Spotlight on the Philosophy Department

Don Loeb The philosophy department has seen much growth and change over the last couple years. Bill Man

For one thing, I have taken the reins as chair. This change was precipitated by the official retirement in 2010 of our previous chair, Bill Mann (pictured at right), who joined the department in 1974. Besides being a leading scholar in medieval philosophy, ancient philosophy, and the philosophy of religion, Bill was instrumental in shaping the department we have today.

But it isn’t all bad news! First, and fortunately for us, Bill is still active in department life. Riin Sirkel Second, we are very pleased to welcome the newest member of our faculty, Riin Sirkel (pictured at right), who will begin in fall 2012. One of our first jobs after Bill’s retirement was to hire a scholar in ancient philosophy to replace him, and we were very fortunate to find Riin. Originally from Estonia, she received her B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Tartu, Estonia, and her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario in 2010. Riin's area of specialization is ancient philosophy and her dissertation was on Aristotle's theory of universals. The reason we have to wait till fall for Riin to join us is that she is currently a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta. The addition of Riin to our department ensures that we maintain our strength in the area of ancient philosophy and enhances the diversity of the department in the areas of gender and cultural representation.

But that is only the beginning of the good news. Our newer faculty members have been exceptionally successful. For example, we are very pleased that Louis deRosset has been awarded tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. Louis recently landed a paper, “Production and Necessity,” in The Philosophical Review, the highest ranked journal in the profession. He has also published two other papers during this past year: "Reference and Response" in the Australian Journal of Philosophy and "What is the Grounding Problem?" in Philosophical Studies, both excellent journals in their own rights.

Despite not having a graduate program, our department has always been recognized for its strength in research and scholarship. Such recognition is grounded in the high-quality publication records of our faculty. No one in the department has been more successful in this regard than Terence Cuneo, who has established himself as one of the central figures in metaethics and a leading authority on the eighteenth century philosopher Thomas Reid. In the last year alone, Terence has written "Thomas Reid's Ethics," an entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the most authoritative online publications in philosophy) and "Reidian Metaethics, Parts I and II" in Philosophy Compass. In addition, he authored a book chapter, "The Myth of Moral Fictionalism," and an article, "A Puzzle Regarding Reid's Theory of Motives," appearing in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, and co-edited two books, Philosophy Comes to Dinner and Rethinking Liberal Democracy, published by the Oxford University Press and Routledge Press respectively..

Tyler Doggett, who designed and teaches the course “The Ethics of Eating,” which has gained wide recognition across the campus and received rave reviews from students, has published a paper about scarce resource distribution, "Saving the Few," in Nous; and another, "Nine Questions for Tamar Szabo Gendler," in Analysis. He is currently working on a textbook concerning food and ethics, which will fill a vacuum of academic resources on this topic of growing moral significance. Arthur Kuflik, whose expertise includes ethics, especially medical ethics and political philosophy, has recently published, “The ‘Future Like Ours Argument’ and Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research” in the Journal of Medical Ethics and “Hypothetical Consent,” a chapter in a book published by the Oxford University Press.

Philosophy faculty Our faculty (pictured at left) is also gaining visibility thanks to participation in national and international academic events. Terence Cuneo and I will lead a faculty summer seminar, “Human Nature and Moral Knowledge,” at the University of Michigan in the summer of 2013. The seminar is a component in The Science of Ethics project, a one-million dollar Templeton grant under the directorship of Daniel Jacobson (University of Michigan). In addition, I’ve recently given invited presentations at the University of Sydney, the National University of Singapore, Franklin and Marshall College, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago Law School (to which I’ve been invited back for a return performance this year), and Colgate University. Sin Yee Chan was invited to a conference on Confucianism and the African Philosophy of Ubuntu at Rhodes University, South Africa in 2010. Terence Cuneo presented papers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Oslo, Norway; and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Another presentation is scheduled at Georgetown University this fall. Louis deRosset presented a paper at a conference at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin and was invited to be a visiting fellow for six weeks this coming summer at the Centre for Consciousness, the research powerhouse in philosophy of mind at the Australian National University. He will present a paper at a conference at the Lingnan University in Hong Kong in May. Many of our faculty have also presented at recent meetings of the American Philosophical Association.

Dialogue is an essential part of philosophy, and this last year has been an exciting one for speakers and reading groups. Besides the usual array of departmental colloquia, Tyler Doggett hosted Professor Michael Otsuka as a Burack Lecturer this year. Professor Otsuka is a prominent philosopher specializing in ethics and political philosophy at University College London. The department also hosted the John Dewey Memorial Lecture with James van Cleve visiting from USC, and (together with the Political Science department) the Donald Brown Lecture with Alan Ryan visiting from Princeton. Complementing the visiting scholars are several departmental reading groups. Besides smaller, ad hoc reading groups, each year the department hosts a metaphysics reading group lasting throughout the summer, and an ethics reading group, which meets year-round. These groups include faculty from Middlebury College, St. Michael’s College, and McGill University, as well as other departments here at UVM.

Every two years, The Philosophical Gourmet Report issues a ranking of the top philosophy departments in the English-speaking world. Although controversial, it is by far the most authoritative ranking of its kind. The report focuses on Ph.D.-granting departments but also includes a section on noteworthy undergraduate-only departments. For more than a decade, UVM’s philosophy department has been cited as one of the top such. Happily, the most recent report once again places us in this special group, saying: “Among schools that do not offer the Ph.D. or M.A. in philosophy, those with the best philosophy faculties would probably include: Amherst College, California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, Reed College, University of Vermont, Western Washington University, and Wellesley College.”

Over the years, several excellent students have transferred to UVM to study philosophy directly in response to this report’s high praise. And it’s no wonder. Although students (and their parents) often ask us “What can you do with a philosophy major?,” our recent majors have done all sorts of interesting things, and many of them credit their success to philosophy. In the class of 2011 alone, John Dewey Prize winner Isaac Loeb (ok, he’s my son) is working for Congressman Peter Welch in Washington, D.C.; co-prize winner Peter Zipparo is a legal assistant at Shearman & Sterling LLP; Melissa Goraj is attending Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management while serving as a “marketing and engagement intern” at Jvillage Network and as an intern at Masa Israel Journey; Sarah Anders is a communications associate at AmeriCares and debate coach at the Dalton School; Tom Dionesotes is Finance Director for Jamie Eldridge for State Senate; and Mari Diouf is headed to law school. These students join a long line of doctors, lawyers, political figures, salespeople, restaurateurs, journalists, high school teachers, book editors, and even philosophy professors to graduate from UVM with a major or minor in philosophy!

Don Loeb, Chair