The Legacy of Fay Sawyier: Sustaining the Discipline of Philosophy at IIT
Fay Sawyier believed in the value of teaching philosophy at an undergraduate level, especially within a technical curriculum. As a faculty member in the Department of Humanities for many years, she was enthusiastic about the benefits of grants for philosophy that benefactors such as the Mellon Foundation provided to the university during her tenure. Sawyier held a deep conviction on the importance of philosophy's legacy and, in 2004, left a bequest of her own to IIT that supports this belief.
Professor Don Howard presents the fall 2008 Sawyier Philosophy Lecture in Science, Technology, and Society, "Einstein the Philosopher."
The most far-reaching legacy of Sawyier's generosity is the Sawyier Predoctoral Fellows Program, which funds the annual appointment of two doctoral students in philosophy who teach for the Humanities department while completing their dissertation work. As described by Robert Ladenson, professor of philosophy and trustee of the Sawyier endowment, this program is a gift to both the beneficiaries and the university: "There are few restrictions attached to the fellowship, which allows the recipient to focus mainly on his or her dissertation. The advantage to the university is that these young academics, who are in touch with the significant philosophical ideas percolating through graduate programs, can bring an infusion of these current ideas to our department. Our humanities professors meet regularly in colloquia, to try out ideas and have drafts of papers critiqued; to have seasoned faculty and young professors engaged in spirited dialogue advances the aims of philosophy."
The latest recipients of Sawyier Predoctoral Fellowships are Christopher DiTeresi and Brett Fulkerson-Smith, both of whom began teaching classes at IIT in fall 2008. DiTeresi came to IIT from the University of Chicago and is excited to be teaching philosophy to students of technical disciplines. "I like exposing students who aren't majoring in philosophy to the discipline. I find they initially feel there is a 'right answer' to all questions, and it's enjoyable to introduce them to the concept of philosophy not being simply a correct answer or a personal opinion, but a matter of persuasive discourse and reasoned arguments."
|Christopher DiTeresi||Brett Fulkerson-Smith|
DiTeresi studied biology and philosophy as an undergraduate, then worked for two years as a biomedical engineer before his interest in "how we know what we know" led him to graduate study in philosophy of science. His current concentration is history and philosophy of biology, with a focus on developmental genetics, and his dissertation research is on how biologists from different fields of biology collaborate in cases when the theories in their fields conflict. He is currently teaching Age of Darwin and Philosophy of Biology and will teach Age of Pragmatism and Age of Darwin in spring 2009. "Teaching gives me a different perspective on how to unpack material for my dissertation," DiTeresi says."The Sawyier Fellowship has made time available for this perspective, as well as given me the structured time needed to work on my dissertation."
Fulkerson-Smith's initial reason for pursuing the Sawyier Fellowship was pragmatic as well, to give himself time to work on his dissertation. He was excited about working in the Humanities department of IIT, where the university's emphasis on natural science and mathematics dovetails with his research in German Idealism. "The fundamental issue that animates my dissertation is how to make philosophy a science--a body of necessarily true propositions that are systematically connected. Specifically, my dissertation discusses how the role of experimentation in transcendental philosophy develops from confirmation modeled on natural science to discovery modeled on mathematics," Fulkerson-Smith says. But he also has a deep and abiding commitment to teaching, and believes that the "goal of education is to provide students with the means, not merely of surviving in, but of changing today's world for the better. It's primarily for this reason that I appreciate the Sawyier Fellowship."
Fulkerson-Smith is teaching Great Philosophers: Immanuel Kant and Industrial Culture this semester and will teach 19th Century Philosophy and Industrial Culture in spring 2009. He obtained his master's degree from Boston College and will earn his doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Kentucky this year. As a historian of philosophy, Fulkerson-Smith has come to appreciate the influence of philosophy not just on religion, but also on politics, art, and science—"a complicated network from which to tease out threads of thought."
Thanks to Fay Sawyier's conviction and generosity, significant "threads of thought" will continue to be examined and discussed at IIT.