TACOMA, Wash. – What makes us the same person at age 50 as we were at age 5? Philosophers battle over this abstruse question, much as the rest of us might battle over politics, religion, or how to raise the kids.
One leading philosopher who takes a bold stand on this question is Marya Schechtman, a Harvard-educated professor of philosophy at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Schechtman will be the keynote speaker at University of Puget Sound’s third annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, which each year attracts student speakers from around the country to discuss topics ranging from the highly personal to the foundations of American life.
At the Friday, Sept. 19 lecture, Schechtman will speak about “The Moments of a Life: Some Similarities Between Life and Literature.” The keynote talk is free and open to the public and will start at 5:30 p.m. in the Tahoma Room of Commencement Hall on campus. The two-day conference (Thursday, Sept. 18–Friday, Sept. 19) is also free and open to the public. Those wishing to attend individual talks in Trimble Forum, Trimble Hall can get more information from the website link below. A campus map also is below.
Marya Schechtman, who specializes in the philosophy of personal identity, is the author of numerous articles and books, including Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns, and the Unity of a Life (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her ideas on personal identity represent one side—perhaps the more controversial side—of an ongoing philosophical debate. She argues that the disparate moments and characters that make up our lives are tied together by a narrative that is the basis for our personal identity. In some ways, she says, this makes our lives like literature, but in other ways it does not.
The opposing and dominant view argues that the person we see ourselves as depends on the continuity of our awareness. Moment to moment, we remember who we were just a minute or a day or a week before, allowing us to have a sense of a consistent personal identity. This view is discussed, for example, by British philosopher Derek Parfit in a 2011 article in The New Yorker called “How to be Good.”
Visitors to the Undergraduate Philosophy Conference who may have wondered how philosophy can be applied to real life could find several of the student talks to be eye-openers.
Sam Taylor, from Texas A&M University, learned two years ago that his father has a severe form of brain cancer. In his paper he will outline how he uses the teachings of philosophers Epictetus and Albert Camus to try to find solace and consolation in his father’s diagnosis and fate.
Qimin Liu, from University of Washington, will address the question of whether and how we can trust our memories. In her presentation Liu will look at two theories of how our confidence in memories may be justified and argue in favor of the theory that avoids the justification of what may ultimately be false memories.
Lu-Vada Dunford, from The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, will tackle the question of whether photography can be art. Everyone can take pictures—so does that make everyone a potential artist? Dunford suggests her own solution to the question and in doing so opposes one of the prominent aesthetics philosophers of our time.
The 11 presentations, selected by the student organizers of the conference from a large number of national and international submissions, will cover a wide breadth of philosophy. Each presentation will be followed by commentary from a Puget Sound student and then a Q&A session.
“We pride ourselves in having a conference that provides quality presentations and enough time to discuss the ideas in each paper in some depth,” said Ariela Tubert, conference co-organizer and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Puget Sound. The conference is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the Catharine Gould Chism Fund for the Humanities and the Arts, and Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound.