Newsletter Spring 2015 From the Chair


In the last book of the Republic, in the famous myth of Er, Plato tells the story of how wandering souls in the afterlife are assigned a lottery token that will determine the course of their next life, when the souls are reincarnated. There is no doubt in my mind that Ann Baker received the soul of a philosopher. As the interview with her recounts, her love of philosophical argument was awakened early in college and has animated a long career at the UW until she retired at the end of last quarter as our Principal Lecturer. Ann completed her PhD in the department and taught at Illinois Wesleyan before she returned to us in 1994. She taught thousands of students over her twenty year career and won the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004. Ann is the co-author with her husband, Larry BonJour, of a terrific textbook for introducing students to our subject. She was a pioneer in our recent foray into online learning. For many years she served as our "teacher of teachers" in her role as the leader of the teaching seminar for graduate students. In this way her legacy will continue in countless other classrooms all over the country. We will miss her lively presence in the department. We wish Ann all the best in retirement!

We are lucky to welcome a new faculty member to the department this year. Conor Mayo-Wilson came to us from Munich where he was an assistant professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians University after having completed his PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. He is a social epistemologist who works on formal models of networks of knowledge. He also has significant interests in the philosophy of science. He has already been busy teaching other courses on philosophy of mathematics and symbolic logic. Check out the interview with Conor and learn about his exciting work.

Thanks to the Rabinowitz Endowment in Medical Ethics, Professor Inma de Melo-Martin visited us this last quarter from Cornell-Weill Medical School in New York City. She taught an upper level course on "Ethical Issues in Reproductive and Genetic Technologies." You might remember that Inma was invited to give a Rabinowitz lecture last spring on a similar topic. We liked it so much that we wanted to give our students a chance to have longer and more sustained discussions with her. They loved her class. At the end of the quarter, Inma gave a presentation on "The Right to Know One's Genetic Heritage," which sparked a lively discussion. We hope that Inma will visit us again.

The High School Ethics Bowl was a smashing success. This is the second time that we have hosted this event and it was once again a big draw. As a judge I found the discussion fascinating and it was difficult to decide who won each round. It was clear that the teams had spent a lot of time preparing the cases. When I was first given the list of possible cases, which had been circulated to the teams, I brought it home and discussed the topics with my own daughter. I think that she will be ready to participate next year when she enters high school! Another thing that I enjoyed was meeting all the other judges, some of whom were real life judges, like Mary Yu, who is a Justice in the Washington State Supreme Court. Thanks to all the volunteers who gave their time on a weekend, and thanks to all the work done by our outreach coordinator, Kate Goldyn, and of course to the mastermind behind it all, the Director of our UW Center for the Philosophy for Children, Jana Mohr Lone.

Finally, I want to highlight the important work that our Department Writing Center does day in and day out, which you can glimpse in the interview with our tutors. We have steadily increased the number of hours that our tutors offer and we have created a new position, the Teaching and Learning Coordinator, for a graduate student who oversees the training of our tutors and manages the center. The Writing Center helps our students learn how to write philosophy papers, which focus on the presentation of an argument and the importance of considering objections. Everyone who participates benefits. Those who are being tutored get a level of personal attention to their work that sometimes can be missing in a large class. The tutors learn through experience that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, both philosophy and writing skills. The Teaching and Learning Coordinator gets practical experience in management and pedagogy, which proves valuable in their own professional development. The Department funds about two thirds of the costs of the center through operations and some gift funds and we are grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences for the other third that it funds. The Writing Center is a great example of how we can provide an excellent education in the liberal arts at the UW.

We are now well into Spring Quarter. The cherry trees on the Quad blossomed early this year, but the feeling of growth and renewal is in the air. Spring Quarter is also the time of numerous events in and around the department. This weekend, I am hosting a conference on "The Roles of Fiction in Early Modern Philosophy," which I organized with my colleagues Colin Marshall in Philosophy, and Ellwood Wiggins in Germanics. At the end of the month, thanks to the prodigious efforts of Bill Talbott, we will host one of the most important political philosophers in Europe, Professor Rainer Forst, who teaches at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. And in May, Alison Wylie has organized a great line-up for the Philosophy of Social Science Roundtable. And there are more! I encourage all of you to check out our events calendar online and visit us to partake not only in the lovely atmosphere on campus but also in the vigorous debate of philosophical exchange in Savery Hall.