2014 LOGOS

News from the Department of Philosophy

Justin D'Arms

Words from the Chair


Dear Friends and Alumni of
Ohio State Philosophy,

I am pleased to introduce myself to you as the new chair of the Department of Philosophy, and to bring you this edition of LOGOS, our annual effort to keep you informed about and connected to our work here. Our department is very lucky to have had a series of unusually talented and successful chairs since I arrived in 1995. I take my place in this impressive line-up full of confidence that I can lower the expectations for my successor.

These pages report on events in the department over the last year, and describe some of the activities and accomplishments of our faculty and students. This year for the first time LOGOS also includes some philosophy. Two of our colleagues kindly agreed to write short articles about their work for this edition. Whether you have been keeping up with philosophy in recent years, or remembering it only vaguely (though fondly, always fondly), I hope that you will enjoy the opportunity to read about some of the work being done at The Ohio State University right now.

Brian McLean, a graduate student in our department, offers a thoughtful critique of David Benatar’s influential anti-natalist argument against bringing children into the world. Benatar argues that we are committed by some moral convictions we all share to the surprising claim that it is better for a person not to exist than to exist. On this basis he argues that there is a powerful moral reason against reproducing—that would be bringing someone into existence, which would be worse for her. Brian lays out Benatar’s interesting arguments very clearly, and then argues (convincingly, I think) that Benatar’s troubling conclusion does not actually follow from the commitments on which he tried to ground them. This is good news for the parents among us.

In another piece written especially for your delectation, Professor Julia Jorati describes a puzzle about how to understand Leibniz’s views on Freedom. Leibniz seems to have thought that some human actions are free, and that in order to be free an action must be contingent. But he also thought that everything about us, including what we do, is in some sense necessary. Given that you exist at all, you had to read this very sentence, according to Leibniz. In what sense, then, could it be contingent that you did so, and thus in what sense can you be free? Read Julia’s fascinating piece for a way of understanding the text that answers these questions. 

A sad piece of news from the past year is the death of Lee Brown. Many of you will remember taking classes from Lee, who retired from the department some time ago but remained in Columbus until he passed away this year. As Daniel Farrell’s remembrance explains, Lee was a charming and erudite man, and a cherished friend to many of us.

Other articles here describe some of the highlight events of the 2013-14 academic year. They tell you a little about the people at the center of those events, such as our featured undergraduate, Brandon Sadowsky. Brandon won the Bingham Award, an annual award first offered in 1918, for the best paper by an undergraduate student, for an excellent paper about the nature of blame. Reading through the other stories here will give you a sense of the range and depth of our department’s contributions to philosophical scholarship and discourse, and will let you catch up with former teachers and friends. We continue to be an intellectually vibrant department with a great range of reading groups, conferences and visiting speakers engaging us in philosophical discussion on a wide variety of issues.

For instance, our graduate students have introduced a new reading group, WiPhi, which brings together women graduate  and undergraduate students to discuss papers in contemporary philosophy. The organizer, Keren Wilson, says

“We are proud of our department for providing a respectful and safe environment for women, but we thought an all-women's group could still offer some benefits. A group like this gives women the opportunity to engage with philosophical texts in an environment in which they can learn from each other, and so encourage each other. Having an all-women group can also help to foster confidence among women in the context of academic conversation and debate. We hope, too, that including undergraduate women will help to form a bridge between the undergraduate and graduate students in philosophy at Ohio State.”

Philosophy as a discipline has a real problem with gender imbalance, and it is important to change this. I am very glad to see women in our department thriving and supporting each other’s work in this way. One of my aspirations for the years ahead is to increase the representation of women in the ranks of the faculty and the students. That will not be easy, but it is very important to our progress as a department and as a discipline.

This is a difficult time for philosophy departments in general, and for our department at Ohio State in particular. While I understand and applaud the national emphasis on the importance of STEM disciplines and education, I worry that politicians and university administrators too easily lose sight of the value of philosophical education.

I firmly believe that philosophy is unmatched in teaching people to reason and express themselves clearly on any subject, and that it is an intrinsically valuable human activity that needs to be available for study for those people who care about it. But our faculty has shrunken in recent years, and our budget has been cut in ways that compromise our ability to deliver these goods to the student body here at Ohio State. It seems clear that we cannot count on general university funds to solve these problems in the current budget climate.

If you have the capacity and inclination to make a contribution to this department’s mission, we would be especially grateful for a gift this year. No gift is too small to be helpful. You can contribute online here or get in touch with me to discuss other ways to contribute.

Whether or not you are able and inclined to contribute financially, please stay in touch. I very much want to hear from alumni of this department, and to learn about what you have done with your degree in philosophy. Our current students want to know these stories, which help to give them a sense of the different paths that might be open to them.

I feel very lucky to have enjoyed eighteen years of writing and teaching philosophy here, thanks to the great students and people in this department. I look forward to continuing that while I take my turn at the administrative work that I have gratefully left to others until now. That work would be enlivened by getting better acquainted with some of the people who have been touched by this department. So please get in touch to share your stories or to hear about ours. And if you are ever in Columbus, consider visiting the department and chatting with some of us.

Yours sincerely,

Justin D’Arms