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.
Founded as part of an initiative to develop programs of “academic excellence” at Siena College, the Symposium emphasizes advanced collaborative learning and independent research. Since its inception, the Symposium has featured the work of Richard Rorty (2005-2006), Michael Walzer (2007-2008), John Caputo (2009-2010), Kwame Anthony Appiah (2011-2012), and Judith Butler (2013-2014). Our next 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.
This unique program seeks to bring students into both intellectual and personal contact with a significant figure in contemporary philosophy. Approximately twelve students enroll in a yearlong 6-credit seminar. Students work under the guidance of a team of Siena faculty and an external scholar, selected for his or her special expertise. Each student works closely with his or her faculty mentor to develop an independent research project resulting in a final paper. The featured philosopher comes to campus twice during the course of the academic year: early in the fall semester for an opening discussion with seminar participants and a public lecture to the wider Siena community; and again in late spring for a public panel discussion with seminar participants and a second public lecture. This provides students with a unique opportunity to develop their research in direct dialogue with the featured thinker. Additionally, the Symposium supports a small lecture series, where each semester a prominent scholar is invited for a public lecture on themes central to the work of the featured philosopher.
The goal of the Symposium has been to establish a dynamic learning community in which students and faculty work together on a research project. Faculty work closely with students to help them explore difficult philosophical positions and arguments, to think critically about these issues, to express and defend their own positions with clarity and reason, and to connect ideas creatively. Reviews by participants – students, faculty, guest lecturers, and featured philosophers – have been outstanding for the first five symposia. We are delighted that the Symposium has worked to provide an intellectually rewarding experience for our students that challenges their scholarly abilities, gives them the tools and confidence to engage critically with important philosophical topics, and encourages them to develop and defend their own positions on these topics.