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Seasonal pleadings

Tuesday, December 10, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Erin Shepherd
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Support philosophy. Support the APA.

Jennifer NagelI just noticed that there is a square missing in Mejdulene Shomali’s otherwise perfect “End of Semester Bingo” game: alongside such chestnuts as “Forced geniality at campus holiday party” and “Corrupt file submitted in place of assignment,” there should also be a spot for “Solicitation letter from scholarly society.” As the calendar year approaches its end, just as we are looking back, taking stock, asking ourselves what our lives mean, what we value, and what our 2019 tax deductions will be, we have a common but rarely discussed experience of anticipating the uncannily timely entrance of a letter such as this one.

I am now going to beg you for money. Not for me, of course, but for the American Philosophical Association. Like me, like you, the APA loves philosophy. Unlike either of us, however, the APA unites the power of over 8,000 members with a sharp team at the national office to protect and promote the discipline of philosophy, both within the academy and in the public arena. Yes, that last phrase was plagiarized from the mission statement, but I couldn’t find a better way to put it. I consider this mission to be strangely difficult, and I am frankly astonished that the APA actually manages to stay on course with it, fighting hard, through various kinds of sniper fire. The mission’s difficulty comes partly from the headwinds faced by the humanities in the current climate, but more deeply from the nature of the discipline of philosophy itself. I fear that, put together, APA members have at least 8,000 distinct conceptions of philosophy, and it is no small feat to manage an organization that serves and protects both the Plato scholar and the formal epistemologist, without forgetting the needs of the bioethicist and the undergraduate minor.

The APA opens a very big tent at our three annual APA meetings, without deciding in advance or from the top what will count as philosophy. An army of APA staff and volunteers together build a program that directly reflects the submissions we receive from members. Many of the speakers are nervous graduate students, trying out their work in public for the first time, with the benefit of a skilled commentator and the much-needed support of a travel stipend. Invited sessions focus on issues suggested by members and chosen by program committee volunteers. Our author-meets-critics sessions deliver a book club experience of unrivalled intensity, and our new Teaching Hub sessions foster innovation in the classroom. Meanwhile, between meetings, the APA is running an excellent new journal, battling program closures, producing materials to help departments recruit more majors, awarding prizes, and supporting public philosophy.

My own feelings about the APA this past week have been intensified by a great sense of loss. Ken Taylor served on the board as the president of the Pacific Division, and also as the chair of the Committee on Inclusiveness in the Profession. I enjoyed two years of serving on the board alongside Ken, and when I say “enjoyed,” I really mean it. Conversations with Ken made every idea better; his love of philosophy warmed up the room, and he was an animating force in our organization. This year, my annual contribution to the APA will be in his honor.

I hope you can support our shared mission.


With thanks and best wishes,

Jennifer Nagel signature

Jennifer Nagel
Past President, APA Central Division

The American Philosophical Association
University of Delaware
31 Amstel Avenue, Newark, DE 19716
Phone: 302.831.1112 | Fax: 302.831.8690