New lectures diversify Philosophy Department

Karah Kemmerly

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Illustration: Binta Loos-Diallo

Like many at Whitman College, the philosophy department is working to diversify and expand its department.

Visiting Johnston Professor of Philosophy Geoff Ashton, is bringing a new lecture series to campus. The series will consist of four lectures on various themes within Asian philosophy over the course of the semester. The first lecture will be held today, Thursday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in Olin Hall 130.

The series covers topics from many different disciplines, and Ashton believes that it will appeal to a wide variety of students.

“It has a pretty broad reach of topics, including philosophy, religion, Asian studies, the arts, feminist studies and German studies,” he said.

Ashton said that the lectures will be incorporating aspects of both Western and Eastern philosophy.

“Each talk is taking somewhat of a comparative approach, because the audience is made up of mostly American Anglophone students and faculty who are relatively unfamiliar with non-Western topics and methodologies in philosophy,” he said.   “We’re not just trying to account for or catalog traditions, but trying to to engage in the practice of philosophy.”

He hopes to see that students have learned something new in the lectures.

“I’m hoping students get a taste for how philosophy is practiced in non-Western philosophical traditions. [I’m] hoping the lectures broaden their horizons,” he said.

The lecture on Feb. 2 will focus on interpretations of Indian philosophy by German Idealist philosophers.

The next three lectures will take place on March 6, April 19 and April 26. All will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Olin Hall 130.  Topics include looking at feminism and Buddhist ethics, music in Chinese philosophy, and the question of how to approach comparative thought.

Senior philosophy major Elana Congress is glad to see that the department is offering classes outside of the Western tradition.

“Philosophy is often considered a discipline full of old, white men. But these classes remind us that philosophy exists all over the world . . . It’s exciting to see the department trying to diversify and emphasize a wider perspective,” she said.

This last semester, Congress took Ashton’s course entitled “Aesthetics East and West,” and enjoyed being exposed to a different branch of philosophy.

“Aesthetics was especially interesting, because I had never studied it before. I enjoyed reading Asian and Indian philosophy, which were beautiful in their simplicity,” she said.

She also feels that students, especially those who have taken courses in Asian Philosophy this year, will benefit from the lecture series.

“In my aesthetics class last semester, we read Western texts and Eastern texts and then drew some of our own comparisons. I think it will be really cool to hear experts talk about the comparisons they have made.”

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