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.  

CFP: Upcoming Undergraduate Philosophy Conferences and Philosophy Journals

Several upcoming undergraduate philosophy conferences and undergraduate philosophy journals have put out calls for papers. You are highly encouraged to submit any of your outstanding philosophical work. For more information about submitting your work, visit their websites.

STANCE International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal
Submission Deadline: 
December 14, 2018

Georgia State Student Philosophy Symposium
Conference Dates: February 22, 2019
Submission Deadline: December 20, 2018, 12 noon ET
Keynote speaker: Professor Michael Monahan, University of Memphis

Mudd Undergraduate Conference in Ethics
Conference Dates: March 16–17, 2019
Submission Deadline: December 31, 2018

Eastern Michigan University’s 9th Annual Undergraduate Conference in Philosophy
Conference Dates: March 9–10, 2019
Submission Deadline: January 10, 2019
Keynote Speaker: Kirsten Jacobson, University of Maine

Midsouth Undergraduate Philosophy Conference
Conference Dates: March 22–23, 2019
Submission Deadline: January 15, 2019

Rutgers Columbia Undergraduate Conference 2019
Conference Dates: April 6, 2019
Submission Deadline:January 17, 2019
Keynote Speakers: Susanna Schellenberg, Rutgers University and Achille Varzi, Columbia University

The 23rd Annual Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference Conference Dates: April 5–6, 2019
Submission Deadline: February 1, 2019
Keynote Speaker: Susan Haack, University of Miami

 

“My Friend, the Algorithm” — A summer research project by Jessica Chan Ugalde ’18

Jessica Chan Ugalde ’18, majoring in both Philosophy and Computer Science, spent the summer researching the importance of ethics and philosophy in the world of technology – namely intelligent agents. An article published on the University of Puget Sound website overviews her research:

“It is immoral to limit users’ purview so much that you only see what you want to see,” the philosophy and computer science major says…

“We must establish ethical frameworks to guide the development of “intelligent agents,” she says, referring to the algorithms that bring us Facebook and Web news….

Her solution was revealed in her research paper “My Friend, the Algorithm.” Jessica proposed that intelligent agents—just like friends—should have “free agency” to choose what to show you, and that they should help you attain wisdom. That means showing you what you like, and what you don’t like, or maybe never thought of….

“Technology plays such a huge role, not only in our everyday lives, but in forming our intuitions,” she says. She argues tech companies should take part in philosophical discourse—and that they would benefit from it. Highly ethical firms could attract the best workers, and thoughtful debate would hone the critical thinking skills needed in their collaborative industry….

Jessica’s own goal is to write, and to shine a light on contentious ethical issues. Should she succeed, the computing world may get no peace until it finds the algorithm that is, indeed, our friend.

During her research, Jessica was supervised by Sara Protasi from the Department of Philosophy and David Chui from the Department of Computer Science.

Congratulations to philosophy majors class of 2015!

I will miss this great group of graduating students!  The philosophy faculty got to celebrate with students and various family members at the philosophy reception on Saturday morning, I got to be on stage with president Thomas at graduation, and Lee Pennebaker gave a great speech as the commencement speaker.  Busy, fun, and memorable weekend for us all.  Here are some photos of the philosophy majors during graduation weekend 2015:

From Left to right: Si-Won Song, Austen Harrison, Maia Bernick, Abby Osborne, Conner Sabin, Lee Pennebaker, Matt Archer

From Left to right: Si-Won Song, Austen Harrison, Maia Bernick, Abby Osborne, Conner Sabin, Lee Pennebaker, Matt Archer

Lee Speaker_2_2015-05-18 at 10.08.06 AM

Lee Pennebaker

Lee Pennebaker

Abby 2015-05-18 at 10.22.23 AM

Abby Osborne

Austen 2015-05-18 at 10.22.17 AM

Austen Harrison

Conner 2015-05-18 at 10.22.37 AM

Conner Sabin

Lee 2015-05-18 at 10.09.48 AM

Lee Pennebaker

Maia 2015-05-18 at 10.21.07 AM

Maia Bernick

Matt 2015-05-18 at 10.21.19 AM

Matt Archer

SiWon 2015-05-18 at 10.15.10 AM

Si-Won Song

from left to right: Samantha Hartenbaum, Conner Sabin, Abby Osborne, Si-Won Song, Maia Bernick, Austen Harrison

At the Philosophy Department Graduation Reception. From left to right: Samantha Hartenbaum, Conner Sabin, Abby Osborne, Si-Won Song, Maia Bernick, Austen Harrison

“The Art of Thought Experiments” in the Daily Nous

The philosophy blog Daily Nous, run a very nice article on Si-Won Song’s exhibit “The Art of Thought Experiments.”  Read the whole thing and check out the images but here is an excerpt:

Si-Won Song, a student about to graduate from the University of Puget Sound, has created a series of digital artworks based on well-known philosophical thought experiments. Song, a philosophy major (with minors in studio art and Japanese) first got the idea from reading about Frank Jackson’s thought experiment, Mary’s Room, in Professor Justin Tiehen’s philosophy of mind course. Mary is a scientist who has lived in a black and white room her whole life, learning all of the scientific facts about the color red but never seeing it, until one day…

Si-Won Song - Mary

Song created the above, with fellow student Brittney High as the model for Mary. Other students and some philosophy faculty have served as models in the other works. Here’s Professor Tiehen in a painting based on —well look at it first and guess…

Si-Won Song - grue

… That’s Nelson Goodman’s grue.

The digital paintings are currently on display at the University of Puget Sound. In an article about it at the University’s website, Song says more about the works:

The project started off as a gift idea for all of my professors as a ‘thank you’ for putting up with me for the past four years. With the encouragement and support of my two advisors, it ended up becoming an independent study class, and grew into a larger project that involved the majority of the philosophy department, from faculty to students. This project is by a philosophy student, of people working in philosophy, and about philosophy. …

Student Discussion: CAN ROBOTS SOLVE THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS?

Maia Bernick ’15 tells us about the first of the public discussions on Ethics and Technology that she led recently:

BY MAIA BERNIMaiaCK

This Spring, I had the pleasure and privilege of running a series of discussions with the help of the Philosophy Department. The overarching theme was Ethics and Technology, while my specific focus was the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on different areas of society. Each event started with an introduction to the topic provided by me, then moved into a group discussion guided (but not bounded) by a set of pre-written questions.

The first discussion examined robots in the medical field and as caregivers. Inspired by my interest in the growing elderly population, I came to the conclusion that one way of providing care for them would be to integrate AI caregivers with our existing providers. This idea is no where close to novel, though, as researchers have been working for years on creating technologies like ‘nursebots’ and other automated assistants.

Paro

Preliminary tests and application of these kinds of robots has shown great promise and potential. Take for example, PARO, a seal pup robot designed to help those with neurodegenerative disorders reconnect with their world. PARO has shown to reduce agitation in a way that reduces or eliminates the need for medication, thus lessening the reliance on medication to control harmful behaviors. Currently, there are also more complex ‘helper’ robots likbandit IIe Bandit II, a humanoid caregiver robot from the Asimov lab at UCLA, who are in testing at assisted living homes. However, it is important to recognize that we are still far away from a sci-fi movie version of human-robot existence. In fact, roboticists are just now figuring out the haptic feedback (sensation of touch) simulation necessary to create hands that can actually grab things.

Being able to have this discussion with the campus community has been an invaluable experience for me. Not only did I get to share my thoughts on a subject matter which I had done a lot of extracurricular research on, I also got to engage in discussion with a group who could challenge me to think outside the box of my preexisting opinions and conceptions. Furthermore, I feel events like this show the multi-faceted and dynamic breadth of the study of Philosophy. It is my earnest hope that these talks will become a regular occurrence where students get to share their unique intellectual niches and I look forward to seeing what the next semester’s topic is.