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The first science

Who We Are, What We Do: Department of Philosophy

Student Life

By Janet Harron

If academic disciplines were Olympic events, philosophy would be weightlifting.

From the Greek meaning “love of wisdom,” philosophy addresses fundamental questions concerning life, death, form, existence, being and God. Historically, philosophy encompassed any body of knowledge and, until the 19th century, included the study of medicine, astronomy and physics.

Dr. Jöel Maddore
Dr. Jöel Madore
Photo: Timo Sargent

Dr. Jöel Madore was originally drawn to the discipline after developing questions on injustice and evil following a stint working in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. He says the biggest misconception about philosophy is that “it is not a science.”

“Philosophy suffers from the caricature of being some sort of a loose, esoteric trip of asking questions when it is in fact the discipline that seeks to rationalize the universe,” he said. “Philosophy seeks to demystify the world and ground its understanding in human investigation, rather than divine revelation. As such, it is—with mathematics—the first science humanity has ever known, one that reflects upon the conditions of reflection itself and, in doing so, awakens consciousness.”

‘Inclusive and non-hierarchical’

Kyla Bruff is currently in her second year of a PhD program. She remembers discovering philosophy as an undergraduate student at Memorial.

“Dr. Seamus O’Neill’s enthusiasm for the discipline and its paradoxes had me hooked from my very first course back in 2007,” said Ms. Bruff, who also enjoys what she calls the “inclusive, non-hierarchical social dimension of the department.”

Students are a top priority in the department and many professors have an open door policy, she says.

“Our department is unique in the way that professors and students of all levels come together regularly to discuss philosophical themes and to push each other’s thinking.” –Kyla Bruff

“As an undergraduate student, your first one-one-one conversation with philosophy professors might happen over a coffee or beer at the Jockey Club or one of our public lectures at the Ship, after a departmental soccer game or at a philosopher mixer or conference. Our department is unique in the way that professors and students of all levels come together regularly to discuss philosophical themes and to push each other’s thinking.”

Who We Are, What We Do

Dr. Madore and Ms. Bruff appear together in Who We Are, What We Do: Philosophy, the latest in a series of teaser videos produced by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and created by multihyphenate writer/videographer/rapper/producer and recent Memorial graduate Timo Sargent.

Fall lineup

Dr. Madore is busy planning two conferences for the fall term: Kant and Hospitality in September and The Idea of God in November.

The inspiration for the first conference came from Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch that tells us that a stranger has the right not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in another country.

“It is worth investigating Kant’s philosophy so as to address the unprecedented refugee and migrant crisis with greater efficacy and humanity,” said Dr. Madore.

The philosophy department now houses the medieval studies major, which is also profiled in a Who We Are, What We Do video. It features medieval studies program co-ordinator Dr. John Geck and student Laura Moncion.

‘Intensely rigorous’

According to Dr. Geck, who arrived at Memorial about a year ago, medieval studies is an intensely rigorous pursuit.

“As medievalists, we’re aware that the world we study no longer exists, and is in many ways completely alien to us,” he said. “At the same time, Western culture exists in the ruins of this past, and many of our most common experiences—how we order society or political structures, how we understand law, how we read and what we read—are all direct descendants of the Middle Ages.

“To cope with this deep uncanniness, we base all our inquires on heavily grounded and careful methodology. We learn to read the languages of the past and the languages of scholarship: Latin, Old English, Middle English, French, German. We learn paleograpy and codicology; how to read medieval manuscripts and how books were made.”

Dr. Geck is currently developing a digital humanities website that will use geographic information systems technology to map place names found in medieval romance stories, which he hopes to launch this fall.

For more information, please see the degree maps for philosophy and medieval studies and visit the department’s website.

Who We Are, What We Do is a summer series from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences featuring faculty and students discussing their discipline. The next installment of Who We Are, What We Do: Religious Studies, launching Aug. 27features faculty member Dr. Barry Stevenson and students Cory Funk and Mukuye Pascal.

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