Mount Holyoke hosts Five College Philosophy Conference


Photo by Grace Mercer ‘22

Photo by Grace Mercer ‘22

On Feb. 15 and 16, Mount Holyoke College hosted the annual Five College Philosophy Conference, sponsored by the philosophy department and the Philosophy Society. The first day consisted of a series of workshops geared towards philosophy students. On the second day, students presented their ideas on topics ranging from environmental ethics to just war theory. This was followed by a debate between Chair of the philosophy department James Harold, Associate Professor of Philosophy Sam Mitchell and UMass Amherst graduate student Molly O’Rourke-Friel regarding the existence of universal morals vs. relative morals.

The conference’s first student speaker, Imara White ’19, presented her thesis on ‘Black Feminist and Contemporary Individual Activism.’ She pointed out that, though traditional philosophy tries to be universal, the asymmetry between black populations and white populations in the United States makes such an effort not only impossible but undesirable. White also focused on the shortcomings of analytical philosophy, which she said relies on the normative assumptions of ‘whiteness’ and racial stereotypes.

White was in charge of publicity for the event, and considers the conference an excellent opportunity for both budding philosophers and students from other disciplines. “It is really empowering to have professors attend and ask critical questions,” said White. “Seeing fellow majors, people who are just curious and others stop in and become completely enthralled [by] the magic of philosophy is always inspiring.”

Photo by Wenny Shen ‘19

Photo by Wenny Shen ‘19

White presented her thesis, but not all of the presenters were seniors. Emily Roles Fotso ’21 presented an argument on ‘The Moral Questioning of Violence in Horror.’ According to Roles Fotso, the genre as a whole should not be condemned for its violence because violence itself is a part of the human experience. She argued that, to a certain extent, violence in horror should be considered art, emphasizing the intrinsic value of the horror genre despite the prevalence of violence in it. She pointed out that violence, while traumatic when done in poor taste, is not necessarily immoral.

A sophomore from Smith College, Kira Lienwand, discussed the various practices involved in animal conservation at both ends of the ethical spectrum. Drawing from her own experiences working at zoos, Lienwand explained the differences between various kinds of animal conservation efforts and their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Like White, the final student presenter, Nadia Babar ’19, presented from her thesis. In ‘Do Philosophers Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Babar focused on the implications of modern technology on the ethics of warfare, arguing that traditional moral frameworks are ill-equipped to accommodate the various changes that technological development brings. Ultimately, she argued for the adoption of an open-ended, flexible ethical framework that is adaptable to the changing nature and scope of modern warfare.

White said that she was especially excited to hear from non-seniors at the conference. “Seeing [Roles Fotso and Lienward] present very persuasive arguments confidently and gracefully respond to questions has made me so excited for the next generation of philosophers,” she said.

White encourages all interested parties, not just philosophy majors, to attend next year’s conference. “[The Conference] gives students the opportunity to be taken seriously as philosophers,” White said. “[It also] helps build community: the work that goes into planning and executing this event, the number of friends and family that come out to support presenters and engage in [their] ideas, and of course the snacks and engaging conversation!”

For those interested, the Philosophy Society meets on Mondays from 12:20-1:20 in Skinner 217.