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New philosophy concentration aims to examine law, ethics and politics

| Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Saint Mary’s students gathered with assistant professor Andrew Pierce on Monday to discuss what the philosophy program’s newest concentration — Law, Ethics and Politics — means for students and the department.

The concentration within the philosophy major focuses on how the practical fields of law, ethics and politics tie into philosophy. Pierce, who is leading the new concentration, said many students in the philosophy department are double majors, and many are doubling in political science or history.

“This is the philosophy department’s attempt to kind of pull together our offerings that focus on those kinds of subjects,” Pierce said.

The concentration hopes to entice both philosophy majors and non-majors to pursue and think about the questions posed by the concentration, Pierce asserted.

“I hope it’ll draw some students who are already thinking about philosophy to maybe consider [majoring in] philosophy,” he said.  “I know that among our existing group of philosophy students are also a number of students who are interested in this major, because they have these interests in these kinds of practical issues.”

Pierce said the major takes after existing programs that have been successful at other institutions.

“I did look at a number of other programs at places and they do tend to pull some of these things together,” Pierce said. “There’s a famous program at Oxford, called the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program, which is a little bit different.”

Senior Elisabeth Barrett said she sees the program as a way of allowing philosophy students to pursue other interests while staying within the department.

“[The concentration] is combining compatible areas that you wouldn’t normally,” Barrett said. “You have this practicality of law, politics and justice that you see a lot of people fascinated by, but they maybe don’t want to go into.”

Barrett believes that by placing these subjects in the context of philosophy, it gives students the opportunity to examine them under a different light than in other departments.

“The concentration combines that understanding of what all that is with the ability to think critically about it in different ways that you might otherwise not be able to do,” Barrett said. “I think it’s great. I think, in time, it is going to help the philosophy department as well. It is kind of small, and I think it’s going to attract a lot more students.”

The program seeks to ground its students in their understanding of philosophy beyond traditional applications, Pierce said.

“We hope that it’s a way for students, in addition to getting some of the traditional philosophical training that they get in the major program, to also explore their practical interests in questions of ethics, contemporary political and legal controversies,” Pierce said. “It’s one way to show as abstract as philosophy can be, it has these real, immediate and practical implications as well.”

Senior Anastacia Gomez is a philosophy major who is enrolling in the concentration this year. She is researching critical race theory for her senior composition project. She said the program, under Pierce, is making positive steps to address the focus on white male philosophers.

“There are not a lot of people of color who major in philosophy or who specialized in philosophy,” Gomez said. “It is mostly women and it is mostly white women. … [Pierce] has given me the resources.”

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