Interview: Jonathan Matheson On Philosophy Around Florida

We are very pleased that Jonathan Matheson, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Florida and current President of the Florida Philosophical Association, took some time to tell us about philosophy around Florida.

Jennifer LawsonWhen most people think of Florida, they may think of a tropical paradise, not necessarily a philosophical paradise. But Florida is home to a lot of great philosophical work. Tell me about some of the work going on around Florida that’s exciting and new.

Jonathan Matheson: There are a lot of great things happening in the Florida philosophical community.  Perhaps the most exciting thing about the state of philosophy in Florida is the breadth and depth of philosophical inquiry happening here.  First, there are many wonderful people teaching and studying philosophy in Florida.  Our state is home to five graduate degree programs, nearly 25 undergraduate degree programs, and over a dozen additional institutions that offer coursework in philosophy.  This means that a lot of people are engaging philosophical questions and issues in an academic setting.  Second, the full range of philosophical traditions are represented here in Florida.  The philosophical scene here is impressively pluralistic with professional philosophers researching and teaching in analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, comparative philosophy, and feminist philosophy.  This means that there are a lot of different questions being considered from a number of different perspectives right here in the state.

The Florida Philosophical Association (http://www.phil.ufl.edu/fpa/) is the state professional philosophical organization and acts as a hub for much of this activity.  The mission of the FPA is to promote philosophy here in our state by facilitating the exchange of ideas among those engaged in this field of inquiry, by encouraging investigation, by fostering the educational function of philosophy, and by improving the academic status of philosophy.  The FPA strives to continually broaden and diversify the membership of the FPA and the participants at its annual conference.

Jennifer Lawson: Are proceedings—conferences, publication opportunities, etc.—for the Florida Philosophical Association open to the public?

Jonathan Matheson: There are a lot of great ways for someone to engage the philosophical scene here in Florida. First, and foremost, the FPA conference is held annually in the Fall (typically early November), and travels around the state to make it more accessible to a greater number of people.  This year the conference was held in Ocala and was hosted by the College of Central Florida. The FPA conference is open to philosophical faculty and students, as well as others who are simply interested in engaging in philosophical discussion. This year, the FPA also has a special opportunity to join with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association.  The Eastern APA will be held in Savanah, GA Jan. 3-6, 2018.  This year the FPA will hold a special group session as part of the APA program.

The FPA also supports the Florida Philosophical Review, an open access online peer reviewed philosophy journal. The FPR publishes issues once or twice a year.  Here too, published articles represent a wide variety of philosophical areas and approaches.  You can find out more about the FPR and access the articles here: http://philosophy.cah.ucf.edu/fpr/

The Northeast Florida Student Philosophy Conference is a student conference held annually in the spring at the University of North Florida.  Presentations are from undergraduate students from the state, but attendance is open to all.

Jennifer Lawson: If a layperson wants to start doing some philosophical reading and grow their philosophical chops, are there are any books you’d recommend for starters? 

Jonathan Matheson: This is a notoriously tough question!  For me, it’s just as hard to answer as the popular question ‘who is your favorite philosopher?’  The question is particularly difficult since the philosophical landscape is so diverse.  Not everyone’s philosophical tastes are alike, so I would advise exposing yourself to a wide variety of traditions and methodologies.  For something more concrete, starting with some of the great historical philosophical figures (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume) is probably a good way to start.  The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (www.iep.utm.edu) is a great source for gaining some exposure to some issue or figure and comes with a nice list of recommendations for further reading.  Finally, I’d like to add that there are a number of excellent non-traditional venues for exploring philosophical questions.  There are some wonderful philosophical podcasts like Hi-Phi Nation, Philosophy Now, The History of Philosophy Without any Gaps, and the 10-minute Puzzle, among others.  Philosophy Talk is a great radio program that introduces people to a number of philosophical ideas.  Finally, there are a good deal of free MOOCs (massively open online courses) in philosophy.  These can provide a great way to start exploring some philosophical questions in an online community.  A nice list of such opportunities can be found here: https://www.mooc-list.com/tags/philosophy

I’d also like to add that philosophical inquiry benefits greatly from a community of inquirers.  This is part of what makes philosophical discussion, like in the classroom or at a conference, so valuable.  So, one thing I would encourage is to not resolve to think about these things on your own.  Finding a group of people who are interested in investigating some of the same questions you are, and will extend the set of questions to think about is a great asset.

 

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