From the Chair


At the end of this academic year I was thinking a lot about Nietzsche, the infamous nineteenth century German philosopher, who quit a promising university career to become a roaming and prolific thinker, only to lose his mind and eventually die.  I am not considering leaving the halls of academe to wander around the Alps.  Nor am I particularly worried about my sanity. My interest was not biographical but philosophical.  I was focused on his doctrine of “eternal recurrence,” in which he asserts that people cannot expect any release from this world through some notion of transcendence but rather must face being reborn and facing the same events endlessly.  If you have ever seen the wonderful film, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray has to replay over and over his bumbling courtship of Andie McDowell, then you will know what Nietzsche means.  The life of the professor is much the same.  It seems daunting to face the same cycle each year—classes, students, exams, more classes, students, exams, and then again—but there is also a sense of joy as we complete the work and get ready to begin again.

Nothing symbolizes the cycle of academe as much as the ceremony of graduation.  The content and form of the ceremony remains much the same over the years.  The very repetition of it provides a greater sense of meaning for the students.  They are participating in a ritual that has stood the test of time and represents the achievement of a standard that is meaningful not just for them but for all those who have completed their course of study at the university.  At the same time, each repetition of the cycle is different.   At our ceremony this year I saw dozens of students, each with their own story.  Everyone was smiling but each smile expressed a different achievement.  Yes, we have seen it all before, but never quite from the unique perspective of the students who graduated this year.  The UW’s Urban Horticultural Center was once again the beautiful setting for our lovely event.  Congratulations to all of our outstanding students, and to their friends and families!

One of the great things about philosophy, of course, is that it speaks to people at each stage of their lives.  It isn’t just a pursuit that begins and ends in the lush surroundings of university campuses.  Thanks to the UW Center for the Philosophy of Children, led by the enterprising Jana Mohr Lone, we are reaching out to young people throughout our region.  In this newsletter you can read about the amazing PLATO conference that the Center organized at the end of June, which brought together educators from all over the country who are working to expand the teaching of philosophy at the level of primary and secondary schools.  And thanks to effort of several of our students and faculty, we are engaging in important debates in our community.  Our newsletter highlights two examples:  Alex Lenferna’s efforts to persuade the UW’s Trustees to divest from thermal coal in the endowment, and Lauren Hartzell Nichols’s participation in events organized by Humanities Washington to discuss climate change. 

I invite all who read this newsletter to join us somewhere on the wide circle of philosophy.  You are always welcome to join us at our events during the academic year, whether it is through classes as an Access student or at one of our many public colloquia.  One of us might even be at a local bar talking about climate change!  Take a look at our new website, which we have just rolled out.  It is a great way to find out what is going on.  We are making every effort to let you know what we are doing, whether through traditional means or via Facebook and Twitter.  We are also grateful for your support of the Department.  Intellectual energy is primarily what drives us, but we also need financial support to expand our efforts.  Thank you again to all our donors.  Let the wheel turn!