Graduating Senior Samantha Lilly Receives the Watson Fellowship

Samantha Lilly ’19, majoring in Philosophy with an interdisciplinary emphasis in Bioethics, is a 2019 recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Out of around 200 students nominated by universities, this prestigious fellowship is awarded to up to 50 students. As described by the Puget Sound Fellowships Office, “in selecting Watson Fellows, the Foundation is most concerned with holistically identifying individuals who demonstrate integrity, imagination, strong ethical character, intelligence, the capacity for vision and leadership, the promise of creative achievement and excellence within a chosen field, and the potential for humane and effective participation in the world community.”

Samantha illustrates the fellowship, her project, and how her philosophy education has prepared her for the project:

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, colloquially known as “The Watson,” is a rare window after college and pre-career to engage my deepest interest on a global scale. Watson Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course. The program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives. Started in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field.

My project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures” will take me to the Netherlands, Argentina, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Nepal. In each country I intend to understand the tangible ways that different communities and cultures understand suicidality. In other words, my project is driven by my background in philosophy because underneath the hands on work I’ll be doing, I am asking questions that I believe are best answered philosophically: “What makes a life worth living? What does flourishing look like? Can suicide be ethical? Why do people die by suicide? How do we know for certain suicide is wrong? What makes a suicide rational or irrational? And, when is paternalism justified and when is it an infringement on autonomy?”

It is my hope that my Watson Year further shapes my ability to think freely, reason well, and grow as a philosopher and human.

After my Watson year, I intend to pursue a J.D. in Health Law with a special interest on mental health care law in the United States. But, I try not to think about that too much. I want to live in this moment of achieving something I’ve been dreaming about and working toward since I was a wee sophomore here at UPS. There’s honestly not much else I’d like to say except to give thanks and express my gratitude to every professor in the philosophy department for mentoring me and guiding me through this major and ultimately shaping me into the type of person who gets awarded a kick ass fellowship like this.

If it were not for Ariela, I would not have even considered becoming a philosophy major and definitely would have never thought of going to law school. Thank you for being my advisor, mentor, and friend. There is so much more I could say here, but I just want you to know you have changed my life and I am grateful.

I am more ethical (gentler, warmer, and softer) because of you.

Without Justin, I would have never asked the important questions regarding mental illness, the mind, and how we can be certain of our beliefs. Thank you for teaching me how to question and how to articulate my thoughts. I am a better thinker, questioner, and joke teller because of you.

Or, in other words, I am a better version of myself because of you.

Sara, I would have never considered a disability framework for suicidality until I took your class. And, quite frankly, I’d still be writing scattered papers with absolutely no sections (yikes!) if you hadn’t taught me what makes a good philosophy paper.

I am more considerate and empathetic because of you.

Beardsley, oh boy, where to begin? I don’t know where I would be today without 19th Century Philosophy. Your ability to teach and communicate Hegel is I bet pretty unprecedented. I think about this class every day — it has shaped my thoughts about the world around me and has overall given me the words and confidence to speak about the future and the past.

I am more thoughtful because of you.
And, this is out of context, but I also think about souls and owls a lot because of you.

And finally, Sam. I think similarly to Ariela, I cannot thank you enough for the time and effort you have put into my work. You have allowed me the opportunity to articulate how I feel in a way that is constructive and worthwhile.  There are so many things to say and so little time. I suppose I’ll just leave you with this:

I am a better philosopher because of you.

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Interview with Peter O’Meara ’18

As the Class of 2018 prepared to graduate, we wanted to hear from philosophy graduates about their time as philosophy majors at Puget Sound. Peter O’Meara ’18 majored in Philosophy and minored in History. In the summer of 2016, he completed an internship at the Institute of Ideas in London.

If you are interested in becoming a philosophy major, if you are a current philosophy major looking for advice from recent alumni, or if you’re simply curious about the endeavors of a philosophy major at Puget Sound, read Peter O’Meara’s interview below:

How did you get interested in philosophy in the first place?

That is the question I have never been able to answer quite clearly. There was no book I read, no person I heard speak, not even a class that I took. It just came to me. I know that no one is endeared by such a vague answer, but that is how it was. It was a primal feeling from the start.

When and why did you ultimately decide to become a philosophy major?

Formally, I believe it was some time during my senior year of high school. In retrospect, I suppose I had not given a great deal of thought to that course specifically. Rather, it was merely a natural progression of the passion itself.

How did your parents and strangers react when you told them you were a philosophy major?

My parents did not have any bias, surprisingly; they were supportive from the very start. The challenge that I have endured came not from any opposition to the major itself, but rather how to best utilize it in the pursuit of the path. I want to get my Ph.D., yes, but how to forge the best profile? This has made itself apparent in more recent years. I have found myself increasingly in a state of mind that emphasizes the “golden lining” of one’s resume. That is, in order to appeal to the tiers I am aiming for, I have been forced to consider all avenues of potential success, even if it is distant from my chief interests. My parents have at times emphasized the raw intrigue of combining my major with neuroscience, law, and the like. It has been frustrating on occasion, especially as I have struggled to put into words just what my areas of interests are. It can also be especially frustrating when you feel like sometimes others do not understand just how frequent and “close to home” your chosen path is; when you say that it must be done every day, and you mean nothing less than that. This is not to disparage such a strategy, nor the actual pursuit of alternate venture within the discipline. Philosophy can be integral with used in tangent with either, and I wholly support it.

Is there an area of philosophy that interests you the most?

As it currently stands, I am enthralled by the notion of variety, specifically on a metaethical level. I wish to explore how it is that variety interferes and interacts with morality. To that end, I may also pursue the questions in metaphysics, as well as normative ethics. I am also highly curious about human sexuality, and its own subsequent ethics, though I do not yet know how it will figure into my central path of inquiry.

 What about those areas are interesting to you?

Much of my interest comes from my frustration with Mill’s rule utilitarianism. I am myself a deontologist. For a doctrine that aims to be a communal morality, it seems content to leave many people behind. I am mesmerized by that which deals with the most and least of something; the majority and the minority. How everyone ought to be accounted for no matter what. Further, within a moral being, there exists the idea of being an “expert” in something, yet not in other things. I am captivated by the idea that one does not need to be an expert or scholar of something (for the sake of clarity, morality), but it is evident to them, at least given the appearance of thorough consideration juxtaposed with holding a belief that is not as scrutinized, that there exists an ethical breach that is not disconcerting. That which appears to be at a glance merely a case of weakness of will, yet indicates a more nuanced perception of morality. I do not mean to be so abstract. This is actually a line of inquiry acquired only a few months prior, and I have had difficulty putting it into clearer terms.

As I am trying to formalize my interests, I believe my interest in variety initially stemmed from questions I have regarding sexuality. I have long been fascinated with its grip on humankind when compared to other “base desires”. It is a visceral feeling to deal with something that is considered quite personal and normal, yet to desire to subject it to philosophical scrutiny all the same.

Has your study of philosophy informed your day to day life or how you make decisions?

I practice philosophy every day. It is the only way to stay on top of it. The greatest revelation, one could argue, is that philosophy truly is everywhere. No one and nothing is exempt from it. It is legion. On a less poetic note, though, I do indeed inform my decisions everyday using philosophy. I do not believe in “keeping work at work”. I frequently find myself asking how I could do something which entirely concerns everyday life if I am not actually going to act as I say. That is one of the grand ironies of philosophy, I find. It is something which concerns everything, and yet is easy to keep locked away in the Ivory Tower. No matter how abstract something might be, I do everything to try and integrate it into routine.

What was your favorite philosophy class?

Ha! That is like picking children! In truth, I could not choose a single class, as it has all been instrumental in developing the way I think and pursue philosophy, and I cannot imagine being without their respective teachings. That said, if I had to name one in which I feel that many of the skills and axioms attained were demonstrated, it would be one of the last two classes, “Topics in Knowledge and Reality”, during my spring semester of senior year.

How has your minor and/or other major shaped your philosophical studies and vice versa?

My minor was history, and while I cannot say that there has been a great deal of interaction between the two thus far, I look forward to seeing how that arises in time.

Do you have a particular memory as a philosophy major at UPS that stands out to you?

During my senior year, I was taking a “Philosophy of Emotions” course with Professor Protasi. I had a reputation for run-on sentences and highfalutin language. As such, she challenged me to answer the daily writing prompts using no more than fifteen words per sentence. Though difficult at first, I was able to keep to this throughout the semester, and as a result, I found that my writing improved drastically. There was one instance, however, when I ended a sentence with the word “entelechy”, which, though a stretch, I thought at the time captured what I was trying to say. After submitting, I prepared to go to class, and the Professor walked by, having read the post. She stopped, looked at me and remarked “‘Entelechy?’ Really, Peter?”. Once again, my manic logophilia got the better of me. I will treasure that moment forever.

Do you have any advice for current philosophy students?

Firstly, the dictionary is not your friend! If you are asked the question “What is good?”, the worst thing you can do is look it up and offer it as part of your explanation. While it can be helpful for certain terminology, do not rely on it to get you far in philosophy. Secondly, philosophy must be practiced outside the classroom every day. This is not to say you are thinking about it constantly, but it is the only way to improve and to learn how philosophy is meant to have a chief place among decisions and day-to-day life.

Any final thoughts?

If you ever want to know if you are passionate about philosophy, you must be willing to speak about yourself a bit morbidly. Can you ask yourself “Can I live without this?” or can you say “I give myself wholeheartedly to this?” Perhaps you might even say to yourself “I have been called to the holy work (and nothing less)”. If you can do these things, do not fret, because even when people react with fright and worry, you will be able to rest in the knowledge that such words belie the most relentless optimism.  

Interview with Jessica Chan-Ugalde ’18

As the Class of 2018 prepared to graduate, we wanted to hear from philosophy graduates about their time as philosophy majors at Puget Sound. Jessica Chan-Ugalde ’18 majored in both Philosophy and Computer Science. In the summer of 2017, she conducted summer research that combined both disciplines. She was also an awardee of the John and Kathryn Magee Memorial Scholarship Award for 2018.

If you are interested in becoming a philosophy major, if you are a current philosophy major looking for advice from recent alumni, or if you’re simply curious about the endeavors of a philosophy major at Puget Sound, read Jessica Chan-Ugalde’s interview below:

How did you get interested in philosophy in the first place?

I’ve liked philosophy since middle school and took a course at my local community college my freshman year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted to take some courses just for fun. I took Human Natures (SSI with Prof. Justin Tiehen) my second semester of freshman year and realized how much more I enjoyed writing philosophy papers (as opposed to papers in other disciplines). The topics discussed and readings assigned in class addressed a lot of issues that had been floating around in my mind, sometimes largely unarticulated. I found that the process of philosophizing was also an exercise in self-expression.

When and why did you ultimately decide to become a philosophy major?

I really just love the discipline. I kept on taking philosophy courses until it became an easy decision to major. I knew I was going to major at the end of sophomore year. It took me longer to decide to actually major because computer science was my primary major and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to meet both requirements. When it became clear that this was a feasible option, I declared.

How did your parents and strangers react when you told them you were a philosophy major?

Because I’m also a computer science major, I think people react more to the combination of CS and philosophy as a major than philosophy alone. I think some people are wary about the job market for philosophy majors and find CS to be more reliable and lucrative. I’ve also found that people my age are more likely to recognize that three quarters of college graduates work in a field unrelated to their major.

Is there an area of philosophy that interests you the most?

This is a difficult question. There are so many ways to index topics within computer science (e.g. traditional branches, methodology, time period, etc.). If I had to choose, I think I’d go with how different philosophers interpret the divine and our relationship to it. For example, Aristotle talks about a ‘god-like’ quality that humans possess (EN Book X) with which we should align ourselves; Descartes justifies the existence of an external world by appealing to god. One aspect of this area that’s particularly interesting to me is how logical frameworks and epistemological traditions influence our ontological assumptions of the divine.

Has your study of philosophy informed your day to day life or how you make decisions?

Yes, immensely. There’s always a part of my mind that consults philosophy before I make decisions. I’ve learned to be more charitable to others (and myself) — as a result I’m less attached to being right and more interested in rigorous analysis. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about or implement a philosophical concept to some degree.

What was your favorite philosophy class? Why?

This is also a difficult question. I’m going to have to go with Ancient Philosophy. I think it’s amazing to see how philosophies formed thousands of years ago are still discussed, implemented, and amended to this day. Additionally, the content of the class has come up time and time again in my studies of more contemporary philosophers — the extent to which ancient philosophers influence contemporary philosophical dialectics is impressive.

How has your other major shaped your philosophical studies and vice versa?

Computer science is a field that requires creativity, diligence, and attention to detail. It also prizes optimization — the concept that the results of a program are not the only success metric for it. Instead, we should also look at how we achieved the result and whether it is efficient and robust. This practice has made me more conscientious of making robust claims and arguing for them in the clearest, most efficient manner possible.

Could you describe the summer research you did in 2017?

Last summer I was looking at the ethical implications of recommender systems (algorithms that decide what to show or recommend to you). I wanted to find a link between Aristotelian friendship ethics and the ethical responsibility of ‘artificial agents’ (non-biological agents, like artificial intelligence). I found that there is significant philosophical precedents that support the idea of conceding agency — and by extension, moral agency — to intelligent, non-biological entities. Given that artificial agents may in some circumstances be considered moral agents, I found that it is a tenable option to subject them (e.g. AI, recommender systems) to the same ethical responsibility we subject our friends to (e.g. not disseminating misinformation, expressing ‘good-will’).

Do you have advice for philosophy students interested in summer research?

I’d recommend starting with a very narrow topic and expanding as necessary. Considering students are usually very passionate about their summer research, it’s very easy to be carried away into interesting rabbit holes that can detract from the cohesiveness of the final research product.

Do you have a particular memory as a philosophy major at Puget Sound that stands out to you?

There are many memories that stand out to me. However, there is one strand of memories that are particularly memorable. I’ve visited my professors’ office hours pretty regularly every semester and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. The kindness, interest, and encouragement extended to me and my philosophical endeavors made me feel like a part of the UPS philosophy community. The conversations I’ve had during office hours made me realize that I can no longer imagine a life without philosophy.

Do you have any advice for current philosophy students?

Take advantage of office hours! It’s so helpful to articulate (or at least attempt to) questions or concepts that remain nebulous in your mind. Especially early on, it’s really useful to have someone guide your thinking/writing process.

Any final thoughts?

The philosophy department at UPS is impressive in rigor, community, and care. My education here has shaped my conduct, analytic process, and intellectual interests. I’m very thankful to have been a part of it.

Alumni Updates: Nicolas Navarro

Among many other skills, philosophy students are taught to think critically, analyze thoroughly, and approach challenges confidently. This kind of education and training prepares philosophy students for any post-graduate career or endeavor. Alumnus Nicolas Navarro ’16, who studied both psychology and philosophy, shares an update of his post-graduate life:

The misty mornings walking to class through the President’s Woods seem a world away as I, Nicolas Navarro, write this update from Huehuetenango, Guatemala as a current Peace Corps Volunteer. In the short two years separating my days in Guatemala and Tacoma, my philosophy on life has changed considerably. I’ve continued my education by working with different non-profits supporting youth development and entrepreneurship, completed coursework for a master’s degree from the University of Miami, and embarked on some of the greatest adventures of my life. I’ll take a note from John Dewey and say, “education was not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

At UM, the Communities and Social Change master’s program included topics on community psychology, youth development, and the management of community organizations. Complementing my studies in Psychology and Philosophy at UPS, I was prepared to think critically and synthesize large amounts of information. Here in Guatemala, I draw from my formal education career and life experiences to support the Peace Corps’ Youth in Development (YID) program.

Encouraging youth leadership, teaching life skills & healthy decisions, and focusing on building local capacity to support youth, the YID program strives to improve the lives of young people around the world. As a program coordinator, I am most passionate about authentically involving young people in both the creation of programs and decision-making processes that impact them. The psychology and philosophy departments at UPS taught me the importance of supporting dialogue between youth on topics of well-being, philosophy, and education; my master’s program taught me the importance of taking action; now I find myself, practicing what I’ve learned.

With plans to further develop the Youth in Development program framework, submit two research articles in community psychology journals for review, and to explore the epistemology of Quality in my next book, life seems to be moving at full speed. Beyond school and work, I’ve found time to ride my motorcycle cross-country from Tacoma to Miami, hitch-hike the west coast’s Highway-1, and I’ve met incredible people all along the way. My philosophy on life is becoming less and less goal oriented, narrowing in on the importance of the process it takes to tell a story. I am grateful for the privilege to be invited to work in such a beautiful country as Guatemala and grateful for all the hands that have helped me get to where I am.

To read more of my thoughts, check out my blog!

Alumni Profiles: Brenden Goetz

Philosophy majors pursue a wide variety of career paths after graduation, including but not limited to law, business, and higher education. Every few weeks, we will be featuring one of our department’s alumni, highlighting how their studies in philosophy have helped them in their post-graduate careers.

Brenden Goetz graduated in 2007 with a degree in Philosophy. He now works as a Data Manager for the University of Colorado at Denver IT Department. When asked how studying philosophy has helped him in his career, he said:

“Studying philosophy was definitely a fantastic decision! Learning to dissect arguments and lines of reasoning, ask meaningful questions, and communicate clearly are skills I developed in school and use all the time. And a general curiosity for getting to the root of problems has served me well, too.”

Alumni Profiles: Sarah Jacobson

Philosophy majors pursue a wide variety of career paths after graduation, including but not limited to law, business, and higher education. Every few weeks, we will be featuring one of our department’s alumni, highlighting how their studies in philosophy have helped them in their post-graduate careers.

Sarah Jacobson graduated in 2005 with a degree in Philosophy. She now works as a Transit Control Supervisor for the Minneapolis Metro Transit. When asked how studying philosophy has helped her in her career, she said:

“My philosophy degree helped me transition into management positions easily, since I have superior critical thinking and problem solving skills and excellent written and oral communication. My career didn’t turn out as planned, but even so, I think my degree set me up to succeed.”

Alumni Profiles: Holli Fillbach Simcoe ’95

Philosophy majors pursue a wide variety of career paths after graduation, including but not limited to law, business, and higher education. Every few weeks, we will be featuring one of our department’s alumni, highlighting how their studies in philosophy have helped them in their post-graduate careers.

Holli Fillbach Simcoe graduated in 1995 with a degree in Philosophy. She now works as an Assistant General Counsel at Huron Consulting Group, which is a global management consulting group. When asked how studying philosophy has helped her in her career, she said:

“It’s hard to put a finger on exactly how philosophy studies have contributed to my career. It certainly helps me to be a critical thinker but also to be open-minded and creative.  I usually have more than one solution to a problem which most people find refreshing(…) in our many class discussions, I often took the minority viewpoint for the sake of argument. For example, if you were stuck on a boat in the ocean would you fend for yourself or cooperate for the greater good.  I found it more interesting to consider fending for myself than the more “sane” concept of working together.  This “thinking skill” or perhaps, “objectivity,” allows me to consider many angles of an issue or problem.  I tend not to dismiss something that may seem less rational than other solutions.”