SUNY Oneonta

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Department of Philosophy
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SUNY Oneonta
Oneonta, NY 13820-4015

Phone: (607) 436-2456
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Seeds of Wisdom Preface


Each fall the SUNY-Oneonta Philosophy Department joins forces with faculty at Binghamton University, Dowling College, et al to cosponsor an international conference on Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. Now in its sixteenth year, the conference attracts hundreds of scholars from around the world. Participating organizations include the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS), International Society for Neoplatonic Studies (ISNS), Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy (SAGP), Society for Aristotelian Studies (SAS), Society for Global Africa (SGA), and Society for the Study of Islamic Philosophy and Science (SSIPS). Hosted in previous years by Baruch College and Columbia University, the conference is now generally held in Binghamton (about fifty miles from Oneonta).

In October of 1995, I invited students from my Metaphysics class to attend the conference. To my delight, they not only accepted my invitation but returned from the weekend with a level of enthusiasm and intellectual intensity that surpassed even my own idealistic projections. They simply could not stop talking about the presentations they had heard or the people they had met. Soon they were talking about having a conference of their own: for students! The Philosophy Club agreed to host the event; Dr. Achim Köddermann and I agreed to provide oversight and guidance. We selected a date, pieced together a patchwork of funding, and hoped for the best.

On March 16, 1996 our students' bold dream became a reality. Twenty undergraduates from seven institutions presented papers. Twenty others served as session chairs and/or commentators. Awards for top papers were presented to Jennifer Burke (Temple University), Michael Joseph (Oneonta), and Gabrielle Levin (Oneonta). The keynote address, "Imaginative Cosmology from Plato to Einstein", was provided by Thomas Robinson (University of Toronto, President of the International Plato Society). To recognize the special role they played in organizing and hosting the conference, the Ninash Foundation presented East/West Awards to Kerri Nicholas and Alex Slater.

Despite a tight schedule and a shoestring budget, the conference was a rousing success. Presentations were clear, insightful, and informed. Discussion was spirited and robust. Selecting the top three papers was not easy. Nor was it easy to decide which papers to include in the present volume.

Following much discussion, the editorial board of Oneonta Philosophy Studies decided to publish a substantial, yet still highly selective proceedings. To be accepted for conference presentation, the papers had already been subjected to extensive, blind review. We could have published the full set of referred papers, as is common for conferences such as this, but decided that it was important to set a standard higher than the traditional norm. Hopefully, the result will speak for itself.

Though largely unintentional, the ten papers in this volume divide nicely into three sections:

    • Science, Metaphysics, and the Construction of Reality,
    • Philosophical Journeys of Self and Spirit, and
    • Historical Reflections.

In Biological Research and Feminist Obligation, Jennifer Burke explores the important but often misunderstood relationship between scientific research and socio-political values, focusing particularly on the views of Helen Longino and Helen Lambert. She skillfully analyzes the assumptions and implications of each position, outlines two models of theorizing about sex-differentiated behavior (per Longino), and ultimately argues that Longino's position is preferable to that of Lambert.

In Subjective versus Objective Reality: An Examination Through Physics and Philosophy, Michael Joseph tackles an age-old debate about the nature of perception and reality. Following a preliminary sketch of the issues, he presents, analyzes, and discusses three viewpoints: (i) Plato's theory of forms, (ii) the scientific ideal of Newtonian physics, and (iii) contemporary interpretations associated with quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Though clearly sympathetic to objective standards, Michael concludes: "Since all that can be understood, can be understood only through the human mind, which can alter and even create reality (as the new physics shows), reality itself must be subjective" (p. 29).

In Exploring the Universe: From Plato to Einstein and Beyond, Alex Slater continues the exploration begun by Michael Joseph in the preceding paper. Inviting us to use our imaginations to travel through time, he constructs a dialogue which involves Socrates, Plato, and Einstein. He explores Platonic cosmology, the nature of light, and the construction of a space-time matrix. In the final analysis, Alex opts for a view which unifies the cosmos, microcosm, and macrocosm in ways which defy not only some principal assumptions of modern physics, but his own imagination as well.

In Observing, Observability, and the Importance of a Smiler: A Partial Defense of Strawsonian Events, David Miguel Gray concludes this section with an insightful analysis of the complex conceptual and ontological relationships between events and objects. He distinguishes "weak" from "strong" dependencies, explores Strawson's views concerning event-object relations, and examines Moravcsik's criticisms of the Strawsonian picture. Based on his own analysis of dependency relationships, David argues that Moravcsik's criticism commits a category mistake and thereby fails to dispose of Strawson's basic particulars.

The second section of the text opens with an essay by Angela Case. In Follow Your Bliss: The Philosophy of Joseph Campbell, Angela examines the life, work, and beliefs of this famous professor of mythology. Through analysis of his work with hero myths and the practice of yoga, the essay demonstrates Campbell's belief that human life is a journey. Though initially a search for explanations, Angela argues that the journey can be transformed into a celebration of the mystery of life (which Campbell terms bliss).

In Concepts of Self: East and West, Gabrielle Levin examines the complex interactions between different Eastern cultures as they have influenced and been influenced by each other's definitions of self. She incorporates reflections from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, and Zen and traces the contributions of each tradition as the notion of self is filtered through the various cultures. Gabrielle concludes with speculations concerning the lessons which Western society could learn from Eastern society, and vice- versa.

In Quality, Love, and Madness: Pirsig versus Plato, Kerri Nicholas compares two classic journeys of self and spirit: Plato's Phaedrus and Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. She begins with a discussion of Pirsig's search for Quality, including his analysis of the Subjective/Objective dichotomy as well as the Classical/Romantic split. After arguing that "Quality is an unbounded term that can be used in many different ways" (page 108), Kerri turns to an examination of love and madness. Following Plato, she agrees that love is a form of madness but argues against both closure and obsession.

The third and final section of the text is inaugurated by John Devine's essay, Nietzsche's Appropriative Representation or Is the Overman a Hermaphrodite? We are invited to consider the relationship between Nietzsche's grandiose style of writing and the birth of the overman. John accepts themes of sexuality as a legitimate framework for discussing Nietzsche's style and writing, but rejects the specifics of Derrida's "heterocentric" reading. He opts instead for a "hermaphroditic" reading which "not only attempts to penetrate the text ... but allows that it should penetrate you" (page 127). Approached in this way, he argues, "Nietzsche gives us the possibility of a world which simply has sexuality and writing, which implores us to explore, to read, and moreover to live through these activities" (page 127).

As his title suggests (The Impossibilities, Irrationality, and Contradictions of Immanuel Kant's Ethical Theories) David Schaaf is not impressed with Kant's approach to ethics. He presents and analyzes the key concepts of Kant's system, including the notion of a good will, the ideal of a categorical imperative, the concept of duty, and the conditions of ethical behavior. Through a series of examples, David details the basis of his disagreement with Kant. To further support his position, he provides a brief discussion of the views of John Stuart Mill and William David Ross.

In Descartes and Nietzsche, Tatiana Zelikina examines the multi-faceted role of philosophical tradition. Both Descartes and Nietzsche, she argues, represent cognitive revolutions. Both, in some sense, discredit the history of their own discipline to start anew. Interestingly, Tatiana's concern with Descartes' and Nietzsche's "implied readers" provides an intriguing link to John Devine's paper. Her analysis of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals connects well with David Schaaf's discussion of Kant's ethical theories.

Douglas W. Shrader
Oneonta, New York

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