Symposium on Living Philosophers

Symposium on Living Philosophers

Most people associate Philosophy with the study of dead white men. At Siena College, we challenge this view, and offer our students a unique opportunity to engage directly with world-famous living philosophers. Imagine spending a year reading the works of a famous thinker and then present your research to them in person. Imagine being able to ask “What did you mean when you wrote this?” or “Why do you think this is the best position?” and have the thinker in question respond to you directly. Imagine receiving feedback on your final paper from the very thinker who you wrote it on. Sound daunting and exciting? Then the Symposium on Living Philosophers is for you.

In 2015-2016, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Symposium. Our featured thinker will be our first from outside the United States: Adriana Cavarero, who teaches political philosophy at the University of Verona in Italy, is a renowned interlocutor of philosophers such as Plato and Kant, playwrights such as Sophocles and Shakespeare, political thinkers such as Hobbes and Arendt, and a strong voice in contemporary debates about the nature of birth, narration, violence, and embodiment.  For a discussion of how Adriana Cavarero's work helps us think about the role of narration in our lives, see this article by Laurie Naranch, co-director of the 2015-2016 Symposium.

2015-2016 - Adriana Cavarero

Adriana Cavarero

Professor of Political Philosophy

University of Verona (Italy)

The 2015-2016 Symposium on Living Philosophers will focus on the work of Adriana Cavarero, who is Professor of Political Philosophy at University of Verona in Italy. She has been a Visiting Professor at several American institutions, such as Harvard University, New York University, and University of California at Berkeley. Cavarero is widely recognized in Italy, Europe and the English-speaking world for her writings on feminism and theories of sexual difference, on dialectics and politics in Plato, on Greek tragedy, on Hannah Arendt’s concepts of natality and narration, on contemporary violence and ethics, and on a wide range of issues in political philosophy and literature. She has published several books, all of which have been translated into English: In Spite of Plato (1995), Relating Narratives (2000), Stately Bodies (2002), For More than One Voice (2005), and Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence (2009). Her two most recent books are forthcoming in English: You Shall Not Kill and Inclinations. Adriana Caverero is our first non-American featured thinker. Her work is deeply interdisciplinary and should be of interest to students of Philosophy, Women’s Studies, English, Creative Arts, Classics, Italian, Political Science, History, and more.

Directors: Fanny Söderbäck, Laurie Naranch
External Scholar:Adam Rosen-Carole, Rochester Institute of Technology
Invited Speakers:Rachel Jones, George Mason University
Rita Charon, Columbia University

2013-2014 - Judith Butler

Judith Butler

​Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric & Comparative Literature

University of California, Berkeley

The 2013-2014 Symposium on Living Philosophers will focus on the work of Judith Butler. Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and the Co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1984 on the French Reception of Hegel. Judith Butler is the author of Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (1987), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (1993), The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection (1997), Excitable Speech (1997), Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (2000),Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004), Undoing Gender (2004), Who Sings the Nation-State?: Language, Politics, Belonging (with Gayatri Spivak, 2008), Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?(2009), and Is Critique Secular? (with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Saba Mahmood, 2009). Her most recent book is Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012). She is also active in gender and sexual politics and human rights, anti-war politics, and Jewish Voice for Peace. She is the recipient of the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities, and is the 2012 recipient of the Adorno Prize in Germany.

Directors:Fanny Söderbäck, Karen Ng
External Scholar:Stuart Murray, Carleton University
Invited Speakers:Lisa Guenther, Vanderbilt University
Annika Thiem, Villanova University

2011-2012 - Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy

Princeton University

The 2011-2012 Symposium on Living Philosophers will focus on the work of Kwame Anthony Appiah. Professor Appiah has made significant contributions to our understanding of the nature of language, racial identity, political and moral relationships and philosophical methodology. Siena students will critically examine these contributions, as well as develop and defend their own positions on these topics. The Symposium will culminate in a spring panel discussion where students will present their research projects and discuss them with Professor Appiah.

Directors:Joshua Alexander, Jennifer McErlean
External Scholar:Laurie Naranch
Invited Speakers:Linda Alcoff, Hunter College/CUNY
Ronald Mallon, Washington University in St. Louis

2009-2010 - John Caputo

John Caputo

Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities

Syracuse University

John D. Caputo works out of the tradition of continental philosophy specializing in postmodern theory of religion. He is an uncommonly clear writer whose books address both scholarly and general audiences (Radical Hermeneutics, 1987; The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 1997; The Weakness of God, 2006; On Religion, 2001; Philosophy and Theology, 2006; What Would Jesus Deconstruct? 2007). Caputo taught philosophy at Villanova University for 37 years and is currently the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities at Syracuse University.

Directors:John Burkey, Raymond Boisvert
External Scholar:Jeffery Robbins, Lebanon Valley College
Invited Speakers:Merold Westphal, Fordham University
Richard Kearney, Boston College

2007-2008 - Michael Walzer

Michael Walzer

Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study

Princeton University

The Symposium is a yearlong seminar devoted to the work of Michael Walzer, one of the most prominent contemporary political philosophers. In a career spanning more than fifty years, Professor Walzer has tackled some of the most important questions of the day, developing original conceptions of democracy, social justice, liberalism, civil society, social criticism, nationalism, multiculturalism, just war theory, and terrorism.  In the Fall semester, we will focus on Walzer’s arguments to defend an immanent critique of social institutions and traditions, in opposition to culturally transcendent approaches to social theory and political philosophy. The center of our reconstruction will be Spheres of Justice, complemented by other works in Walzer’s corpus that elucidate (complicate and perhaps transform) his views on these issues. In the Spring semester, we will focus on Walzer’s attempt to cope with difference and conflict within and without the borders of the nation-state. The cornerstone of our analysis will be Just and Unjust Wars, accompanied by Walzer’s writings on multiculturalism and Jewish political thought. The overarching question throughout the year will be whether the two main threads in Walzer’s thought, namely, his commitment to hermeneutics and particularity when dealing with social justice at home and his more universalistic rights-approach when dealing with international relations, converge in a single pattern or pull his philosophy in opposite directions.

Directors:Pablo Muchnik, Jennifer McErlean, Paul Santilli
External Scholar:Morton Schoolman, University at Albany (SUNY)
Invited Speakers:Jeremy Waldron, NYU
Jacob Levy, McGill University

2005-2006 - Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty

The Symposium is a yearlong seminar exploring the work of Richard Rorty, one of the most prominent contemporary philosophers. The Fall semester will concentrate on his critique of traditional epistemology and explore the neo-pragmatist alternative he develops. In the Spring we will focus on how Rorty’s anti-foundationalist and anti-essentialist positions shape his views on ethics and political philosophy. To unravel the different threads of his thought, we will discuss representative texts in Rorty’s corpus –ranging from his groundbreaking Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) to his more current writings. Throughout the year, we will reflect on Rorty’s challenge to philosophy’s traditional self-understanding as queen of the sciences and ultimate arbiter of truth. Our goal is to take this challenge seriously, explore what role it leaves for philosophy to play within our culture, consider its consequences for social and political thought, and evaluate the overall cogency and validity of Rorty’s view. Thus, we will not only learn about a set of “philosophical problems” and the attempts at solving or dissolving them, but also question the very purpose and function of philosophy.

Directors:Pablo Muchnik, Raymond Boisvert, Lauren Barthold
External Scholar:David Hiley, University of New Hampshire
Invited Speakers:Charles Guignon, University of South Florida
Georgia Warnke, University of California – Riverside

Department Chair

Josh Alexander

Joshua J. Alexander

Associate Professor of Philosophy

412 Siena Hall

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