Project inspires youth in philosophy department

Gabriella Lengyel, Reporter

The philosophy department is working to help students put the discipline to work in their lives with the Applied Philosophy Project.

Mark Painter, the project’s advisor and Philosophy Department Chair, says it will enable students to take what they know about philosophy and use it. The project will also build the department, bring students to campus, make philosophy available, and encourage students to think for themselves. An important part of the program is to bring high school students to campus to discuss philosophical concepts.

“The idea [is] to make philosophy integral to the way we’re thinking, not some kind of big flashing special thing, but something that’s ongoing,” said Painter. He believes that philosophy creates a sense of community and allows people to talk about serious topics in an academic context outside of those presented by religion, counseling or therapy.

The project has three core components: education, scholarship, and service, Painter said. The education will provide students with opportunities to succeed in college, he said. “That includes giving the chance to write, speak and participate in conferences and that sort of thing.” It will also include an online journal for undergraduate students.

The service component will make the discipline relevant to the university and surrounding community. It will serve to bring prospective students to campus, and enable current philosophy majors and minors talk to them about philosophy. “In a sense, they’re serving that pre-college population as teachers,” said Painter. The service is intended to help people think critically and have philosophy majors and minors work with younger, non-MU students to deal with different issues. Professors may also offer service learning courses.

The scholarship component is designed to bring professional philosophers to campus for conferences, and it will also include an online journal for professionals.

Painter said the project is intended to serve everyone and encourage philosophical thinking and concepts in the context of many topics, including environmental issues or law. It is philosophy for those who aren’t philosophers.

No specific events have been scheduled for the project yet, but Painter has many ideas. He plans to hold planning sessions with department members. For now, Painter is interested in having a Colloquia Series, which resembles a professional paper presentation. This usually consists of 10 page paper submissions accompanied by 20 minute readings, commentary and discussion. Painter also hopes to show films that will spark discussion and debate.

Painter is also considering a conference on Native American Philosophy. This would be a student and semiprofessional event with Native American food and discussion about the perspectives they have on environmental law and policy.

“I am wanting to hear the ideas that other people have, and sometimes, things will just come up in a class, and we think ‘well this would be a great topic for discussion,’” he said.

Painter said he is seeking funding, which originates in the department for now. He plans to apply for grants to establish and expand the program.

The department started the year with five majors, but it has grown to 13. Most of the students choose to double major. Professors hope the Applied Philosophy Project will help the department further establish its presence on campus and in the community.