Though many may not have been aware of it, Thursday, Nov. 19 marked World Philosophy Day. The international holiday’s moderate obscurity is understandable. Established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2005, it is fairly young. UNESCO’s General Conference sets World Philosophy Day annually as the third Thursday of November.
But as one may expect, the St. Olaf Philosophy Department is keen to spread awareness of this lesser known holiday. For the second year in a row, the department forewent their weekly sponsoring of pizza-fueled philosophical discussions among students and instead set up a stand just outside of the Cage during community time.
“It’s exciting to celebrate a United Nations sponsored day recognizing the value of philosophy and the way that it can influence understanding in the world,” Assistant Professor of Philosophy Arthur Cunningham said. “It’s exciting for philosophy students to think of something like the United Nations as a body recognizing the value of what students are studying here and to think about the transformative power that philosophy can have.”
Though Cunningham was present at the stand, it was primarily run by students, including Annika Beck ’17, Pedro Monque ’16 and Maggie Schenk ’16. Students stood in front of the table, actively engaging their peers to inform them about World Philosophy Day and offered them complimentary pizza slices. Other volunteers stayed behind the table and managed the sale of World Philosophy Day buttons.
There were two styles of button available, both emblazoned with the Owl of Athena – a universal symbol of philosophy. The first button had only the owl, while the second overlaid the image with an etymological deconstruction that defined “philosophy” as “love of wisdom.”
These buttons were given away for free at last year’s World Philosophy Day celebration, however the Philosophy Department introduced the new $1 charge in order to raise funds for non-profit organization Empoderando Latino America.
“It’s an organization that Oles have helped work on and helped to create the curriculum for the Latin American students that are coming through,” Beck said. “These students apply for the program and then they go through a three week intensive and they learn about philosophical skills like peacebuilding. They then bring these ideas back to their communities.”
Celebration of World Philosophy Day was not limited only to Buntrock Commons. Last year, Philosophy Department Chair Charles Taliaferro connected the students in his classes to philosophy students in Tehran, Iran. This year, Taliaferro invited visiting Kierkegaard scholar Dr. Leo Stan to his class as a guest lecturer.
Overall, students and professors involved in the celebrations were pleased with the interaction they had and appear likely to celebrate the holiday again when it comes back around Nov. 17, 2016.
“It’s a great day to think about how philosophy can impact our individual lives. It’s a great day to celebrate our differences as we move together forward in philosophy,” Beck said.