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College of Liberal Arts
Rochester Institute of
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Department of Philosophy,
Rochester Institute of Technology

The Fly Bottle

“What is our aim in philosophy? To show the fly out of the fly-bottle.”

2 April 2016

Content links:

Φ Student Spotlight: Patsy Cadareanu.
Φ Student Spotlight: Matt Zielinski.
Φ Faculty Corner: Who are some other philosophers?
Φ Upcoming philosophy courses.
Φ Why take philosophy courses?

Student Spotlight: Patsy Cadareanu

Patsy Cadareanu

Patsy Cadareanu double majors in philosophy and micro-electronic engineering. She recently defended her philosophy senior thesis “More Wobble: Daniel Dennett’s Elbow Room Unscrambled” and will be graduating this spring.

Fly Bottle: So, why did you choose to study philosophy?

Patsy Cadareanu: In high school there was a free thinkers club where we casually discussed philosophy. I used to go pretty regularly but I felt it wasn’t academic enough; then I tried reading philosophy on my own, but it was sometimes a little too hard to make out what exactly was happening. So I took a course freshman year and I’ve been taking them ever since.

FB: What about Micro-e? How did you choose that?

PC: Before the start of classes freshman year I was walking by the clean rooms and I literally said out loud, “That looks really cool! I wish I could do that!” One of the professors, Dr. Pearson, just happened to walk by and said, “You can!” and so I transferred in before classes started.

I then picked up a philosophy double major my sophomore year. I hid it from my parents because they were worried I was taking too many philosophy classes.

FB: You hid it from your parents? Can I put that in?

PC: You can put that in. I’ve almost graduated.

FB: Wow, I never thought of double-majoring in philosophy as an act of rebellion.

PC: Well, philosophy could be really dangerous, after all. You could read the wrong thing and have a breakdown.

FB: But that doesn’t usually happen reading Dennett. Do you see similarities or differences between your majors?

PC: I think they’re so different. The one exception are ethics classes: those definitely apply. But I don’t see other relations between my majors and I really like that.

FB: Why did you choose to write your thesis on Daniel Dennett?

PC: Mostly, I didn’t want to write another paper about Spinoza. I didn’t want to be, you know, Spinoza girl.

FB: Yes, I know the cliché.

PC: And I really like Spinoza’s ethics. I don’t agree with it, but I really respect it. Anyway, my thesis tries to illuminate Dennett’s stance on free will and to define what he means by “responsibility” and to see how it applies. In the end, everything he said I more or less agreed with. I definitely enjoyed reading him, and Prof. Suits helped me a lot. You ask him a philosophical question and then he asks the same question right back to you. And then you say, “I just asked you a question.” But it totally works, and after a while you say, “I see.”

FB: Who’s your favorite philosopher?

PC: Kierkegaard, all the way. I love the way he writes. Some people say he’s poetic but I think he’s witty. I like how he devoted himself to philosophy, but he was having fun and it became his entire life and I respect that so much. You read Kierkegaard and you ask, “Why can’t you just use five words and say the same thing?” But once you put the time and effort in, and you accept his definitions, then it all makes sense. I like systems, but his is a funny system: he sometimes says things just to be a jerk and I appreciate that.

FB: Can I put that in? Is there anyone else?

PC: Yes, and, well, Wittgenstein. I was thinking about doing my thesis on him but wasn’t sure if it was worth diving head first into something I couldn’t finish in three months.

FB: Yes, I think that’s the problem with Wittgenstein. People go deep into him and they never find their way out. What’s next?

PC: I’m waiting to hear back from graduate schools in engineering. I don’t want to be a doctor of philosophy, like you are — not that there’s anything wrong with what you are. But I think it’s important to study philosophy in the presence of people who maybe know more than you. It’s really hard to do by yourself.

FB: Agreed! Φ

Student Spotlight: Matt Zielinski

Matt Zielinski

Matt Zielinski is a 5th year mechanical engineering major and a philosophy minor. He sat down with us before spring break.

The Fly Bottle: You’re a philosophy minor — what’s up with that?

Matt Zielinski: I took philosophy classes because I enjoyed them, because they’re fun for me. I like talking and thinking about stuff. So I just enjoyed taking them. And the philosophy minor part is because it’s pretty easy to get a minor, so I thought, “Why not?” and now I’m a minor. But the main reason I took the classes is that I like thinking and talking about things.

FB: Is philosophy the same or different from engineering? I can see both sides.

MZ: I think philosophy is very different than engineering, for the most part ... or at least engineering classes. In engineering classes you learn certain things that you’re supposed to do, so there’s not a lot of ambiguity. There’s a lot of ambiguity when you actually do engineering, but not in the classes. I don’t take philosophy classes because it’s the opposite of what I do in engineering, but I’m definitely happy to be in a different environment where it’s more open, more discussion-based. You don’t get a lot of that sort of thing in engineering.

FB: Do you have a favorite philosopher or topic?

MZ: I don’t know if I’m attached to any particular philosophy. I’m committed to philosophy — how to put this? — I’m committed to a sort of philosophy that’s not the sort of “no one’s right, nothing’s wrong” sort of relativism. I’m committed to a down to earth scientific world view: I’m an engineer so that’s my personality and that’s how I think the world works.

I think philosophers who are connected to the “real world” can and have been influential, so wherever philosophy is intimate with disciplines that do things then it can have a big impact and be important.

When you hear people arguing it’s often at a surface level, but there’s always something beneath that, the things you’re really committed to, and if you don’t examine those things then the surface-level argument will never get resolved. Philosophy can get at that deeper level of commitment.

FB: So, what next? What are you doing after graduation?

MZ: First, I’m going to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and then, about a month later, enter the Navy’s Officer Candidate School. I’ll be commissioned as a surface warfare officer with a nuclear propulsion specialty and eventually go on to command a section of a reactor on an aircraft carrier. I’ve been in love with the Navy and ships for a long time, so I figured this is a great opportunity to go and use my degree and then see what happens. It’s something that if I didn’t do it, I’d probably regret it one day.

FB: Sounds great — thanks for talking to us. Φ

Faculty Corner

We all have our favorite philosophers, but not every philosopher is a philosophy professor. Here’s our list of favorite philosophers — famous people with a documented background in philosophy — who have done important work outside academia:

  • Silvia Benso picks Susan Sarandon (philosophy minor/Academy Award winning actress).
  • Evelyn Brister names Erroll Morris (philosophy graduate school/documentary film maker) and Jack Turner (philosophy Ph.D/author and mountain guide).
  • John Capps points to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (philosophy Ph.D/author, novelist, and MacArthur Fellow).
  • Tim Engström nominates Stephen Breyer (philosophy major/Supreme Court Justice) and Brad Roberts (philosophy major/Crash Test Dummies guitarist and lead singer).
  • Colin Mathers picks Elliott Smith (philosophy major/singer-songwriter).
  • Jack Sanders names Studs Terkel (philosophy major/activist and writer) and Umberto Eco (philosophy master’s degree/writer).
  • Brian Schroeder chooses Terrence Malick (philosophy major/film director) and Bruce Lee (philosophy major/actor and martial artist).
  • For David Suits it is Steve Martin (philosophy major/actor and banjo player).
  • Katie Terezakis picks Ricky Gervais (philosophy major/comedian and actor) and Stokely Carmichael (philosophy major/civil rights leader).
  • Larry Torcello points to T.S. Eliot (philosophy graduate school/poet).

Summer and Fall Course Offerings

See them here .


Why Take Philosophy Courses?

Silvia Benso, Chair of the Philosophy Department
Jack Sanders, Director of the Philosophy Major, Philosophy Minor and Philosophy Immersion

Why take philosophy courses? At the beginning of Western philosophy, both Plato and Aristotle thought that philosophy begins in wonder — it is because we wonder at why things are the way they are (and not otherwise) that we engage in the activity of doing philosophy. So, philosophy is what keeps us questioning, arguing, and reflecting on the nature of things. Studying philosophy is the mark of a curious, inquisitive mind that is appreciative of the surprises, mysteries, and challenges reality entails and is not satisfied with easy explanations of the status quo.

Another interesting reason for why study philosophy is the one given by René Descartes at the beginning of the modern period — it is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is how to use it well. As a friend of mine, an accomplished mechanical engineer, translated this in the language of our age, technology teaches us how to build cars; philosophy teaches us how to drive them well.

Here is, with little edits, a list of reasons given by some very bright students (most of them from the STEM disciplines as their main area of study) who are currently enrolled in a Contemporary Philosophy course here at RIT and who were asked why they think it is important to study philosophy.

  • The study of philosophy enhances your critical thinking, which is so important when considering the issues that confront humankind today.
  • What philosophy does to a student is to exhaust every avenue of thought in the pursuit of the truth. This broad, un-specific definition may not satisfy a burning need for immediate answers, but what philosophy teaches you is that there are no conclusive answers; and, to me, that’s better than being convinced of a falsity.
  • Philosophy is at its core the study of how to think. No matter what your major or sector is, it is extremely valuable to be able to think logically, critically and innovatively, as well as to be able to express your thoughts in a clear and coherent manner.
  • While engaged in the technical field, very rarely do we inquire into the purpose of our personal pursuits, simply operating within the limited parameters of the scientific thought process. Philosophy allows us to transcend the empirical thought process and develop a deeper appreciation and deliberate attitude for what we do with our time.
  • Studying philosophy allows for your mind to escape the confines of being told what to do and how to think. Philosophy gives people an opportunity to view the world through the eyes of brilliant thinkers, and ply their ideas to our own lives and test these ideas.
  • Philosophy encourages critical and immersive thinking with regard to a variety of topics and issues, many of which concern us fundamentally as human beings.
  • When studying philosophy you warm up your mind for the world.
  • It is important to study philosophy in order to develop your own critical assessment, construction and deconstruction skills so that you may better understand the world, how it connects, and how we speak of it.

And let us not forget another, less goal-oriented but equally important reason — we study philosophy because philosophy is fun! It is fun to think about issues, to explore alternative paths of viewing things, to take a trip into other people’s minds, and try to gain an accurate vision of how they see the world, to challenge how things are and use our imagination to envision a different reality, maybe a better, more beautiful, and more just one for all. In this sense, philosophy is like a giant adventure that takes us on a trip of discovery of the past, the present, and even the future.

If you find that you enjoy Philosophy courses, it is a good idea to consider declaring an Immersion in our discipline. You can either probe a bit more deeply into issues that you have already examined, or you can explore new areas of Philosophy. All RIT students are required to take an immersion in some discipline or another. Philosophy is an exceptionally good immersion to de-clare because of its flexibility and because of its relatively open structure. All one needs is any group of three Philosophy courses at the 200 level or higher. It is a simple matter to structure a Philosophy immersion around almost any intellectual interest — examining philosophical dimensions of one’s major, for example; or, going a different direction altogether. The array of qualifying courses available through the Philosophy Department can be found here: .

If you have already declared a Philosophy immersion and want more, or if you want your study-ing philosophy to be officially recognized, you should consider adding a Minor in Philosophy. With only two more courses required for a minor than for an immersion (i.e., a total of five), the minor actually appears on your transcript when you graduate. Once again, all Philosophy courses at the 200 level or higher qualify, although in the case of the minor at least one of the courses should be at the 400 level. Further information about the Philosophy Minor can be found here: .

But remember! You must declare your Immersion or Minor by signing up for it to have it count for credit and be officially recognized. To do so, visit the following website and look for the appropriate form (“Immersion Authorization” form or “Minor Authorization” form): .

We hope to see you in some future philosophy course! For a list of Philosophy courses offered in the next few semesters, you may visit the following webpage: .

And here is a table of Philosophy courses used for credit in other programs (majors, minors, and immersions).

Silvia Benso & Jack Sanders Φ