About the Series
Since its inception in 1995, the Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State has evolved from a few presentations a semester to more than 100 events in 2021-22, involving over 4000 people/year in dialogue. Now celebrating its twenty-eighth year, the series enriches the cultural and academic life of both the university and broader community by providing an open forum for the lively exchange and critical evaluation of diverse ideas. The Dialogue Series provides a structured opportunity for thoughtful conversation about topics of common concern.
Each semester Philosophy and Religious Studies faculty, majors, and philosophy graduate students from the Master of Arts in Applied Philosophy and Ethics (MAAPE) program choose a new set of eight or nine topics and design an interdisciplinary series of lectures, interactive presentations, and discussions around them. The topics often involve applied philosophy and are selected on the basis of general interest, intellectual and moral import, and relevance, with the goal of enabling students and other participants to connect controversial issues with their philosophical and religious roots and to practice difficult conversations across differences in starting points. In planning the series each semester, we also try to harmonize many of the topics and speakers with the university’s Common Experience theme. Themes change each year. In 2021-22 the theme is “Compassion.”
It is noteworthy that the series, though organized and sponsored by the Texas State University Department of Philosophy, is interdisciplinary in scope. Faculty and student presenters come from all ten colleges on campus as well as from the dialogue class. Nationally recognized scholars are often invited to participate in the series. Dialogue events include musical performances, dramatic readings, movies, and authors reading from recent work. Panel discussions that bring together scholars from different fields contribute further to crossing the boundaries of disciplines. For example, a recent discussion on evolution included panelists from evolutionary biology, behavioral psychology, philosophy, physical anthropology, and religious studies. A panel discussion on food ethics featured a noted local chef, an editor of a food and dining magazine, and a philosopher of food. The Sustainability Symposium, which since 2009 has been a regular feature of the Dialogues, includes contributors from philosophy, political science, geography, sociology, biology, business, engineering and technology, social work, nutrition, fashion merchandising, design, and occupational education.
Faculty and student presenters come from all ten Colleges on campus, and the Department recruits nationally recognized scholars, including Leonard Harris, Michael Ruse, Gregory Papas, Tommy Curry, Antony Flew, Richard Swinburne, Andrew Light, Amy Oliver, Jean Kazez, Parker Palmer, John J. McDermott, Maarten van Delden, Lisa Newton, Alfred Mele, Susana Nuccetelli, Larry Hickman, Steven A. Moore, John J. Collins, Richardo Rozzi, Morana Alač, Francisco Gallegos, and David Luban, to participate each semester. Everyone is welcome to attend, and we encourage informal dialogues between faculty, students, and visitors.
The Department of Philosophy teaches ~ 10,000 students each year in general education philosophy courses. The Dialogue Series supplements their instruction, as it allows them to apply their classroom study of the principles of good thinking and ethical conduct to such controversial issues as euthanasia, stem cell research, and capital punishment.
Since 2004 the Dialogue Series has also been connected with a course, “Dialogue: Theory and Practice," which is offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The graduate course is one of three required courses in the MAAPE, a requirement that captures the departmental commitment to both the view that philosophy happens in dialogue, and, inspired by John Dewey, the view that philosophy fulfills its mission when it is a tool that communities use to make progress on problems of common concern. In 2012 we began the Philosophy Dialogues at the San Marcos Public Library as a program of community outreach, and to create additional opportunities for thoughtful conversation. These well-attended dialogues, 8 or 9 each long semester, with annual attendance of over 500, provide a bridge between the university and the community and stimulate intergenerational conversation between students and other inhabitants of Central Texas. In 2016-17 we added a series of facilitated dialogues on-campus in partnership with the Public Conversations Project. These are small group facilitated dialogues, guided by ground rules, in which each member speaks, aimed at increasing understanding. Attendance ranges from 30 to over 125 per session. Topics for these sessions have included guns on campus, the 2016 national elections, the shootings at Southerland Springs, the border wall and the immigration crisis, anti-Semitic and white nationalist events on campus, and campus responses to a campus-wide suspension of Greek activities. In June 2017 we initiated Summer Dialogues on Activism, held in three half-day sessions each June at the LBJ Museum in San Marcos, and open to all members of the university and local communities. Topics have included gentrification and housing in San Marcos, local schools, transportation, DACA, fair wages, and addressing violence in our community. Starting in 2017-18 we partnered with the National Issues Forum Institute and the American Democracy Project and began including Deliberative Dialogues as part of our library dialogues series. Deliberative Dialogues are also small group facilitated conversations, in which participants are provided with brief summaries of research on a topic of pressing public concern, and which aim at evaluating possible responses to those concerns.
Dialogue differs from discussion, or debate. Where discussion is open-ended, and often without any goal-in-view, and debate is about persuasion or winning, dialogue is about increasing understanding – of ourselves, of each other, and of the world we live in.
Philosophical dialogue, the format of most events in the series, proceeds in the spirit of Socrates, who famously asked questions of everyone, about most everything, in ancient Athens. As he explained when asked to defend his life, his goal was to help the people of Athens – his community – pay more attention to their lives and to the values they pursued – as individuals and as a city. Socratic dialogue typically has a central facilitator who guides the process by asking questions and presenting ideas for examination. The goal is not to persuade, but to learn. One of the goals of Philosophy Dialogue events in this spirit is that participants leave with a greater sense of the power and possibility of their own minds, and a sense of the value of asking questions together with others – especially with others we might not agree with at the start.
Facilitated Dialogues are an opportunity for members of a community to talk together, in small groups and aided by a facilitator and some guidelines for dialogue, in order to better understand how some issue of common concern is impacting others. The goals here are to increase our understanding of how others are thinking and feeling, how their experiences are shaping their view of an issue, and to be able to share our thoughts and experiences. One outcome of these sessions is that we increase understanding as we practice listening and talking thoughtfully with people whose views and experiences may be very different from our own.
Deliberative Dialogues provide a forum for members of a community to consider together possible responses to a matter of common concern. Similar to facilitated dialogues, these are small group conversations with a facilitator and guidelines. However, in deliberative dialogues participants are presented with a range of possible responses (typically three) to the matter under examination and asked to consider reasons for and against these responses. Again, one goal is to practice conversations with people we might disagree with, but in deliberative dialogue we are examining possible courses of action we might take together as members of a community.
Whatever the format of the dialogue, one common thread is the goal of sharing with participants the power of ideas, and encouraging everyone to actively participate in reasoning together and learning from each other. We believe these activities are necessary for a thriving democratic society. Socrates famously maintained that he asked questions because he did not know, and that it is only through questioning dialogue that knowledge is gained. Dialogue thus is an occasion for learning, and furthers the mission of the university on-campus and in the larger community.
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