expropriation of labor.”
Dylan presented "Debunking Arguments and Ethical Intuitionism: How Thought Experiments Can Help or Hinder our Understanding of Morality." Dylan was supervised by faculty mentor Laura Papish. Dylan’s abstract reads:
“Thought experiments can provide moral intuitions that influence the development of ethical systems. Some philosophers resist this influence by applying debunking arguments to intuitions that conflict with their ethical systems. I claim these conflicts can be best understood by appealing to an ethical system that has a foundation of multiple intuitions. I look at the work of Michael Huemer and W.D. Ross to see how a pluralistic moral theory can be justified and reconcile tensions between intuitions. Concluding, I propose a way to reimagine how thought experiments can function as reflective experiences that facilitate moral wisdom.”
Eliza presented "Belly Laugh: An Experience of Selfhood and a Critical Element of Humor Theory." Eliza was supervised by faculty mentor Mark Ralkowski. Her abstract reads:
“This paper explores the belly laugh as a critical element of the philosophy of humor. I argue that the belly laugh is a spontaneous and democratizing mechanism which can result in a sense of relief and at-homeness for the one who experiences it. While others have considered the importance of laughter in general and of the belly laugh specifically, I posit that they have misunderstood the radical ease which the belly laugh embodies. This paper will focus specifically on the conceptions of humor and laughter offered by Simon Critchley in On Humour and Julia and Cynthia Willett in Uproarious. I begin with a discussion of the authors mentioned above, then move on to refutations and further considerations on their subjects. Finally, I argue that the belly laugh belongs solely to the one who laughs, rather than to a humorist who makes one laugh to the content of a piece of comedy. This, I argue, is related to Audre Lorde’s conception of the “erotic” and is especially relevant to oppressed bodies.”
- The Philosophy Department would like to congratulate the Class of 2022! Watch the video of our graduation celebration, which was held on Saturday, May 14.
- The Department of Philosophy welcomed five alumni panelists to lead the third annual career workshop for graduating philosophy students in March 2022. The alumni joined our undergraduate and graduate students to discuss their degrees and philosophy-related careers outside of academia. The five alumni were: Brian Wlcek, MA ’18, engagement manager with Deloitte Consulting's Government and Public Services practice; Chelsea Murtha, BA ’14, director of trade, sustainability and global affairs at Sorini, Samet & Associates; Niels von Deuten, BA ’06, who covers legal issues relating to African and Near Eastern Affairs in the Office of Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State; Rostam Assadi, MA ’19, a consultant under Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy & Analytics; and Anna Tyger, BS ’20, editor and research manager at The Narratives Project.
- On April 8, the department held a memorial for GW Professor of Philosophy and Emeritus Professor of Human Sciences Peter Caws. Instead of gifts, guests were encouraged to donate to the Peter J. Caws Memorial Fund, which supports adjunct faculty travel.
- This past academic year, we had a fantastic series of guest lectures: The 2021 Griffith Lecture by University of California, San Diego, Professor Manual Vargas; our 2022 Sophia Lecture by University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Professor Emma Velez; the 2022 Thacher Lecture by Rutgers University Professor Elisabeth Camp; and the 2022 Elton Lecture by University of Connecticut Professor Lewis Gordon.
- Last October, in memory of Africana philosopher Charles W. Mills, the Africana Studies Program partnered with the Philosophy Department to present Dr. Cornel West in conversation with Philosophy Professor Vanessa Wills and Africana Studies Program Director Xolela Mangcu. The event was covered by GW Today.
- Professor Avery Archer’s tenure was confirmed during the 2021-22 academic year. Professor Archer published "The Aim of Inquiry," and his first book is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
- Professor Jeffrey Brand published "Character and Repeat-Offender Sentencing," in the Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence in February 2022, and his book, Limits of Legality: The Ethics of Lawless Judging, provided the normative framework for part III of Merle H. Weiner’s “You Can and You Should: How Judges Can Apply the Hague Abduction Convention to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence,” published in the UCLA Journal of Gender & Law in winter 2021. Professor Brand was also appointed GW’s associate provost for undergraduate affairs and special programs.
- Professor David DeGrazia returned to full-time status at GW last fall after eight years working part time at the NIH Department of Bioethics. His publications since returning include A Theory of Bioethics and three journal articles. He has also given 10 professional lectures, most recently the keynote address for the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Laboratory Animal Science. He is currently finalizing a new book, Dialogues on Gun Control, which will be published by Routledge.
- Professor Michèle Friend published The Institutional Compass: Method, Use and Scope and presented the book at the European Parliament on July 12, 2022. She was elected president of the International Society for Systems Science in 2022, and will assume the position in the summer of 2023.
- Professor Chris Meyers’ manuscript, Drug Legalization—A Philosophical Analysis, was accepted for publication by Palgrave/Macmillan.
- Katelyn Monostori, who is expected to graduate with a BA in philosophy and public affairs this fall, was recently admitted to Harvard Law School for fall 2023.
- Professor Mark Ralkowski presented a paper called “Paideia and Tragedy in Plato’s Symposium” at the Seventh Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Hellenic Heritage of Italy and Sicily on the theme of “Paideia and Performance.” He also took part on a panel on Dave Chappelle and Philosophy at the 2022 International Society of Humor Studies Conference in Bertinoro. During the past academic year, Professor Ralkowski published an edited volume called Dave Chappelle and Philosophy: When Keeping it Wrong Gets Real. He wrote the first and last chapters of this book, and his former student Eliza Wizner, BA ’22, wrote a chapter for the book as well. He is currently awaiting the publication of “Plato and the Navy: Thalassocracy, Aretē, and the Corruption of Desire,” in Virtue in Plato and Aristotle (Parnassos Press, 2022). He was selected for this year’s Morton A. Bender Teaching Award at GW, and he continues to serve as a learning partner with GW TRAiLS and is entering his final year as a Posse mentor.
- Professor Lucia Rafanelli published “Justice, Injustice, and Artificial Intelligence: Lessons from Political Theory and Philosophy,” Big Data and Society 9, 1 (2022): 1-5, doi: 10.1177/20539517221080676; and “Citizen Responsibility and Group Agency,” European Journal of Political Theory (2022), doi: 10.1177/14748851221105946. The latter is a review essay on Holly Lawford-Smith’s Not in Their Name: Are Citizens Culpable for Their States’ Actions? and Avia Pasternak’s Responsible Citizens, Irresponsible States: Should Citizens Pay for Their State’s Wrongdoings? Her book, Promoting Justice Across Borders: The Ethics of Reform Intervention received an Honorable Mention for the 2022 International Studies Association International Ethics Section Book Award. She was also interviewed about the book on two podcasts: Political Theory Review and New Books in Political Science.
- Thanks to Professor Eric Saidel’s guidance, the department successfully hosted five Brown Bag lectures in 2022.
- Professor Gail Weiss served as guest co-editor for a special issue of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy: A Quarterly Journal of History, Criticism, and Imagination, Volume 36 No. 2 (forthcoming September 2022) and continues to serve as general Secretary (the main leadership position) for the International Merleau-Ponty Circle. In September 2021, Professor Weiss organized two virtual panels for the annual Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) conference: “Challenging White Cis Heteronormativity” and “Living With and Beyond Diagnosis.” She gave seven conference presentations during the 2021-22 academic year, including “Curating Embodied Resistance through Social Media: The Role of Virtual Audiences in the Fight for Social Justice,” the keynote presentation for the “People on Streets: Critical Phenomenologies of Embodied Resistance” conference hosted by Paderborn University, Germany, in May.
- Professor Vanessa Wills is a founding member of the editorial board of Spectre, a journal of Marxist politics, strategy and analysis. She is a Visiting Inclusion Imperative Fellow in the Dresher Center for the Humanities at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Over the 2021-22 academic year, Professor Wills published “The ‘We’ in a State of Becoming: Comments on Balibar” in Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2021; “Racist Ideology as False Consciousness” in Cholbi, Michael, Brandon Hogan, Alex Madva, and Benjamin Yost (eds); “The Movement for Black Lives: Philosophical Perspectives,” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021; and “PPE in Marx’s Materialist Conception of History” in ed. Melenovsky, Chris (ed.)
- Professor Tad Zawidzki published “Suffering and Mindfulness: A Neo-Darwinian Perspective,” in the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy. He was also happy in spring 2022 to engage in academic travel for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, attending a conference in Mobile Alabama; a workshop in Cork, Ireland; and another workshop in Birmingham, U.K.
Alumni Class Notes
- Rachel Cohen, BA ’96, is a stay-at-home mom to five children. She uses her "extra time" working with Ukrainian refugee causes (including a trip to teach dance in Romania in May), advocating for Afghan women needing relocation and supporting local causes.
- Tom Cortese, BA ’02 was named to Business Insider’s list of “100 People Transforming Business.”
- David Hightower, BA ’69, served as the presidential advisor to Donald Trump and spent his tenure working for the Republican National Committee. He is currently a commentary writer on Facebook, an opinion writer on Fox News and for the Jerusalem Post, a pro bono holistic health consultant and independently studying biblical Hebrew under Miles Van Pelt and Michael Carasik and modern Hebrew under Lewis Glinert.
- Landon Elkind, BA, BS ’13, a 2012-2013 Thacher-Reynolds Fellow, is an assistant professor of philosophy at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. He was also awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.
- Tyler Loveless, BA ’18, MA ’20 is a copy editor at Open Boat Editing.
- Agnes Malatinszky, BA ’09, is the chief operating officer at CommonLit, a national education technology nonprofit. CommonLit has grown to serve over 29 million registered teachers and students across 75 percent of U.S. schools with an award-winning digital reading program.
- Natalie Mathes, BA ’18, is combining her interests in liberatory pedagogy, social epistemology and media studies as an internet misinformation researcher with Media Matters For America. Her work centers on Facebook and education culture war issues.
- Eli Pullman, BS ’18, is a class of 2023 MBA candidate at Columbia Business School. This summer, he worked as an M&A associate within the TMT practice of PJT Partners.
- Iaan Reynolds, BA ’13, a 2012-2013 Thacher-Reynolds Fellow, accepted a tenure-track appointment at Utah Valley University. He is excited to join such a welcoming and supportive department!
- Dylan Sapienza, BA ’22, a 2021-2022 Thacher-Reynolds Fellow, is a software engineer at New York Life Insurance Company in New York City.
- Juli Schwartz, BA ’98, is the U.S. intellectual property attaché in Shanghai, China.
- Kevin Wiatrak, MA, ’22, works at the State Department in the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy.
- Kaylee Willis, MA, ’22, is a research analyst at Internet and Television Association.