Friday, May 20, 2016

Always Talk About the Elephant: A two-minute commencement address

On May 14, I had the honor of being awarded a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship at my home institution, The University of North Dakota. I was asked to give a short speech--about a minute long. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say except for one phrase "always talk about the elephant." This video is the result.

I gave the comments spontaneously; I was not reading my remarks. Below is the transcript. Thank you everyone who asked for copies of the text. 

Thank you President Shafer. Thank you everyone on stage. I’d like to thank the faculty for this nomination and I would like to thank the students for the honor—every day—of getting to explore the world with all you. I was asked what advice I can give in a brief 60 seconds and also moved by the fact that this is the last—any maybe the first—time any of you have ever paid attention to me. I wanted to know—I wanted to figure out—what it was that I could give this particular group of students, in this region, in this school—what Ideas that I can give them to move forward that perhaps someone else might not. I want to summarize it in one sentence: always talk about the elephant.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Do we still need the eighteenth century?

This is the monologue for the most recent episode of Why? Radio: "Do We Still Need the Eighteenth Century" with guest Ryan Patrick Hanley. Click here to listen to the episode.

When Americans think about the 18th century, they think of war. They remember the American Revolution and all that comes with it. Some will add the French Revolution to the mix, seeing the late 1700s as the beginning of the modern democratic state, an introduction to a new world order that wouldn’t actually see the light of day until the end of World War One.

But when philosophers think about the 18th century, they think of texts. They celebrate the great works by David Hume, Adam Smith, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Mary Wollstonecraft, books that were no less revolutionary than the wars we celebrate in our history textbooks. Thomas Jefferson was a philosopher, so were Hamilton and Madison. Benjamin Franklin was a philosopher of sorts, although in the 18th century, a philosopher had a much wider portfolio that we have now. They could be expansive and exploratory. They weren’t worried about tenure.