Newsletter Winter 2014 From the Chair

From the Chair

I just finished teaching PHIL100, "Introduction to Philosophy," and this quarter, like every time I teach the course, I am reminded of the impact that philosophy can make on students' lives. The comments that I most enjoy in the end of course evaluations are those that say things like "I never would have thought that philosophy could be interesting but…" or "this course really stretched my mind." We often take it for granted that philosophy is important and stimulating, but these comments show me that we shouldn't, that we need to make every effort to expose students to ideas that they would not have encountered on their own.

The first texts I assign in PHIL 100 are three dialogues of Plato — the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo — that tell the story of the trial and death of Socrates, a cantankerous old man who took philosophy so seriously that it became his way of life … and death. These dialogues challenge the students to think about not only the ideas Socrates argued for but what a life dedicated to the pursuit of ideas means. As I was reading our newsletter this quarter, it occurred to me that the articles together illustrate the Socratic ideal: philosophy not as a subject area to be mastered but as a way of life in the public realm.

I was moved by the life of our alumnus, Shawn Mintek, who did so much to challenge everyone he met, including his students at Franklin High School, to question and explore the world with passion and integrity. I know too how our graduate students — here exemplified by Andrea Sullivan-Clarke and Elizabeth Scarbrough — work so hard to become teachers and engage with a broader public, whether through Native American issues or in publishing. I was lucky to meet Andrew Lee, the freshman medalist, and I learned about his passion for neurobiology, music, and philosophy. It was clear that whatever this talented young man will, do philosophical inquiry will play a part, maybe even a central one.

Finally, I was thrilled to see the throngs of future UW students whom Jana Mohr Lone and the Center for the Philosophy for Children brought to Savery Hall for the first High School Ethics Bowl. The mission of the Center is to awaken the philosophical impulse in young people before they sit in the first day of class in PHIL 100.

When I read these stories of UW philosophers I know that together we are keeping the tradition of inquiry and argument alive. Even if it has been years since you sat in an intro course, I hope that reading about our students and alums will inspire the philosopher in you again.

Thank you for supporting our work!

Michael Rosenthal

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