Samantha Lilly ’19: “An Ethnographic, Experimental Philosophical Inquiry into Attitudes and Perceptions Toward Suicidality.”

Philosophy major Samantha Lilly ’19 received a Summer Research Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences (information on the Summer Research Grants in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is available here). She describes her experience working on her summer research project under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Gardner in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology:
My summer research was an attempt to amalgamate the logical approach of my philosophy major, with the data collection methods of the ethnographer, to be able to better answer a fundamental question of philosophy, “is suicide wrong?” The philosophical approach to answering questions gives me the ability to utilize logic to create normative claims about how things ought to be. In other words, philosophical research allows me to answer the question, “is suicide wrong?” while ethnography gives me the substantiated qualitative data to answer  the essential follow-up question, “how do we know?”
Spring semester 2018, I finished research designed to help answer the very question my current research is aimed at solving. My spring research, however, investigated the United States mental health care system’s understanding of suicidality. I sought the accounts of the mental health care professionals’ run-ins with suicidal behaviors and stories they encountered with their patients. Here, I used the same ethnographic methodology as a warrant for different normative ethical claims on how the United States Mental Healthcare System ought to approach their understanding of mental health, illness, and suicide.
This summer, my research shifted its focus from the contradictory medical model of mental health to individuals who have been bereaved by suicide.  The ethnographic research design utilized semi-structured interviews to collect data from thirteen individuals who have lost a loved one by suicide. The research design also included elements of participant observation conducted within a suicide bereavement group located within the state of Washington. These people all varied in age (20 years old to 80 years old), in walks of life, and in grieving experiences. Some participants lost mothers and brothers, whereas others, lost daughters and partners. After transcribing and coding each of the interviews, I found that each interviewee reported grieving in a way that strays significantly from the traditional grief model and the typical reactions portrayed by modern media. What is more, is that with each story of death, heartache, and grief, each individual described an extreme confusion in how to feel toward their loved one and how they ended up dying. Ultimately, my summer research revealed a unique expectation placed on individuals bereaved by suicide; on the one hand, they are told and expected to understand their loved one’s death as irrational (as a result of mental illness), and on the other, they are expected and told to hold their loved one accountable, i.e., “they chose to kill themselves”, “they left me”, etc.
Philosophically speaking, the ways survivors understand their loved one’s death are at odds with one another. They are told to pin tricky discussions concerning free will against conversations on moral culpability. My job as a researcher and philosopher continues as I attempt to parse out ethical and normative ways we can mitigate this confusion and harm done—not only to those who have been bereaved— but those who have died as well.
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Upcoming Events with Professor Joe Stramondo (San Diego State)

The philosophy department is proud to sponsor a couple of upcoming events on bioethics and disability, featuring Professor Joe Stramondo (San Diego State).

Professor Stramondo will give a lecture next Friday (Oct 26) entitled “Epistemic Authority, Adaptive Preferences, and Judging the Quality of a Life with Disability”. Professor Stramondo is a philosopher, a bioethicist, and an activist whose research centers on how social and political power shapes the institutions and practices of bioethics. The lecture will be on Friday, October 26th, 3pm, at Wyatt 109. More information is available at: https://www.pugetsound.edu/news-and-events/events-calendar/details/lecture-epistemic-authority-adaptive-preferences-and-judging-the-quality-of-a-life-with-disability/2018-10-26/

Here is a preview of the lecture: There are several critiques of the application of idea of adaptive preferences to undercut disabled people who claim they have good lives (Amundson, Barnes, and Goering). There are also arguments against physician assisted suicide that seem to use an argumentative structure that is quite similar to the logic of adaptive preferences (such as a disabled person who has a desire to die has really adapted his preferences such that he prefers something that is sub-optimal only because other, better choices are out of reach). This lecture tries to reconcile these positions by finding a way of parsing between uses of the idea of adaptive preferences that are instances of testimonial injustice against disabled people (as Barnes describes it) and those that genuinely describe a phenomenon in which a person’s preference for physician-assisted suicide is distorted in the ‘sour grapes’ sense.

Before Professor Stramondo’s visit, ASUPS Campus Films will screen during this weekend the documentary Far From The Tree, in which Professor Stramondo is profiled amongst other extraordinary individuals. “This life-affirming documentary encourages us to cherish loved ones for all they are, not who they might have been” (91% on Rotten Tomatoes). There will be six screenings of the documentary at Rausch Auditorium in Macintyre Hall on Friday (10/19) 6pm, 9pm; Saturday (10/20) 6pm, 9pm; and Sunday (10/21) 2pm, 6pm.

These events are sponsored by the Philosophy Department; and co-sponsored by the Bioethics Program, the Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement (CICE), and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; with additional support from the Offices of Business and Security Services.

Environmental Racism: A talk by Professor Ariela Tubert

The Bioethics Club has organized for Professor Ariela Tubert to give a talk about environmental racism on Wednesday, March 7.

Date: Wednesday, March 7
Time: 7:00–8:00pm
Place: Thompson Hall, Room 381

Environmental Racism

CALL FOR PAPERS: Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC)

The students at Western Washington University have announced a call for papers for their Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC). Students whose work is accepted to present at a conference can apply for a travel grant from the university. More details about student travel awards are on the university website. Here is information from them about the event:

The Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC) is organized by undergraduate students and aims to showcase the philosophical research of undergraduate, graduate, and professional philosophers. This year, our conference takes place on Memorial Day weekend, May 26-27. We are pleased to announce that Georgi Gardiner from the St. John’s College, Oxford University, will be delivering the keynote address. All students – undergraduate, masters, graduate – are invited to submit papers. Entrance is fairly competitive as we have only 6-8 open slots for student presentations, but this should not discourage interested applicants. Papers can be on any philosophical topic, preferably no longer than 6,000 words. Submission deadline is March 31.

HOW TO SUBMIT PAPERS:

  1. Prepare the paper for blind review
  2. Provide an abstract (up to 300 words) between the title and main text of the paper
  3. Send an e-copy as an attachment (either as word doc or pdf) toRyan.Wasserman@wwu.edu
  4. In the email to which the paper is attached, provide relevant contact information: Name / Institution / Email / Phone

For additional information regarding the conference, as well as information on WWU, our philosophy club and our philosophy department, please visit: https://orgsync.com/42976/chapter,http://www.wwu.edu/philosophy/, or email our conference organizer at daviss58@students.wwu.edu.

“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.

Philosophy Students Interview Hip-Hop Artist Olmeca

by Colleen Hanson ’19 and Ariela Tubert

In November of 2016, University of Puget Sound welcomed Hip-Hop artist Olmeca to campus for a concert. In addition to being a Hip-Hop artist who brilliantly merges English and Spanish to create a powerful narrative regarding identity and expression, Olmeca is a civil rights activist and scholar.  He graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a degree in Philosophy. Two Philosophy students from UPS, Conor O’Keefe ‘18 and Steven Baptiste ‘17, had the opportunity to talk with Olmeca about several issues surrounding his philosophy education and activism. Olmeca said:

The ongoing joke with [Philosophy] is that when you can’t make up your mind, you end up in Philosophy, so that’s what happened with me. I started as a Math major, English, Chicano Studies, then Music, then History, and then I ended up in Philosophy. And I guess what I found in doing all that was that I liked the critical thinking aspect that I found in Math, for example, and then I also liked the other aspect which was the analysis behind theories, concepts, social norms (like you could find in History or Chicano Studies), the understanding as to why people did what they did. So I couldn’t find anything that had both until I found Philosophy. You had something open like Metaphysics or Determinist Theory and stuff like that. Or Logic – yeah you had a little bit of math, which I was horrible at; Symbolic Logic was horrible; it was the worst class. So yeah I found that with Philosophy you can actually do both while also being able to talk about the “now” issues, connect to reality which in some philosophy departments you don’t get to do, but in mine, I was able to do. So it became very much a constructive major that I was taking, it was helping me develop things as I went along.

Olmeca further discussed how Philosophy has informed his ability to recognize and understand the points of view of others. In doing so, he has been able to apply this skill to his activism:

>>Olmeca: Philosophy really helped me articulate a dignified anger that I had, and so I found the language for it through philosophy. I found intentions behind things that were being done to a particular community, I understood that law goes beyond what’s already written in the book – that we have to look not only at the history of how that was developed but Philosophy also allowed me to then ask the questions, “What are the conditions that The Constitution or the law was written under? What were the intentions behind writing these into law?” Do you see what I’m saying? So Philosophy allowed me to not only look at that and ask those types of questions but then actually also look at what people’s philosophies were. Like learning about white supremacy – I learned that in Philosophy. I didn’t learn it in a History class. I learned about white supremacy even though it wasn’t called “white supremacy.” Philosophy allowed me to look at that. You know, like John Locke and the notion of property – versus indigenous notions of communalism. Then I was able to look at two different philosophies and two ways of being: one that was a colonizer and one that was pertinent to nature. So then I learned. Europeans follow this type of line. That’s what we call white supremacy and white privilege and that’s what US foreign policy is built on, right? So it was easier to actually look at it.

>>Conor: That’s really fascinating. I really admire that ability to be hypercritical of not just your own point of view but other peoples’ points of view. But in doing so you have to be somewhat understanding of their point of view and the history that comes from that.

>Olmeca: One thing that happened in my course was that I encountered a lot of racism without professors even knowing. So for example, I had to write papers where you read two philosophers and you look at their discourse – how are they different, how are they the same – and then what I would do is bring a third party which was indigenous ideologies. And so what my teachers would say is, “This is a historical based paper, not a philosophical paper.” And by saying historical, it basically implied that indigenous people no longer existed. So I brought that to attention in my classes. Little by little, the Chair even allowed me to do that. I was kind of known as the student that if you have him in your class, you know that he’s going to bring in this other thing that we should be looking at instead of pushing away. And then what did that do? Well, it allowed me to say okay I understand myself well enough to explain it to someone else but if I’m going to counter this argument with him, I need to understand him and where he’s coming from. So everything that he’s saying is maybe not what he really means. In order to do that I have to study him. And again, Philosophy helps with that shit because it’s asking you to do that, no? If there’s an argument placed on the table, you have to look at where the theory comes from, where their principles came from, what that person said. John Locke for example, when he’s talking about property: where did it come from? What was his upbringing so that I can actually understand why he came up with that. It’s a much better argument and it makes you much smarter when it comes to an argument because you’re studying the person as well. That’s what I thought anyway and that’s how I took Philosophy – as just making me a much better person to contend with when it came to arguments.

Conor and Steven followed by asking Olmeca about the connection between philosophy and activism.  Olmeca reflected on what activism means and what he cares about:

I’m always gonna be supporting people’s efforts to live in dignity, as opposed to issue driven activism. It’s less romantic, it’s not a spotlight, but it’s obviously the most important one. Cuz it’s longevity. It’s a long-term commitment when you have that. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the indigenous peoples and Mexico, and here, the Zapatista movement, I lived out there for about a year with them, I take students out there twice a year. The immigrant rights issue right now is important, not as a way to achieve reform for undocumented folks, but again so that people can live in dignity. And that’s a long-term commitment to do that. So yeah, people of color issues, identity issues, are major for me and in my life. They dictate a lot of what I do. Here’s the thing, no one wants to be political. I don’t wanna wake up every morning and go, “… am I gonna go get arrested at today?” I think if people wake up thinking like that, they’re thinking about shit the wrong way.

After talking to Olmeca, Conor and Steven reflected on the interview:

Conor: Olmeca had a lot to say about indigenous philosophy – a realm of philosophy that we don’t have much -if any – exposure to here at UPS, so I learned from Olmeca that we should be paying more attention to indigenous philosophy. He also beautifully linked social activism with philosophy in a manner I hadn’t encountered before – we learn to be critical of all of these famous philosophers and their theories, so we should turn that attitude towards the government regarding the issues we want to see reformed.

Steven: What I learned most from my conversation with Olmeca is the value of a righteous anger in challenging the epistemological and aesthetic dismissal of non-European philosophies. Those which played a significant role in the development of what we now call “western philosophy”. That is, philosophy should be regarded as a globally human endeavor. In this regard, for Philosophy to call itself “the love of knowledge” and then limit its scope of love to such a narrow set of philosophies is a hypocrisy. This growing recognition within the field makes me hopeful and excited for the subject that I already enjoy and love so much.

Throughout the interview, Olmeca reflected on how philosophy affects his way of thinking and his music:

I am in a room with someone that studied philosophy, and then I do hip-hop, so you best believe that when I look at hip-hop, I’m looking at the layers of that shit….  That’s the thing about philosophy, is like you know, you’re studying thinking, it’s dope to me.