Monday, April 03, 2006

Philosophy Forum

Each year the philosophy department at Ohio University hosts a major philosopher for three days of discussions and public lectures. There have been some heavy hitters at this yearly forum: Hilary Putnam, Robert Nozick, Alasdair Macintyre, Julia Annas, Arthur Fine, Simon Blackburn, and my personal favorite: Daniel Dennett. This year our guest was the distinguished philosopher of science James Woodward of the California Institute of Technology.

Woodward's recent book, Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation, was the focus of the three-day event, beginning with a public lecture on Wednesday evening, followed by a full day of panel discussions on Thursday and concluding with a final panel discussion on Friday morning. Most of those in attendance were either faculty or graduate students in the philosophy department, but some of the Honors Tutorial College students also attended, along with a few faculty from related disciplines (mainly from the sciences).

The forum is something that we spend much of the year preparing for. We choose an author in that late spring for the following year--someone who has recently written an important book or whose current work is extremely important--then we spend the fall and winter quarters reading that author's work, and in the spring we bring them in for the event itself. The graduate students are required to take a seminar in the winter quarter designed around the person's work. Although it cannot rival the sort of activities that are available at major institutions in the big cities, the Philosophy Forum has consistently delivered extremely valuable opportunities for everyone in the department to engage in the sort of critical inquiry that makes philosophy exciting.

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