Do biography and place affect the artists’ process philosophically?

Mollie Douthit


Philosophy of Art

Mollie Douthit was born and raised in Grand Forks; she received a B.F.A. in painting at UND. But she left North Dakota to develop as a painter, living in Boston and receiving great acclaim in Ireland. She is now back as IPPL’s resident fellow, using the Institute office as a studio space, and asking what it means to paint at home when home is both here and not here.

For her IPPL project, she will ask the question, “Do biography and place affect the artists’ process philosophically?” She will continue her work as a painter and develop, with IPPL a series of short videos about painting, with special attention to the role of paint itself and the way the medium both limits and frees the artist. These videos will highlight some of her recent work and will be available for free, on the IPPL website and YouTube.

Mollie received her BFA at the University of North Dakota, a Post Baccalaureate certificate the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an MFA at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, Ireland.  Her work has been published in New American Paintings, The Irish Arts Review, and the Irish Independent. Reviews of Douthit’s work have been published in the Irish Times, and Sunday Times Culture. Her work is included in both public and private collections.

In 2013 she was the recipient of the Hennessy Craig Award from the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 2014 Douthit’s work was advanced to Stage II of the John Moores Painting Prize, and was highlighted through Saatchi Art’s ‘Invest in Art Series’. Completing her MFA Douthit was shortlisted for Saatchi Art’s New Sensation Prize. 2014 Exhibitions include the Continental Shift- Saatchi Gallery, London; If I show you the roses-Rubicon Projects, Dublin. 2015 Exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the RHA Ashford Gallery; Panorama group exhibition- Pallas Projects. 2016 exhibitions include Contemporary Realism group exhibition- Catherine Hammond Gallery; Courtship KCAT Engagement group Exhibition- Kilkenny Arts Festival. 2017 exhibitions include the RHA Annual, 440 Gallery Brooklyn ‘home’ group show and an exhibition at the North Dakota Museum of Art, supported by William Wosick’s ‘Maker’s Series’.

Her website can be found at


Are We What We Eat? A philosophy of anatomy

Jon Jackson


Philosophy of Biology

Jon Jackson received his Ph.D in Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of North Dakota. He did post-doctoral training at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, TN then returned to teach at UND for sixteen years. In addition to his interest in teaching using radiological anatomy, Dr. Jackson is committed to doing research in the history of science and medicine and the public understanding of science.

Public Philosophy and Violence in the Muslim World

Mohammad Samin Kahn


Social and Political Philosophy

Samin will be exploring the relationship between the Muslim and the Western worlds, with special attention to the role of public philosophy in curbing violence. Instead of creating an online project, he will be teaching a course in the UND Department of Political Science and Public Administration titled “The Islamic World: Conflict and Engagement with the USA.” An interview with him can be found here.

Samin Kahn is as Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Higher Education, Government of KPK, Pakistan. He is the author of more than three dozen popular articles and a book of postmodern Urdu poetry “Raaz”. He was born in northwest Pakistan. After graduating from Edwardes College Peshawar and finishing an MBA and a M.A. in philosophy, he pursued additional education in China, France and Thailand. He worked as a journalist for The Frontier Post, an independent, English-language, daily newspaper, published throughout the Muslim world. Samin describes it as the “most famous cold-war newspaper.” He was a journalist for the German Technical Cooperation Agency and then commissioned in Pakistani government service in 1999, during which he served as Assistant Director for international education projects of the tribal areas in the aftermath of 9/11.


Public Theology and Religious Identity

Majid Amini


Philosophy of literature

It is almost a commonplace to hear the statement that throughout the world revival of religion is on the rise. Increasingly, we see across the globe that socially and politically conscious individuals take religion as an important factor, if not only the deciding factor, in determining their private and public aspirations and expectations. Religion is not only providing the standards and goals for what a person should pursue personally and publicly but also, more significantly, defining the identity of each person. In other words, people see and identity themselves solely in terms of the religion to which they belong. My religion, for example, decides who I am and what I should believe in and thereby how I should behave in private and public. Indeed, given that a desire for a lot of people to bring their religion to bear on affairs of society in pursuit of an ethically upright and morally healthy social environment. This is basically what public theology is about: to shape and influence not only our private lives but also our public lives on the basis of our religious identity.

However, despite the good intentions and sincere beliefs of people advocating public theology, not only does an ethically upright and morally healthy society appear to be more than ever an unachievable ideal state but also religion itself has become a source of social strife and strain. In national and regional politics, religious identity has led to sectarianism and exclusion of other, including non-religious, points of view, and, on the international scene, the world has increasingly become a patchwork of rival religions and a platform for religious rivalry. Paradoxically, religion as the call for compassion and care has been turned into a harbinger of death and destruction: lives and livelihoods are destroyed in the name of religion. But what did go wrong? It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important questions facing humanity. The key to the question lies in our understanding of religion and, more fundamentally, in how one acquires one’s religious identity. What is it for me, for example, to be a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, or a Zoroastrian? The purpose of the project is to show that religion is ultimately a matter of choice and choices are made on the basis of reason. But, reason is something that each of us shares with the rest of humanity and provides the grounds for our coexistence. Consequently, it is not surprising that religious identity not based on reason and catering only for our religious kith and kin becomes a recipe for carnage and calamity.

Majid Amini is a Professor of Philosophy at Virginia State University

Where Have All the Women Gone? Social Accounts of Science and the Need for Women Scientists

Carla Fehr


Philosophy of Science

Since the 1970’s the number of women earning doctorates has tripled, but the number of women full-time professors has only increased 1.5 times. Women are especially underrepresented in science and engineering. Traditional philosophical accounts of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, pay little attention to the identity of the knower. In these accounts it doesn’t matter who the knower is, for instance whether the knower is a man or a woman. In this context philosophers of science tend to see the underrepresentation of women scientists as regrettable, but as someone else’s problem; a problem best dealt with on a political or ethical or sociological terms.

However, there is a relatively recent turn in philosophy of science that characterizes science as a social practice. Philosophers of science, such as Helen Longino, have argued that the objectivity of scientific knowledge is dependent on the structure and practices of communities of scientists. According to Longino, objectivity requires a diverse community that fosters critical and constructive social interactions. In this view, the underrepresentation of women among scientists and the culture of scientific communities becomes a problem that philosophers of science can tackle. It is not only a problem concerning ethics, it is also a problem concerning the production of scientific knowledge. This social account of science has practical uses.

For this project, Fehr continues interdisciplinary research she has conducted on actual scientific communities. This research is designed to explore the structure of scientific communities. This research is designed to explore the structure of scientific communities and to test strategies that can help those communities recruit excellent women scientists and engineers.

Carla Fehr is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Iowa State University

Confusing Goods: ‘Intrinisic Value’ in Contemporary Debate

Brian Huschle


Applied Ethics

Contemporary moral debates over stem cell research, genetic engineering, animal rights; abortion, and other controversial issues are confusing, with different parties in the dispute seemingly talking past one another. And, although people disagree about the value of stems cells, the worth of various animal species, and the moral status of human fetuses, why they disagree is unclear. There is no single and simple explanation for the disagreement, but one can be found in debates around the notion of intrinsic value.

What intrinsic value means is unclear, but standard definitions revolve around the idea that the thing in question is valued for itself, and not for some other reason. The purpose of this project is to examine the role of differing understandings of intrinsic value in contemporary moral debates. It contains two key elements: characterizing clear positions about the intrinsic value. While the original impetus for the projects stems from my work in applied ethics, my project here will focus on intrinsic value itself, including questions related to how notions of the sacred relate to intrinsic value, and how the categories of intrinsic value, the final good, and extrinsic value relate to one another.

Brian Huschle is Professor of Philosophy at Northland College, East Grand Forks, Minnesota.

Self Love

John Lippit



Do you love yourself? If that question strikes you as strange or even obnoxious, perhaps that’s because you think of the very idea of ‘self-love’ as narcissistic. On this view, love should be directed at others. Focusing it on oneself is just vain and self-absorbed. Down that route lies the absurdity of the Dutch artist Jennifer Hoes, who married herself in a public ceremony, telling a Harlem newspaper: ‘I want to celebrate with others how much I’m in love with myself’.

But if the question seems innocuous, perhaps that’s because you share a commonly held view: that you have to love yourself before you can love others. Only someone sufficiently at ease with themselves is capable of loving other people – and you can’t build a house until the foundations are in place. You might even go so far as the contemporary philosopher Harry Frankfurt, who claims that true self-love is ‘the deepest and most essential … achievement of a serious and successful life’.

Or perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle: slightly nervous about the connotations of a term like ‘self-love’ but viewing it as a necessary evil. As Voltaire quipped, self-love ‘resembles the instrument that perpetuates the species: it is necessary, it is clear to us, it gives us pleasure, and it must be hidden’.

Ever since the ancient Greeks, philosophers have asked questions about the nature of self-love. The problem of whether we should love ourselves – and if so how – has a particular resonance within the Christian tradition. After all, many think of Christian love as selfless. And yet the second love commandment in the gospels tells us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So how do we love ourselves? How should we? And are these the same?

Philosophers within this tradition – including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Søren Kierkegaard – have aimed to tease apart good and bad, proper and improper, forms of self-love. But this is by no means only a problem for Christians. Less theologically minded philosophers – including Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche and Frankfurt – have wrestled with essentially the same issue. Further, some have argued that distinguishing such forms of self-love is also crucial for contemporary psychotherapy, as therapists and their clients wrestle with the need to avoid such extremes as narcissistic personality disorder on the one hand and chronically low self-esteem on the other.

In this project, I draw upon numerous thinkers to address the question of what true self-love really means. But I’ll argue that the work of two thinkers – Kierkegaard and the contemporary Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor – prove especially useful in thinking through this problem. In Works of Love, Kierkegaard poses a stark and troubling challenge. He argues that the relationships we typically treasure most – romantic love and friendship – are, all too often, merely disguised forms self-love. Yet I’ll argue that Kierkegaard also gives us valuable resources for answering his own challenge, by applying to the self key aspects of the picture of love that emerges from the second part of Works of Love. Central to this picture are the virtues of hope, trust and self-forgiveness. We find different yet complementary resources in Taylor. In such books as Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, Taylor develops an account of the development of the modern self that is at once historically and philosophy grounded. I argue that we can draw on this account to articulate a rich and nuanced account of true self-love for the present age. We need to take into account the fact that we are self-interpreting beings, whose sense of who we are is intimately related to our purposes in life. The way we understand ourselves matters profoundly to us: it is crucial that we take on projects and live by commitments that we have made our own. And yet we are also creatures to whom dialogue is so central that we cannot be ‘selves’ in isolation. We also need, then, to consider the vital role of others and ‘the good’ in the development of this self we are to love. My project aims to show how this combined account can address the ‘problem of self-love’.

John Lippitt is a Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Hertfordshire


Proximity and Sympathy: The Ethical Dimensions of Distance

David Dillard-Wright


Ethics and Continental Philosophy

Both “old” and “new media have made it possible for the average American to keep in touch with events on the other side of the world, to see images of victims of natural and human-caused catastrophes. The question looms as to whether these mediated experiences of the suffering of others have the same value as a face-to-face encounter. Some argue that the profusion of digital information actually blunts concern for others because of the sheer volume of information that competes for our attention. While some of the initial fervor over the internet as a kind of “global village” has cooled, many still see this technology as a democratizing, leveling force that makes it possible for people to connect across their differences and geographies. This project asks what space and time have to do with sympathy and will ask how encounters with others can lead to caring action in the world. The project will also ask about other forms of remoteness: can caring about a fictional character or a historical figure lead me to care about others right in front of me? Does caring for a non-existent other matter?

The philosophical resources for this project would stem from Continental philosophy, in particular, the philosophies of relation (Buber, Levinas, and Marcel, in particular) and Bergson’s theory of duration. These thinkers, in addition to other resources from feminist theory, media studies, and phenomenology, will shed light on how artifacts like photos and text can telegraph the agency of the subject through time and space and also reveal the contributions of previously maligned faculties like emotions and imagination to the caring relationship. Understanding why the response of sympathy arises has tremendous implications for how we organize society, how we educate children, and how we deal with social and environmental problems. While this topic has obvious philosophical dimensions, it also concerns everyday life and the world in which we live. The world of the future will, without a doubt, be interconnected, but if those connections are to matter, the mediated presence must translate into concerned action in the world.

David Dillard-Wright studied Religion and Russian as an undergraduate at Emory University and received a Master of Divinity degree in Emory’s Candler School of Theology. From there he attended Drew University, where he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy.

David’s first book, Ark of the Possible: The Animal World in Merleau-Ponty (Lexington, 2009), explores the theme of “interanimality” in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. David’s other articles focus on aesthetic attention and the phenomenon of sympathy. In the summer of 2008, he completed a fellowship in residence sponsored by the Animals and Society Institute at Michigan State University, where he studied the worldwide trade in human organs and its relationship to animal-based research.

David currently teaches philosophy and ethics at the University of South Caroline, Aiken.

As Good As It Gets?

Anthony Cunningham



The romans depicted the goddess Fortuna (the goddess of fortune or luck) with a cornucopia in one arm and a rudder in the other. With one hand she might give from her plenty, and with the other she might dash a life against the rocks. Much of human history reads as an unending attempt to enjoy Fortuna’s gifts and take control of her rudder. Some schools of thought have held out the hope of insulating lives against bad luck. The stoics believed that true sages could be happy even on the rack. Others have looked at the Biblical Job and have preached a hard lesson: With the right faith, even horrible things might be nothing compared to the joys of the kingdom of heaven. Secular utopians have sung the praises of a golden age to come when swards might be beaten into ploughshares, lions might lay with lambs, and human beings might find true fulfillment.

Anthony Cunningham’s project departs from these sanguine views and assumes that no life is ever safe from serious harm, the kind that can make a mockery of the idea that life is good. In this light what besides the things that luck might give or take do we need for an honest chance at living well? Most of all, what sorts of people do we need to be for a chance at a good life? Philosophy in the 21st century often has little to say about such questions for everyday people leading normal lives. Sometimes the analysis are so specialized, the targets so arcane, and the details so tedious that philosophers speak a language that only philosophers can care about or understand. This project harkens back to an ancient tradition with a simple goal: to notice and appreciate meaningful things about things that genuinely matter in a human life

Anthony Cunningham is a Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. Specializing in ethics with a particular interest in literature, he is the author of ‘The Heart of What Matters: The Role for Literature in Moral Philosophy’, and he has published essays in various journals, including ‘American Philosophical Quarterly’, ‘Journal of Value Inquiry, Mind, Ethics, and Dialogue’. He is completing a manuscript called ‘Modern Honor’, and his project grows out of his desire to bring moral philosophy out of its ivory tower and into the everyday world in some meaningful way.

Philosopher as Political Interlocutor



Political Philosophy, Ethics, and Public Policy

Gordon Marino has a long history of public commentary on the issues of the day. In particular, he is looking at a range of contemporary public policy issues including the cult of the expert in America, self-deception and ethics education, the use of psychotropic drugs in children too young to be able to discuss side effects, and problems with Just War Theory in an era of asymmetric wars. His project is an example of just how philosophers can be citizens and public commentators.

Gordon Marion took his doctorate from the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. Curator of the Hong Kierkegaard Library and Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf College, Marino is the author of ‘Kierkegaard in the Present Age’ (Marquette University Press) and co-editor with Alastair Hannay of the ‘Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard’. He is the editor of the ‘Basic Writings of Existentialism; and ‘Ethics: the Essential Writings’ (Modern Library/ Random House). Marino’s essays have appeared in the ‘Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Magazine’, ‘Slate’, ‘Newsweek’, and many other nationally circulating publications. In 2010, Marino will serves as ‘William J. Clinton Distinguished Lecturer’ at the Bill Clinton School of Public Service and the Clinton Library. A form boxer, Marino trains amateur boxers in Northfield, Minnesota and covers the sweet science for the ‘Wall Street Journal’.

Moral Sorites in Life and Movies



Ethics and Philosophy of Film

Richard Gilmore is fascinated by the sorites paradox, or the paradox of the heap first invented by Eubuildes of Miletus in the fourth century B.C.E. One grain of sand is not a heap. Two grains of sand are not a heap. Three grains of sand are not a heap. It seems to be the case that there is not condition under which the addition of one grain of sand can convert a non-heap into a heap, yet at some point, if grains of sand are continually added, at some point, there will be a heap. The moral dimensions of this problem especially struck me one morning looking at the glass in our medicine cabinet that we fill with Q-tips. There were three Q-tips in the glass. I knew that I should never leave the glass completely empty, because that would force my wife to fill the glass. But, if that is the case, then I should not leave just one Q-tip in the glass either, since she is a moral person, and so would still have to fill the glass when she used the last Q-tip. But if leaving one Q-tip is morally reprehensible, then leaving two Q-tips is also and almost equally morally reprehensible. And yet, the whole point of the glass is so one does not have to continually fill it every day. It suddenly struck me that this was a sorites paradox. It further struck me that most moral situations were. It is especially true of any situation that involves a limited resource and multiple users. That is, moral issues will not be immediately present but will emerge. Furthermore, they will emerge with gradually increasing force, so that being morally responsible will be less a matter of choosing right over the wrong than anticipating where a situation is heading and acting in a way that is responsible to that trajectory.

I am very interested in making philosophy and philosophical issues accessible and available to wide, non-professional audience. I have worked on that project mostly through writing about philosophy and movies. When I have taught or presented on the topic of moral sorites, the situation is always immediately recognized by several people in the audience as a situation that they have found in their own lives (who feeds the dog, replacing the toilet paper, cleaning the house, making the bed, tec.). Mostly, they describe these situations in terms of frustration that the other people in their group sharing the resource are not behaving responsibly. By clarifying the issue and the responsibilities that are entailed, I hope I can alleviate some of the frustrations that people experience.

Richard Gilmore is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN. He is the author of ‘Philosophical Health: Wittgenstein’s Method in Philosophical Investigations’ (Lexington Books, 1999) and ‘Doing Philosophy at the Movies’ (SUNY, 2005).

Exertions that Inspire: José Ortega y Gasset and the Re-Valuation of Sport

Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza


Philosophy of Culture and Sport

José Ortega y was Spain’s foremost 20th Century intellectual and a philosopher for dark times. Writing in a period when Spain had lost its way, he made it his mission to shine a beacon that would bring lost minds to safe harbor. Bringing philosophy to the general public by means of newspapers, magazines, and cultural journals, Ortega presented his deeply original ideas in a beautiful style without compromising rigor or effectiveness. Sport was one of his most intellectually and existentially invigorating ideas: a central, high pillar of human achievement from which to scan the horizon for promising possibilities.

IPPL Fellows Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza brings sport to the center of public and intellectual discourse as a privileged vehicle for novel ideas. Often disregarded as a genuine object of study in philosophical circles, Jesús argues that sport overflows with stimulating ideas that can infuse a contagious zest for life and encourage a creative ethos. To fulfill this educational and intellectual promise, Exertions that Inspire revalues – in Nietzsche’s fertile sense – the realm of sport in three ways. First, it presents and examines the notion of the sportive, where we find Ortega’s most optimistic, riches ideas. For Ortega, the generous effort of the sportsperson, literally and ironically “superfluous”, embodies and symbolizes an exertion that inspires an enthusiasm for life that can spill into creative artistic, scientific and literary enterprises. Second, it capitalizes on the direct and potentially galvanizing connection sport has with the common citizen, and its suitability as a vehicle to overcome social, professional, and national barriers. And third, it explores the underlying conceptual, formal, and historical structures that sport shares with art, science and philosophy in order to advance out thinking on values, character, excellence, and the good life. When coupled with diligent refection, we are sure to enjoy philosophical fireworks

Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza hails originally from Pamplona, Spain (renowned for the annual running of the bulls, something he used to do when the legs were faster and nowadays engages just academically). He is an Allen and Pat Kelley Scholar and an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Linfield, Oregon. He has previously taught at the University of New Mexico – Los Alamos, and Truman State University, Missouri. His main specialties are the philosophy of sport, aesthetics, and metaphysics. However, his teaching and research interests are wide ranging, and include philosophy of literature, Asian philosophy, and contemporary philosophical trends among others. He has taught courses designed to make philosophy more approachable to a wider public, such as the Philosophy of Humor or Philosophy and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Published in academic journals, such as ‘Sports, Ethics, and Philosophy’, he derives great satisfaction when his work is addressed to a general readership. In this regard, he has co-edited a book on cycling and philosophy for Wiley & Blackwell’s ‘Philosophy for Everyone’ series, and has chapters forthcoming in books on the Olympics, hunting, and soccer. He contributes to a blog on the philosophy of sport to expose this discipline to a wider non-academic public.


Insider/Outside: The quest for authenticity in and around North Dakota

Clay Jenkinson


Social Philosophy

Our society, perhaps all of humanity, is described in terms of kinship and groups. But inquiry – the search for knowledge and for the answers to our deepest questions – is supposed to be universal. That at least was the Enlightenment’s conviction. The cultural studies movement and post-colonial discourse have challenged the assumption that there are universal questions or that one culture can fairly investigate another.

As the 21st century begins, how do we negotiate this tension between our desire to examine the world as if virtually everything were fair game and our increasing sensitivity to questions of appropriation and representation?

Clay Jenkinson’s current project faces the question head on. He is currently beginning to write a novel about an improbable friendship between a Native American girl and a white boy on a reservation border town, in the hopes of examining the flash points between the two cultures of North Dakota, cultures that frequently collide but seldom communicate in any mutually respectful way. But Clay Jenksinson is a self-described Anglo-German left-brained scholar. Does he have a right to intrude upon North Dakota’s Native American world, even as a respectful quest, and what credibility could he possibly bring to a world he reads about and observes, but in no significant way “lives?”

At the same time, as a regular newspaper columnist, he offers suggestions and observations about North Dakota and its future. Yet while he was born and raised in the state, he spent a large portion of his life outside of it. Has he lost the authority to Dakotan? Is he still a Dakotan? Do you have to be a North Dakotan to observe the habits of the heart of the North Dakota community? How long can you be gone without losing your citizenship? And how long do you have to be back before you have regained it, if ever?

In his work with the Institute, Clay will examine these fundamental questions and others. What makes an outsider? Does true criticism require insider status? What are the consequences of temporary separation from the group in terms of identity and trust? In essence, his research will examine the question of authenticity and what it means to North Dakota and the peoples who reside in it. Do we want our young people to leave and come back or do we not let them leave at all? If they come back bearing new perspectives and ways of seeing North Dakota, shall we embrace them our shun them? What are the nature and limits of cross-cultural communication between those who live here, even those who live next door to each other? His fellowship is timely and important, locally-based out with universal importance.

Clay’s personal mission is “to help start the conversation we need to have about our identity, our values, our past, our future, continuity and change, heritage and opportunity, land and people, community and history, landscape and resources, North Dakota as unique place and North Dakota as a typical place North Dakota as a platform or North Dakota as place.” He is well aware that, like all invitations to conversation, this one may be declined.

A cultural commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs, Clay Jenkinson has been honored by two presidents for his work. On November 6, 1989, he received from President George Bush one of the first five Charles Frankel Prizes, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ highest award (now called the National Humanities Medal), at the nomination of the NEH Chair, Lynne Cheney. On April 11, 1994, he was the first public humanities scholar to present a program at a White House-sponsored event, when he presented Thomas Jefferson for a gathering hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. When award-winning humanities documentary producer Ken Burns turned his attention to Thomas Jefferson, he asked Clay Jenkinson to be the major humanities commentator. Since his first work with the North Dakota Humanities Council in the late 1970s, including a pioneering first-person interpretation of Meriwether Lewis, Clay Jenkinson has made thousands of presentations throughout the United States and its territories, including Guam and the Northern Marianas.

Clay Jenkinson is most famous for portraying Thomas Jefferson in the long-running and always inspiring public radio show The Thomas Jefferson Hour, and one of the most sought-after Humanities scholars in the United States.

Competition and the Social Ideal

Paul Gaffney


Social and Political Philosophy

Competition is not the whole of life: humans are, at least to some extent, collaborative, sympathetic, and benevolent. But a full understanding of the human condition could not fail to assign an essential place to its importance.

For many, the experience of competition is an intrinsic value; it plays an indispensable role in the good life. Those who seek out athletic competition, either as spectators or as participants, would seem to accept this view (ignoring, for the moment, those who distort this enterprise by reducing it to an instrumental financial interest). While athletics is something of a “pure” instance, it may be regarded as an end-in-itself, defined largely by its own rules, there are other varieties of competition that increasingly regulate our social life. For example, contemporary legal systems use adversarial confrontations to maximize justice; market capitalism includes as a defining characteristic the competitive struggles of self-seeking agents; democratic politics makes the ability to persuade or “win over” the majority the sine qua non condition of success, even if persuasive opinion is not “best” or “true” according to other criteria. In short, ours is a competitive world, and it is becoming more and more competitive.

In his work with the institute, Paul Gaffney will examine these developments. He believes that, in their rightful place, competitive systems are not only best at achieving certain outcomes, they are also themselves instantiations of certain ideals such as respect, fairness, and human dignity.

Paul Gaffney is Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at St. John’s University, NY, and Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. In 1997 he was named St. John’s College of Liberal Arts Professor of the Year by Student Government. He has published many articles and reviews on topics such as Ethics, Law, Education, and Sport. A former college basketball player at Niagara University, he is currently working on a book entitled The Competition Ideal: The structure and meaning of Antagonistic Relationships.

What is Happiness? Can the Perspectives of Philosophy and the Social Sciences Work Together?

Mark Chekola


Ethics and Philosophy of Social Science

The ancient Greek philosophers regarded happiness as one of the most important topics for philosophy, part of the more general question of “What is the best life?” or “How should we live?” The 19th century utilitarians also regarded happiness as an important concern of philosophy but that of it in a narrower way. Many of thought you could measure it and use calculations to determine which actions were right to do. Not surprisingly, early economists went wild with this idea and developed various suggestions as to how to use such measurement; they developed an understanding of the welfare of individuals and groups in terms of preferences and satisfaction. Some even argued that income itself was a rough indication of how happy people were.

When Mark Chekola wrote his PhD dissertation, “The Concept of Happiness”, in the 1970’s, it was regarded as an unusual topic for philosophy, yet it proved influential for social scientists in the 1980’s, particularly psychologists and sociologist who began their own empirical studies of the subject. Social Scientists were attracted to the quantitative approach to happiness because it supplied “data;” it appeared scientific happiness is back on the table and philosophers have renewed interest. The question before Chekola is how to reconcile two approaches. Is the social scientific mathematical approach inconsistent with the classical Greek philosophy of happiness? The first approach is “subjective”, but the other might be more “objective.” Where does philosophy go from here?

With this and other questions in mind, Chekola has sought more cooperation between philosophy and the social sciences on the topic of happiness. In particular, he serves on a research team at the World Database of Happiness, located at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He has visited there for a month each fall for the past five years improving the philosophy bibliography in the Database. (much of the database is available on the web ( He seeks a way of joining the strengths of philosophy – its conceptual clarity and focus on good argument – with the social sciences and their emphasis on empirical data. He concepts but that philosophers could gain insight from empirical data. Can a collaboration be forged so that philosophers and social scientists might work together on their studies of happiness, rather than separately or just side by side? Chekola hopes to find out.

Dr. Mark Chekola first came to this region to attend college at Concordia College in Moorhead. When he graduated in 1967, leaving for the University of Michigan for graduate study, he swore he would never live through another upper Midwest winter, yet he returned to teach at Minnesota State University Moorhead and has lived there ever since. He is now a professor Emeritus at MSUM.

While at MSUM he taught (among other courses) Classical Greek Philosophy, a particular love of his, medical ethics, and some seminars on happiness and well-being. His published articles have been in the areas of happiness studies and gay/lesbian studies.

Some of his community and professional service has been in the area of Gay, Lesbian, Biseuxual and Transgender issues. He served as chair of an early gay/lesbian group in the Fargo-Moorhead area in the early 1980’s. In the 1990s, he served on the governor’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Minnesotans. In the American Philosophical Association he served on the Committee on the Status on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons in the Profession, and the Committee on Inclusiveness in the Profession.

He has also been concerned about the over-professionalization that has been occurring in Academia and the and the tendency of philosophers at universities to write for the Philosophical Association he is currently chairing the Diversity Essays Project, a project to encourage the writing of essays on diversity issues suitable for use in undergraduate teaching and the general public. He is the founder of the Fargo – Moorhead chapter of “Philosophy for All”, a monthly philosophy discussion group that has been meeting regularly since 2004.

Literature, the Author, and the Digital Age

Crystal Alberts


Philosophy of Literature

What is the relationship between an author and a text, especially given the new and changeable nature of words in the digital age? Are web pages or blogs substantively different than e-novels or digital reproductions of classic works? These are all variations of classic questions in the philosophy of literature. Two millennia ago, Plato cautioned against writing because words, once permanent, have a life of their own. Their meanings, he argued, are no longer bound to what the author intended. In the nineteen sixties, “the author” was symbolically killed off by Roland Barthes in his book “La Mort de l’Auteur” (1968). Today, many in academe regard the idea of an author as a relic even though one can see, touch, and hear the creator of any written work.

Crystal Alberts struggles with these problems while focusing specifically on digital media – the written word in cyberspace, as well as film, television, and recordings of lectures, each of which is also now regarded as a “text.” Has the concept of an “author” changed since Plato and Barthes? Has the very meaning of literature become something essentially different than, say, when Charles Dickens or Shakespeare wrote? Now that anyone can publish online, what does it mean to be an Author? What is Electronic Literature? How is it different from a book? And, perhaps more importantly, what, if anything, distinguishes electronic literature from the billions of web pages in existence.

Dr. Crystal Alberts completed a bachelor of arts in English and Religion at Mount Holyoke College and holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She specializes in post-1945 American literature and culture, particularly on the roles of the archive and author in contemporary writing. She currently teaches in the areas of film, digital humanities, and emerging media. Dr. Alberts is the co-editor of a forthcoming volume entitled Novel in Tradition: Essays on William Gaddis. She also has articles in The Missouri Review, as well as Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System edited by Joseph Tabbi and Rone Shaers. She serves as the technical editor for the NEH-funded Elizabeth Barrett Browning Project and is a research associate for the Electronic Literature Organization.