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Spring 2021 Newsletter

March 15, 2021

Dear Friends of the Department of Philosophy,

I should start by introducing myself. My name is Peter Hanks, and I am the new chair of the philosophy department. I have been a faculty member here since 2003, and my research is in the philosophy of language and the history of analytic philosophy. I took over as chair from Valerie Tiberius in June. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we are extremely grateful to Valerie for her six years of service as chair. Thank you, Valerie! Your many accomplishments as chair have had a dramatic effect on the life of the department and will last long into the future.

As it has on everything else, the pandemic has had a profound effect on the day-to-day life of the department. Faculty, staff, and graduate students have been primarily working from home since March 2020, with only occasional visits to Heller Hall.

Most of our teaching has also been taking place online. It has taken an enormous effort to convert our curriculum to an online format, with countless hours spent in training and course preparation. I have been amazed to witness the dedication and creativity that our faculty, graduate students, and staff have brought to the task of giving our students the best possible experience in an online format.

Many department events have been canceled or postponed. The next May Brodbeck Symposium has been postponed until fall 2021, with the hope that we can host the event in person. Please stay tuned for updates and announcements.

Despite all the disruptions and cancellations, there have been some bright spots. Led by Assistant Professor Catharine Saint-Croix, the Department of Philosophy developed the Minnesota High School Regional Ethics Bowl for high school students in the Twin Cities. Ethics bowl competitions give high school students opportunities to think critically about important ethical issues and debate about them with their peers. This year’s bowl was held on January 31, 2021, with teams from Roosevelt, Edina, DeLaSalle, and Roseville high schools. Case studies included “Dining Out During a Pandemic,” “Who Gets to Be Fashionable?,” “Dating After Prison,” and “(De)funding the Police.” The competition was very close, with DeLaSalle pulling out a victory.

Another bright spot has been the resurgence of activity around our undergraduate philosophy journal, Epistemai. Under the leadership of President Kiley Komro, the journal staff has grown from three to 19 since the start of fall 2020. Epistemai publishes papers in all areas of philosophy written by undergraduates from across the country. For volume IV of the journal, the editors changed the format to include both shorter papers (fewer than 3,000 words) and longer papers (fewer than 10,000 words). Read volume III online and watch for volume IV to be published this spring.

Last but not least, consider signing up for a moderated discussion with Professor Alan Love around the new book The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science by Michael Strevens. Participants will engage in a conversation with Professor Love and each other. Choose from three opportunities to join, the first on March 24. Learn more about and register for the Conversations about Science and Society symposium.

All of us here in the Department of Philosophy are eager to regain some degree of normalcy. Philosophy is very much a conversational discipline and nothing can replace the thrill of face-to-face philosophical interaction. We sincerely hope that all of you, our alumni and colleagues and friends, are staying healthy and safe and that we can continue the conversation with you in the near future.

Peter Hanks
Professor and Chair
pwhanks@umn.edu