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Ergo | Summer 2012

A Dynamic and Flourishing Research Culture

In addition to the native intellectual energy and curiosity of faculty and students and to the various informal conversations and collaborations characteristic of classrooms and hallways, four formal research initiatives give structure, sustenance, and visibility to the Department of Philosophy’s dynamic and flourishing research culture. These initiatives serve faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and the wider intellectual community in the College of Arts and Sciences and across the UT campus.

Department Research Seminar

One initiative is a faculty and advanced graduate research seminar, funded jointly by the department and the Office of Research’s humanities initiative. This seminar has as a central focus on philosophical issues—moral, metaphysical, political, epistemic, and so on—related to human freedom. The seminar meets monthly each semester to carefully discuss a work in progress by a seminar participant, a departmental faculty member or advanced graduate student, or distinguished visitor. Distinguished visitors have recently included John Fischer (UC Riverside), Michael McKenna (Arizona), and Alex Kaufman (Georgia). Seminar participants find the experience invaluable as a structured contribution toward moving working manuscripts to publication. Professors Coffman, Cureton, Garthoff, McQuillen, Palmer and Reidy have all presented works in progress now on their way to print.

Super seminars

Another is the regular inclusion in the graduate course offerings of “super seminars,” also funded jointly by the department and the Office of Research’s Humanities Initiative. These graduate courses are structured to include extended visits to the seminar by at least three of the authors being studied, affording students and seminar instructors an opportunity to engage in a substantial way with prominent contemporary philosophers. Visitors to super seminars also give public lectures and interact with undergraduate students.

Instructors typically offer a super seminar in a central area of their own active research. In 2011–2012, John Nolt brought to campus Melinda Roberts (College of New Jersey), Larry Temkin (Rutgers), and Erik Carlson (Upsalla, Sweden) to discuss their work on issues of value pluralism and incommensurability. David Reidy brought Carol Gould (CUNY), Chuck Beitz (Princeton), and Andrew Altman (Georgia State) to discuss their work on global justice and human rights.

For 2012–2013, E. J. Coffman will bring to campus Ernie Sosa (Rutgers), John Greco (St. Louis), and Wayne Riggs (Oklahoma) to discuss their recent work in epistemology. David Palmer will bring Derk Pereboom (Cornell), Ish Haji (Calgary), and Dana Nelkin (UC San Diego) to discuss their work on free will and moral responsibility.

Students find these courses a rewarding and powerful stimulus to producing high-quality work suitable for presentation and publication. Faculty find them invaluable as an opportunity to bring key figures working on issues central to their own research agendas to campus for focused discussion and collaboration.

Spring symposium

A third initiative, funded, again, by the department and the Office of Research’s Humanities Initiative and by other units across campus, is an annual two-day spring symposium highlighting the research agenda of a faculty member. Symposia feature papers by numerous distinguished visitors and the faculty member whose research agenda is being highlighted.

Open to the public, these symposia typically draw audiences from across campus and from other universities. In 2010, David Reidy organized a symposium featuring Paul Weithman (Notre Dame), Dick Miller (Cornell), Gerry Gaus (Arizona), and Rob Talisse (Vanderbilt) and focused on his work on the political philosophy of John Rawls. In 2011, E. J. Coffman organized a symposium featuring Tom Kelly (Princeton), Robert Audi (Notre Dame), Jon Kvanvig (Baylor), and Linda Zagzebski (Oklahoma) and focused on his work in epistemology. In 2012, John Nolt and Jon Garthoff—with Joan Heminway of the College of Law—organized a symposium featuring seven distinguished scholars and focused on their work on the moral and legal status of animals. These symposia advance and display publicly the important and productive research agendas of our faculty. Attendance at sessions consistently averages around seventy-five people, including faculty and graduate students from other universities.

Tennessee Value and Agency Conference

Finally, the inaugural instance of the fourth initiative—a department-sponsored conference—will take place in the fall of 2012. The Tennessee Value and Agency Conference, funded by the department, the Office of Research, and the Haines Morris Endowment, will feature two-and-a-half days of papers (selected upon blind peer review following a national call) and papers from two invited keynote speakers. The keynote speakers for the inaugural conference are Tim Scanlon (Harvard) and Pamela Hieronymi (UCLA). The conference name reflects the synergy between two of the department’s core research clusters: one in moral and political philosophy and the other in the metaphysics and epistemology of free will and moral responsibility.


These initiatives have generated and will continue to generate significant benefits for students and faculty, enhancing, disseminating, and promoting the research done within the Department of Philosophy. It is no accident, for example, that in areas of their research pursued through one or more of these initiatives Coffman, Nolt, and Reidy were invited in 2011–2012 to contribute core chapters to prestigious “handbook” or “companion” volumes and Coffman, Nolt, Palmer and Reidy were asked to publish books with major academic presses. Similarly, it is no accident that overall faculty research productivity has never been higher and that in each of the last two years, our graduate students presented more papers (more than twenty-five each year) at regional and national academic conferences than at any other time in the department’s past.

A dynamic and flourishing research culture, indeed!

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