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The Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State University-San Marcos

We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos. (John Dewey)

For almost fifteen years the Philosophy Department at Texas State University-San Marcos has provided a unique model for “freeing thought” through its Philosophy Dialogue Series. As an open forum for the lively exchange and critical evaluation of diverse ideas, the series enriches the cultural and academic life of the university and community.

Vincent Luizzi, professor and chair of the department, notes that Texas State has taken a distinctive approach to connecting the dialogue series with The American Democracy Project, which is a sponsor. According to Luizzi, this approach “rests on the idea that informed and responsible civic action requires a critical evaluation and discussion of the issues which citizens face in a democratic society.”

Each semester philosophy faculty and majors choose a new set of eight topics and design an interdisciplinary series of lectures, interactive presentations, and discussions around them. The topics are selected on the basis of general interest, intellectual and moral import, and relevance to contemporary issues.  Many of the topics involve applied philosophy, and enable students to connect controversial contemporary issues with their philosophical roots.

Recent topics include:

The Whole Mind Empathy and Emotion Music
Designing the Future Meaning Philosophy and the Brain
Evolution and Identity Applied Philosophy Faith and Politics
Medical Ethics Philosophy, Technology, and Science Fiction Animal Consciousness
Patriotism and Democracy Creativity and Play Sustainability

From its inception in 1995, the series has evolved from a few presentations a month to more than 50 events each semester. Since 2004 the series has also been connected with a course, “Dialogue: Theory and Practice,” which is offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Students study the nature and use of dialogical reasoning and learn to prepare and lead stimulating dialogues that encourage participation and interaction.

Faculty and student presenters come from all eight colleges on campus as well as from the dialogue class. The department also invites nationally recognized scholars, such as Antony Flew, Richard Swinburne, Parker Palmer, David Luban, and Jerry Coyne to participate in the series.  Panel discussions that bring together scholars from different fields contribute further to crossing the boundaries of disciplines. For example, a March discussion on evolution will include panelists from evolutionary biology, behavioral psychology, philosophy, physical anthropology, and religious studies. A sustainability symposium includes contributors from philosophy, political science, geography, sociology, biology, business, engineering and technology, social work, and occupational education.

A new event added to the series this semester is Friday’s “Talk of the Times,” an informal discussion of weekly news that works toward a deeper level of analysis of current events than found in the typical superficial sound bite.

All of the events in the series are free and open to the public. For the current calendar and more information about the Philosophy Dialogue Series, please visit this website.

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