Letter from the Chair

Michael Rosenthal

Philosophy makes a difference.  You may know that, but, apparently not everyone does.  Recently a presidential candidate claimed that a student would do better if she became a welder rather than a philosopher.  It turns out that he was wrong:  although welding is certainly a useful skill, the average salary of someone who has earned a philosophy degree is significantly higher than that of a welder.  However, it is not just a question of the financial value of a philosophy degree.  The deeper concern is whether the study of abstract philosophical questions actually affects the way in which we live.  It is not a new question, but one that has confronted almost every philosopher since the beginning of the discipline.  For example, in 1793, Immanuel Kant wrote an essay—“On the Common Saying:  ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not apply in Practice’”—the purpose of which was to show that philosophical ethics is not just relevant but essential to our actions.  We can’t ignore this question either and we don’t.  The articles in this newsletter show how important philosophical questions are and how they can make a difference in almost every domain, from the classroom to the lab to the ballot box. 

Take a look at our extensive interview with alumnus, Nick Hanauer, venture capitalist and political activist, whose lucid thoughts will challenge you.  Our graduate student, Tim Brown, is asking tough, ethical questions in neuroscience labs, while faculty member, Ron Moore, engaged us with a moving talk on music and the First World War.  Retired scientist Patrick O’Hara has generously supported a new lecture series on the philosophy of physics, the first of which asked profound questions about the nature of time.  We organized a series of informal talks by faculty and students on the migration crisis, and Michael Blake is a regular guest on the radio, where he answers such crucial questions as whether it is ethical to argue at Thanksgiving dinner!  And Jana Mohr Lone, the leader of our UW Center for the Philosophy for Children, continues to expand our reach:  not just children but parents too—between taking kids to soccer games and helping with homework—can reflect on the big questions. 

Thank you all for helping us to make a difference this year.  On behalf of the Department I wish all of you a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year!

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