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Philosophizing by the Fire and Through the Forest

Retreat goers sitting around patio fire pit

Ethics Center postdocs and graduate students in philosophy and political science at the annual Dirty Leviathan retreat, held May 31 to June 1, 2019.

Jun 20 2019
Joan O'Bryan

For two nights and two lovely days, the members of The Dirty Leviathan political theory group met in beautiful Aptos, California, for our annual interdisciplinary retreat. Imagine: a weekend of non-stop philosophizing, from debates on embodiment and consciousness during forest walks to discussing feminism and freedom over tacos. A small slice of political theory heaven!

The retreat centered on a workshop with a particularly interdisciplinary flavor. Instead of presenting papers in progress, already shaped by each discipline’s respective literature, workshop organizers Chloe Stowell and Avshalom Schwartz (Political Science) requested we take a more unorthodox approach. Each presenter was asked to bring to the table a puzzle which they were just beginning to explore. After describing the nature of the puzzle, the floor was opened to group discussion, with the goal of bringing as many different approaches to the framing of the problem as possible. The hope was to achieve a real mind meld, invigorating conversations, and innovative approaches — and it was a success!

Grant Dowling (Philosophy) presented his claim on the relationship between Kant’s anthropology and Rousseau’s political thought. Chloe Stowell (Political Theory) wanted to explore the connections between luxury, leisure and philosophy in the history of political thought — beginning with Plato’s "Republic" and possibly stretching into the modern era. Her presentation was followed by Taylor Madigan (Philosophy) asking how we can conceptualize a “community of selves” when we make decisions in the present for our futures. Avshalom presented on a tricky puzzle of the conceptualization of various forms of the political imagination, receiving valuable feedback on terminology from the analytic and political philosophers in the room. Finally, I (Joan O’Bryan, Political Theory) asked if it would be possible for us to reimagine a form of citizenship that could answer some feminist critiques of our current conceptions — in particular, the criticism that contemporary citizenship has been built upon a “hyper-individualistic” model. We ate cookies by the firepit and enjoyed a productive discussion!

Saturday evening got a little wild, which is only to be expected when Philosophy Pictionary is on the table! It was a fierce battle, as the group divided into two teams and faced off across the dining room. Ethics in Society Postdoctoral Fellow Matthew Adams brought his “A game” and a competitive edge, only to have fellow Ethics in Society Postdoc Fay Niker steal away “the General Will.” Some words were easier than others; the “veil of ignorance” lent itself well to stick figures, whereas “nihilism” required a bit more creativity.

In the end, The Dirty Leviathan retreat served its joint goals of encouraging creativity and building community. The friendships formed at the retreat are having positive payoffs, in the form of invites to previously-unknown seminars and reading recommendations. In addition to the folks mentioned above, attendees included Ethics in Society Postdoc Johannes Himmelreich, Thomas Slabon (Philosophy), Zachary Hall (Philosophy) and Philip Petrov (Political Science).

We are so grateful to the Ethics Center for its generous support of the Dirty Leviathan!

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