Chair, Department of Philosophy
Chair, Department of Philosophy
The department has kept busy since our last newsletter. The curriculum saw significant innovation with new undergraduate courses on Philosophy of Chemistry (Professor Friend), The Mind/Body Problem (Professor Saidel), Humor (Professor Ralkowski), Action Theory (Professor Archer), Philosophy of Fascism and Anti-Fascism (Professor Wills) and Utopianism (Professor Trullinger). Our MA curricula included new seminars on Cognitive Science and Public Policy: Philosophy of Psychiatry (Professor Zawidzki), The Nature of Animal Minds (Professor Saidel) and Queer(ing) Philosophy (Professor Weiss).
Faculty scholarly output was also impressive, including a new book by Laura Papish, Kant on Evil, Self-Deception, and Moral Reform from Oxford University Press. David DeGrazia received the Distinguished Scholar Award from GWU’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the first philosophy faculty member to be so honored. Our MA students also saw many successes, including numerous conference appearances, and two successful applications to PhD programs: Tal-Hi Bitton will be joining the PhD program at the University of Oregon, and Molly Kelly the PhD program at Emory University, both in fall 2018.
Finally, in between her heroic efforts keeping the department afloat and planning her June wedding in Ireland, our administrator, Hyehmi Nolan, completed a successful application to GW’s master’s in higher education administration, as well as her two first classes in the program.
Our alumni continue to be extremely supportive both financially and morally. We are extremely grateful to Michael Thacher, BA ’70, for his continued support of the Thacher Lecture and Thacher-Reynolds Prize, and his recent ideas for outreach to Thacher-Reynolds alumni. We also greatly appreciate Tom Goutman, BA ’76, for his continued support of the Griffith Lecture. We are planning an alumni conference for fall 2019, so please keep an eye out for more information. We also welcome any suggestions or help in planning this conference.
Chair, Department of Philosophy
Professor David DeGrazia (middle) receiving award
Receiving the OVPR Distinguished Scholar Award for 2018, as he completed his 29th year at GW, prompted Professor David DeGrazia to share some reflections about his time and experience here:
The matter of time amazes me. I joined the faculty when I was just shy of 27, and have now worked at GW more than half my life. Yet I recall details of the initial interview, the campus visit and the first semester as if they happened fairly recently. The Department of Philosophy, the College of Arts and Sciences and the university have given me a precious gift: the opportunity to have an academic career. With this overarching, abstractly defined gift have come innumerable concrete ones: opportunities to teach this class or write that book, mentor this wonderful student or dive into that exciting topic. I am humbled by the realization that at any number of junctures things might have gone differently and less well for me. I feel blessed by my good fortune and grateful to the many people at GW who have supported me—and, honestly, to everyone who makes this university possible. Like the opportunities it creates, a university is a precious thing.
One aspect of working here that I have especially treasured is the climate of academic freedom. My first clue that GW was serious about academic freedom was the decision to hire me. I wrote my dissertation on the moral status of animals, a topic that seemed far out and potentially threatening to many or most academics in 1989. Certainly the mainstream view in biomedicine was (and sadly, though to a lesser extent, still is) that we had better not embrace any thinking about animals that might prompt challenges to animal research. Nevertheless, my first position at GW included a joint appointment in Health Care Sciences, part of the School of Medicine.
Over the years, my research has addressed a wide array of ethical issues, including many that are controversial and politically charged. I have argued for the abolition of factory farming, the enactment of a type of single-payer health care system, physician assistance-in-dying and even openness to the biomedical enhancement of human moral capacities. I have also challenged American gun policy, the current legal regime for defining death, prevailing attitudes about charity and distributive justice and (although not yet in writing) the excessive job security that tenured professors like me enjoy. And I have weighed in on such topics as embryo research, abortion and the differential disvalue of death. Despite having the personality of a moderate—possibly rooted in my family of origin’s peacemaker role—I often find myself defending controversial positions on sensitive subjects. Yet, in my 29 years at GW, I have never once felt pressured to avoid any topic or change what I want to say about it. Such freedom of thought and inquiry is another precious gift, not to be taken for granted.
In closing, I wish to convey special thanks to several people who made it possible for me to receive the Distinguished Scholar Award: Leo Chalupa, who permitted my nomination despite the fact that I currently work part time at NIH (and therefore not full time at GW); whoever else in OVPR reviewed my materials and found value in them; and my dear colleagues who wrote letters of support: Jeff Brand, Tad Zawidzki, Laura Papish and Paul Churchill (who nominated me in 2017)—along with my NIH colleague Christine Grady. Thank you so much.
Professors Sigrist, Ralkowski and Zawidzki
Three of our professors have been selected to participate in NEH Summer Institutes this summer: Mark Ralkowski and Michael Sigrist at the Philosophy as a Way of Life Institute at Wesleyan in July, and Tad Zawidzki at the Self-Knowledge in Eastern and Western Traditions Institute at the College of Charleston in May, who will be joined by Eyal Aviv, a colleague in GW's Religion Department and Honors Program. This is terrific news for the department. The chair urges all faculty to apply to these institutes when their summer offerings match their interests. There are benefits to departmental prestige both in the college and externally, you’re paid to attend, you get to know influential members of our profession personally and you gain invaluable knowledge that can help with pedagogical and scholarly innovation. We look forward to hearing from this year’s NEH Institute attendees about their experiences, which we will share in next year’s newsletter.
Current master’s student Rostam Assadi has had a grant proposal approved by the Davis Foundation’s Projects for Peace Initiative. The grant will fund a documentary project detailing their experiences interviewing Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans across the United States. More about his project below:
My project is inspired by observations of growing antipathy toward Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans in the overarching political and social discourses. Particularly, as the child of Iranian immigrants, and acquainted with many affected by the so-called "Muslim Travel Ban," I saw an opportunity to provide a voice to a marginalized community. I am of the belief that as Americans, we all want many of the same things: economic opportunity, strong communities and social freedoms. I hope to demonstrate this through a media project documenting interviews with experts, scholars and community leaders. Most importantly I also hope to meet Muslims and individuals of Middle Eastern heritage from a plurality of socioeconomic backgrounds to understand their perspectives on what it means to be an American.
I [Michèle Friend] spent a few weeks in India over the Christmas and New year’s break, visiting the Indian Institute for Engineering, Science and Technology (IIEST), in Sibpur, near Kolkata. These institutes are very prestigious—ranked higher than the universities. They have a tiny humanities department, and I was asked to give a talk at their workshop on Culture and Mathematics II, a series of talks to students about the philosophy of mathematics and a talk to the faculty about ecological economics. I also gave the plenary address to the Fifth International Conference on Emerging Applications of Information Technology, also at the IIEST, where I discussed marrying quantity, quality and culture from data sources.
Together with my father and I, three groups of students from my class on Philosophy of the Environment and Policy have just submitted a session proposal of five talks for the International Society for Ecological Economics 2018 conference in Pueblo, Mexico, in September. We’re very excited about the prospect of revealing an alternative to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Project. We combine a thermodynamic accounting system with the ecological economics policy compass that I have developed in recent work.
Scenes from the farm in Umbria
Last summer, Professor Mark Ralkowski spent a week on a farm in Umbria, studying Plato's Timaeus with Plato scholars from the United Kingdom and the United States. In the fall, he was on sabbatical and finished his book, Plato's Trial of Athens, which will be released in November 2018. This summer, Ralkowski will attend a Plato conference in Sicily, and he will then meet up with 10 students in Athens, where he will lead this year's study abroad program in Greece. Shortly after returning home, Ralkowski will travel to Wesleyan University for two weeks to participate in an NEH seminar called "Reviving Philosophy as a Way of Life."
The highlights for Tad Zawidzki's year include presenting on his work at the Normative Folk Psychology Workshop at York University, in October, 2017 (on his birthday, actually), and speaking to a psychology session about the evolutionary roots of music at the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology meeting in San Antonio in March 2018. He also enjoyed teaching a master's seminar on the philosophy of psychiatry for the first time, in the fall semester of 2017, and team teaching, in the spring semester of 2018, a large class in Introduction to Philosophy, with a graduate teaching assistant (master's student Dan Garfing) for the first time.
There was also some good news to end the year: Zawidzki was accepted into the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Self-Knowledge in Eastern and Western Traditions, in Charleston, S.C., May 20 - June 2, 2018; invited as a speaker for the workshop, “Towards a framework for Joint Action: What about Theory of Mind?", at the Robotics: Science and Systems Conference, in Pittsburgh, Penn., June 29, 2018, and invited as a panelist for the American Association of Religion Yogacara Unit on Mind Illuminated in Denver, November, 2018.
In June, I travelled to Cork, Ireland, to give a talk on romanticism, and in October I went to Toronto, Canada, to give a talk on Marcuse. I also gave a talk on Kant at St. John's in Annapolis in July, and a talk on utopianism at the D.C. Jail in February. When I haven't been hopping around I have been overseeing independent study work and conducting research for a book project on Kant and liberation theology.
Since the last newsletter, Laura Papish has moved to the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. and has been involved in the absurd task of trying to renovate an apartment during the school year. While not returning items to Home Depot, she traveled to Washington University, St. Louis, for a North American Kant Society Workshop, and will soon head to Columbia University to present a paper on Kant's federation of states. In February, Laura was very happy to be asked by Profs and Pints, an organization that arranges talks in local bars, to give a talk on Valentine's Day on the philosophy of love. Some of the audience worked on Capitol Hill, so there can be hope that there'll soon be more love over on that side of town. Over the summer, she plans to celebrate, repeatedly, the June release of her Oxford University Press book, Kant on Evil, Self-Deception, and Moral Reform. Celebration plans include lots of Nationals games, seeing Beach House at The Anthem and an Alaskan cruise with her mom and husband, Chris, whose incredible painting provided the cover of Laura's forthcoming book.
Professor Avery Archer
Since the last newsletter, Avery Archer has given a total of seven talks at conferences or colloquia, including a presentation at the Agency, Rationality and Value Conference at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain, a colloquium talk at the University of California, Riverside, and a workshop-style presentation at the Ohio Philosophical Association Annual Meeting in Cincinnati. He also has had a pair of papers accepted for publication: “Wondering about What You Know” (forthcoming in Analysis) and “Trying Cognitivism: A Defence of the Strong Belief Thesis” (forthcoming in Theoria), with two additional papers currently in the revise and resubmit stage of the journal review process.
Eric Saidel reports that a (somewhat tenuously philosophy related) highlight of his year may have been two trips he made to upstate New York. When Eric was in graduate school he got involved in an ongoing project: making hard cider. It was so much fun that when a friend reported having an orchard full of apples, Eric jumped at the opportunity to make Philosopher’s Cider once again. He traveled to the Albany area one snowy weekend in December to press the apples. This yielded approximately 40 gallons of sweet cider, which was immediately set to ferment. In March, Eric made the trek again, this time to bottle the now hard cider. He’s looking forward to cracking open a bottle or two (or three) later this summer.
Quentin and Felix
Jeff Brand is finishing his fourth year in the Columbian College dean's office. He spends as much time as possible with his sons Quentin (12) and Felix (5).
Professor Vanessa Wills
In June 2017, Vanessa Wills traveled to Braga, Portugal, to deliver her talk, "'Heaven is a Place on Earth': Marx's Call for the Abolition of Morality," at the Eighth Annual Braga Meeting on Ethics and Political Philosophy. On May 5, 2018, she and other area academics and artists participated in the Goethe-Institut's celebration to honor the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth. The event, called the "Dictionary of Marx" played to a sold-out crowd as presenters brought Marx's ideas to life. This was also the first year that Vanessa offered Philosophy of Fascism and Anti-Fascism, a capstone pro-seminar for philosophy majors, which explored the nature of fascism, writings by philosophers influential on fascist ideology and liberal, anarchist and socialist antifascist perspectives.
This past year has been full of travel for me. I went to Italy twice (including a truly memorable trip to the amazing Amalfi Coast where I swam in the Blue Grotto of Capri!), New Mexico twice, Memphis, Boston, Dallas and Vermont. I presented several papers, published several book chapters/articles, and just turned in a co-edited manuscript to Northwestern University Press, entitled 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology.
This update is being written during a wonderful Decolonial Feminisms conference at Penn State honoring the Latina feminist philosopher, Maria Lugones. My summer plans include a family trip to Portugal, which we are all looking forward to, and this fall I will be giving talks in Paris, Vienna, Quebec City and Chattanooga, Tennessee! Next June I am organizing a major conference at GW entitled Diverse Lineages of Existentialism (DLE II) that will be co-hosted by American University and George Mason University. We have 20 different philosophical societies participating in the conference and a kick-off plenary at the French Embassy. It should be an amazing event so please feel free to join us if you are in the area!
Since summer 2017, David DeGrazia has pursued sabbatical research toward two books while working part time at the NIH Department of Bioethics: Principles of Animal Research Ethics (with Tom Beauchamp) and A Progressive Theory of Bioethics (with Joseph Millum). David gave several professional lectures: two (keynotes) at the University of Colorado-Boulder; two at Johns Hopkins University; and one each at the ASBH annual meeting, the University of Chicago and a BRAIN Initiative workshop at NIH. He also published articles in three bioethics journals. Finally, there have been a couple of honors. The Hastings Center named him a Fellow and David received GW’s Distinguished Scholar Award.
Congratulations to Allie Geoca for completing her Thacher-Reynolds Fellowship winning project, “The Explanatory Role of Mechanisms in Providing Successful Medical Treatment,” which she presented to an audience of Department of Philosophy faculty and students. About her experience Allie said, “I learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and am very thankful that I was able to receive this fellowship.”
Ethan Terrill with other participants of the Irish Philosophical Society outside the main building at St. Patrick's, Carlow College in Ireland.
Ethan Terrill, a second-year PSP student, attended a variety of conferences in the fall and spring semesters (and he cannot thank the Philosophy Department enough for their kind assistance). What follows are a few highlights: In October 2017, he—alongside fellow cohort-mates Tali Bitton and Richard Culbreth—drove down to the 78th Annual Virginia Philosophical Association to provide comments to VPA presenters. Additionally, he was able to fly over to Ireland to present a paper from Professor Gail Weiss' Feminist Ethics and Policy Implications seminar. Aside from getting stuck in Iceland for a night due to treacherous weather conditions, the international trip was wonderful. Finally, in April 2018, he decided to take a 15-hour bus ride up to York University to present a draft of a paper for their Graduate Student Philosophy Conference on Bioethics and Applied Philosophy. As for the future, he plans on applying to PhD programs in the upcoming fall. In the meantime, he will be sticking around the D.C. area while on the lookout for policy positions and teaching opportunities.
Tal-Hi (Tali) Bitton, a master’s student in philosophy, attended a number of conferences this past academic year. These included the American Academy of Religion Southeast Commissions for the Study of Religion and the Southwest Commission of Religious studies where Tali presented “Discerning the Christian Historical Preconditions to the Secular ‘Truths’ of Nation, Race, State, and Capital” and “The Then Religious, Now Secular Experience of Consanguinity and its Relation to Blackness,” respectively. Tali completed his master’s degree in spring 2018 and will be matriculating at the University of Oregon where he will begin his doctoral studies in philosophy.
Molly Kelly successfully completed her master's thesis in May 2018. She presented work at multiple conferences this year, including the American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting, the Midwest Society for Women in Philosophy and the Global Status of Women and Girls conference. Molly will be starting work towards her PhD in philosophy at Emory University this upcoming fall.
Congratulations to Esha Jain, BA in philosophy, who was awarded the 2018-19 Thacher-Reynolds Fellowship and will start her research project under the guidance of Professor Archer.
Congratulations to Allie Geoca, Olivia Rhodes and Natalie Mathes for winning the 2018 Gauss Prize for Excellence in Philosophy.
Congratulations to Natalie Mathes for winning the 2018 Excellence in Service to the Department of Philosophy and/or the Community Award
Congratulations to Dan Bushway, Allie Geoca, George Krikorian and Natalie Mathes for successfully completing the requirements for Honors in Philosophy.
Department award winners with Department Chair Tad Zawidzki: Allie Geoca, Olivia Rhodes and Natalie Mathes.
Department honors recipients: George Krikorian, Allie Geoca and Natalie Mathes (Dan Bushway not pictured)
Gail Weiss, Jose Medina, and Tad Zawidzki
The 2018 Griffith Lecture was delivered on April 26, 2018. This lecture, “Taking Responsibility for Racial Violence: Shooting the Racist Imagination,” was presented by Dr. Jose Medina, Walter Bill Scott Professor at Northwestern University. Dr. José Medina is professor of philosophy who taught previously at Vanderbilt University and works in critical race theory, gender/queer theory and political philosophy. His latest book is The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations (Oxford University Press).
Tad Zawidzki, Eduardo Mendieta, and Joseph Trullinger
Dr. Eduardo Mendieta presented the 2018 Elton Lecture, “Rorty and Post-Post Truth,” on April 20, 2018. He is a professor of philosophy at Penn State, associate director of the Rock Ethics Institute and affiliated faculty at the School of International Affairs and the Bioethics Program at Penn State University. He is the author of The Adventures of Transcendental Philosophy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) and Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latinamericanisms, and Critical Theory (SUNY Press, 2007). He is also co-editor with Jonathan Van Antwerpen of The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (Columbia University Press, 2011), and with Craig Calhoun and Jonathan VanAntwerpen of Habermas and Religion (Polity, 2013), and with Stuart Elden of Reading Kant’s Geography (SUNY Press, 2011). He recently finished a book titled The Philosophical Animal, which will be published by SUNY Press in 2018. He is the 2017 recipient of the Frantz Fanon Outstanding Achievements Award.
The 2018 Sophia Lecture, “The Ethical cost of Upward Mobility,” was presented on October 6, 2017, by Jennifer Morton, assistant professor of philosophy at the City College of New York. Jennifer Morton’s areas of research are philosophy of action, moral philosophy, philosophy of education and political philosophy. In 2017, she was awarded the inaugural Scheffler Prize for her work in Philosophy of Education by the American Philosophical Society.
The annual Thacher Lecture, “Flesh Matters: The Body in Cognition,” was presented on October 20, 2017 by Larry Shapiro, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. Professor Shapiro’s research spans philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology. Within philosophy of mind he has focused on issues related to reduction, especially concerning the thesis of multiple realization.
Scott Cope, BA ’15, graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree in May 2018. He and his family will be moving to Austin, Texas, to serve at a church.
Ananda Joy Hart, BA ’97, has been a criminal defense attorney for 15 years, focusing mainly on juvenile defense, but is now beginning to work more in the field of restorative justice and mediation.
Lindy Minnick, BA ’68, lives in Southern California where she wrote and published the memoir of her father, John B. Minnick, JD ’49, in 2012. She is currently collaborating with a cousin, R.W. Minnick, Jr., on his memoir of four years in Naval Intelligence (1956-59) during the Cold War.
Alexander Monteverde, BA ’17, was accepted to the Boston College Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, through its PhD program in philosophy. In August, he will be matriculating and beginning classes.
Dominik G. Nargele, MA ’71, MS ’78, has published five books, including New Strategy in May 2017, and 300 letters to the editor in the Washington Times.
David Nathanson, BA ’92, is a partner in the Boston law firm of Wood & Nathanson, LLP, primarily handling the defense of homicide cases. He argued and prevailed in the Supreme Court in Smith v. Massachusetts, 543 U.S. 462 (2005).
Paul Smalera, BA ’02, has been named executive editor of FastCompany.com, overseeing digital initiatives for Fast Company. He has previously held editorial positions at Fortune, Reuters, Quartz and The New York Times.
David Smith, BA ’02, lives in Nashville with his wife, Nell E. Friar, GWSPH ’02, and two daughters, and recently left Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's cabinet as communications director to start his own consulting firm, DAS Consulting.
Maggie Taylor, MA ’15, is proud to announce that a portion of her master’s thesis has been accepted for publication in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. She also presented her paper, “Reorienting the Moral Debate on Vaccination,” at the Public Philosophy Network Conference.
Michael Thacher, BA ‘70, writes: “In retirement, I have evolved into an astrophysics nut, auditing university classes, attending professional meetings, and leading tours of Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California. I serve on the Board of Advisors for the Physical Sciences Department at UCLA and the Board of Trustees of the Mount Wilson Institute. I also serve on the National Council for Arts and Sciences at GW.”
Darla Thompson, MA ’95, has recently returned to GW where she serves as a lead research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Fid Thompson, BA ’00, is opening Queer Enough, a photography exhibition and portrait project about queer identity in D.C., funded by DC Commission on the Arts. It is opening June 7, 2018, 1314 1/2 Gallery in Shaw, Washington, D.C. Find out more here.
The Department of Philosophy would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the department from January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017.
Maxwell Anthony, BA ’12
Miriam B. Cleeman, BA ’14
Benjamin G. Goehring, BA ’17
Thomas M. Goutman, BA ’76
Marissa G. Mangini, BA ’17
Randall K. Packer, BA ’90
Sydney M. Prochazka, MA ’09
Michael Rossi ~
Richard B. Sher, BA ’70
Salem Isa Srour, BA ’15
Andrea W. Stewart, BA ’70, MA ’92 #
Michael H. Stewart #*
Michael W. Thacher, BA ’70
Travis Thibodeau, MA ’13
Nicholas O. Watkins, BA ’17
Kara N. Williams, BA ’08
Gifts to the Department of Philosophy allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships, and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty, and colloquia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, has a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.
You can make your gift to the department in a number of ways:
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