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Students decipher language of philosophy

August 26, 2013

  • Flickr image of Hegel courtesy of Sobibor.

Even during the summer, Lewis & Clark students work hard in their various fields of study. In collaborating with faculty on research projects, students are able to explore their curiosity, expand their learning, and prepare for life after college all while making meaningful contributions to advancing scholarship.

Samantha Alibrando ’13, Sarah Lomas ’14, and McKenzie Southworth ’14 are working alongside Associate Professor of Philosophy J.M. Fritzman to research the philosophy of language in two philosophical traditions: Hegel, from Germany, and the Indian philosophy of Kaśmiri Śaivism. In the following Q&A, the students reflect on their experience.

What are you researching? What question or problem are you trying to answer/solve with your research?

We are researching philosophy of language in Hegel and Kaśmiri Śaivism. We observed that both traditions may overlap in their use of words without meaning. In Hegel, words are stripped of their meaning in an effort to create a philosophical system that is independent of experience. In Kaśmiri Śaivism, repeating mantras strips words of their meaning, and allows one to reach the ultimate goal of realizing that one is Siva. Siva is consciousness, and all of reality is Siva.

If it is the case that Hegel and Kaśmiri Śaivism overlap in this way, then we will explore how the two traditions can influence each other.

Does your research have any potential applications in the real world, or will it influence other work in your field?

Our work contributes to the area of comparative philosophy. Generally, philosophers in the Western tradition are not familiar with Indian philosophy. This leads to the problem of reinventing the wheel: because philosophers are not familiar with other traditions, they are unaware of advances that have already been made in their area of research. Comparative philosophy brings together different traditions to provide philosophers with ideas that they may have otherwise been unaware of.

What first sparked your interest in this research area?

Professor Fritzman originally came up with the research topic, which relates to previous projects that he has done with students as part of the faculty-student research program. As philosophers and liberal arts students, the three of us jumped at the chance to work with him on this project. As it happens, we all have taken philosophy classes that relate somewhat to our research topic.

How has working closely with faculty influenced your education?

Working closely with Professor Fritzman gives us the opportunity to engage more fully with our project. We are held responsible for reading the material and coming up with questions and ideas. As a result, we have the opportunity to feel like philosophers, rather than just philosophy students.

How do you hope your experiences this summer will impact your future studies or professional pursuits?

This project prepares us well for graduate studies. We read about 100 pages a day, which is a lot in philosophy. We are conditioning ourselves to maintain a pace that we will likely experience in graduate school.

About the program

The Mellon Foundation grant provides funds to help faculty infuse collaborative research into a broad range of new and existing courses, and supports an increased number of student-faculty summer research projects.

“We firmly believe that engaging students in the practice of their discipline is the best way to prepare them for life beyond the college,” said Tuajuanda Jordan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Student-faculty research is seen as one of the strengths of our educational experience, and with this grant we can ensure that students have access to this type of opportunity.”

With this support, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues its long legacy of supporting and enriching the arts and humanities at Lewis & Clark.

Department of Philosophy

Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.

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