Author: Nick Squires

Faculty in Focus: Charles Taliaferro

Some may refer to Charles Taliaferro as eccentric. The unkempt hair, untucked dress shirt and occasional lightsaber accessory can sometimes make the professor of philosophy seem somewhat perplexing. Anyone can recognize his boisterous laugh or frenzied jazz hands, but who really is Taliaferro?

Taliaferro was born and raised in New York. He found philosophy in a personal place of hardship, thinking of it as a world where people can have real conversations. Taliaferro followed this passion to Goddard College, where he majored in philosophy and literature. He went on to collect master’s degrees at the University of Rhode Island and Harvard before obtaining his Ph.D. at Brown. Shortly afterward, he became a professor at St. Olaf and never left.

Besides being known as a lover of shelties and occasionally seeing purple unicorns, Taliaferro is renowned in the philosophy world. He has authored or co-authored over 20 books and published with philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Stewart Goetz and William Lane Craig.

Taliaferro most frequently writes on theology, aesthetics, friendship and love. What truly inspires him is human experience and connection and how exactly we relate to the world. Human beings live, laugh, love, hate, desire, cry, fear and die. Taliaferro believes that philosophy allows us to examine our circumstances more critically and live intentionally. By pondering our existence, we can get to know the concepts that enrich this life such as the good, the true and the beautiful. He is prominently influenced by thinkers like Plato, Descartes and Murdoch.

The classes that Taliaferro teaches reflect his interest in metaphysics and value theory. Every fall, he offers both Philosophical Theology and Aesthetics, classes so popular that there are usually over 50 students in each section despite a cap of 35. Two of the books in those courses, both titled “A Beginner’s Guide,” are written by Taliaferro himself and help provide a short introduction to the topic at hand. In the spring he teaches Environmental Ethics, a favorite among seniors looking to fulfill their Ethical Issues and Normative Perspectives (EIN) credit.

Students who have taken a class from Taliaferro seem to enjoy its unique format. Instead of having exams or quizzes, each Taliaferro class demands two 10-page papers, a number of short response papers and one creative final. Legends abound as to what exactly has been the best creative final, but some of his personal favorites include students building a coffin, some performing a eulogy and others worshipping him like a deity.

Besides these core classes, Taliaferro is currently teaching a senior philosophy seminar on Iris Murdoch, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Cornel West. He also has offered colorful independent studies such as art in film, magic and illusion and the philosophy of humor. It’s safe to say that a course with Taliaferro is never boring.

Even with the constant responsiblities of writing books and articles, grading long papers and attending conferences, Taliaferro finds a way to have some time left over for his hobbies. He enjoys venturing into the world of fantasy and pop culture in order to apply and explore philosophical concepts to less-emphasized arenas. Some of the works that he finds the most enthralling include the Harry Potter series (which he is re-reading right now), “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars” and “The Princess Bride.” Students who might not have had a strong interest in philosophy have credited his passion for popular work with galvanizing their passion for the discipline.

Taliaferro is known for being one of the most accessible professors and is willing to work with students to co-author scholarly, publishable articles as well as attend professional conferences. He enjoys seeing students develop as writers, especially in a realm like pop culture where their peers have an interest in the topic. He says that fantasy and fiction help demonstrate ideas that are impossible or inconceivable in our world. It’s just that we can get distracted by the bizarre creatures or shiny objects.

Take a class with Taliaferro. Who knows, if you do he might just introduce you to his dog Pip and give you a free ride to Minneapolis.

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St. Olaf Sentiments: October 31, 2014

Epicurus, a Hellenistic philosopher, advocated a life in pursuit of happiness. Such happiness, he believed, comes from pleasure, yet the tempering of human desires. Only when one lives modestly does one reach each the state of ataraxia, freedom from anxiety, and aponia, the absence of pain.

What is the relevance of this man who has been dead for over 2,300 years? His philosophy continues to speak to anybody who is willing to listen. In colleges across the country, students feel immense pressure to get a high GPA, become president of a club, find a significant other and do all this with some time for sleep.

While many of these things are honorable, they must be put in balance. Our campus has numerous ways to enjoy the little things in life and find a place of peace. Look around for Oles indulging themselves in the simple things and join in. Be a dreamer, a traveler, a reveler in life.

1. Enjoy nature.

St. Olaf is a beautiful campus with scenic trees and hills spotted all around Harry Potter architecture. Take an hour or so and just relax outside. Lie in the sun. Jump in a pile of leaves. Look at the sky and shape of clouds. Watch rabid squirrels fight over acorns, with the occasional dog chasing after them. Soon enough students will have the opportunity to have snowball fights and ski on the flat slopes of Minnesota.

2. Savor delicacies.

We all know that St. Olaf has great food. While students on other campuses eat poorly, we have the privilege of eating passion fruit tarts, chow mein and parmesan risotto. Speed eating the food in the Caf saves time for studying and extracurricular activities, but it rarely allows us to actually enjoy the food. Try having a meal consisting of several different dishes and savor each bite rather than stuffing it down.

3. Read for pleasure.

Not every class will have reading that interests you. Differential equations, philosophical paradoxes and cell structures are not for everyone. If you have time, trying reading books that actually speak to you. Enjoying down time with a great book can reduce stress and make the semester somewhat tolerable. It is difficult to think back to the time when reading did not require attention to every detail, but it can be a relaxing affair. Pick up some Thoreau, Chaucer or perhaps Epicurus.

4. Share the love.

The last of many possible opportunities for happiness on campus is to share it with others. You can brighten the days of students, faculty and staff through random acts of kindness and quality time. St. Olaf is a special place; do not forget to relish it before it’s too late.

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Secret Service blunders expose skewed priorities

Security has been a pertinent issue in the United States for the last fifteen years. Wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq promised to protect the lives and liberties of U.S. citizens. Domestic precautions such as the NSA and TSA are justified by their roles in national security. The issues of border control and increasing illegal immigration dominate current political discourse.

However, recent years have brought the competence of the White House security detail into question. Bullets were fired at the White House only three years ago, demonstrating a consistent inability to protect the President and his family. Now, the White House has once again experienced a security breach.

Members of Congress questioned the then-director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, over the latest threat. The breach occurred on Sept. 19, when Omar J. Gonzalez broke into the White House while carrying a knife. Sources say that the suspect had shown up to the White House one month earlier with a hatchet. Two Secret Service agents reportedly saw Gonzalez earlier, but failed to keep a good enough eye on him. Gonzalez successfully jumped the fence and went through the unlocked front door before being tackled on his way to the Green Room. He has since been indicted by a grand jury on charges of unlawful entry and carrying a deadly weapon.

Making the scandal more controversial is the fact that the Secret Service misled the public about the extent of the intrusion. Officials originally stated that the suspect was unarmed and crept inside the North Portico. Congress members have grilled Pierson for her oversight and incompetence in the matter, but still, neither side can take the moral high ground. Liars demanding the truth from other liars only provides entertainment. Politicians frequently create laws that serve their own interests. Money from corporations and interest groups continues to funnel in and line the pockets of America’s faithful public servants. Oppression of third parties and gerrymandering serves only to maintain the corrupt status quo.

The biggest issue in this entire debacle is not the failure of Julia Pierson and the Secret Service, but the utter lack of vigilance toward American concerns. Dangers brooding such as ISIS, Ebola and Russian hegemony have all hijacked our political sphere. While the U.S. has cause for concern with these predicaments, these problems cannot distract the country from all of its pressing issues. Rising tuition and crippling student debt, dependence on fossil fuels and further continued unemployment define the chaos that is U.S. politics. History has taught us that all empires will eventually crumble by focusing resources on matters abroad instead of domestically, and American foreign policy is no different.

The breach of White House security demonstrates that the Obama administration is devising international tactics, yet failing to secure the president’s own residence. The time has come for a reassessment of our country’s most fundamental policies. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

If America is to play any significant role in the world, it must first tackle its own issues. Whether this remains possible is yet to be seen.

Nick Squires ’16 is from Andover, Minn. He majors in philosophy.

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Womens golf competes in DIII Classic

On Sept. 13-14, the St. Olaf women’s golf team competed in the DIII Classic at the Jewel Championship golf course. They finished in 8th place out of 15 teams over the 36-hole tournament.

The Oles’ cross-town rival, Carleton College, won the team event with an impressive total of 628 and four of its individuals finishing within the top 15. The team’s best performance came from Grace Gilmore ’16, who secured her individual win with a final round 76 for a total of 151 and 5 shots clear of the field.

Maxine Carlson ’15 helped propel the Oles past Gustavus Adolphus College and Macalester College. Carlson started only 3 shots back of the lead after firing a 78 on Saturday and finished with an 81 on Sunday to end the tournament in solo 10th. This is her third straight top-25 finish of the season and her fifth round of 82 or better.

Grace Luker ’16 finished in a tie for 28th after two consistent rounds of 84. She looks to build upon her low round of 77 at the Wartburg Invitational in anticipation of the MIAC Championships.

Nadia Baka ’15 posted an 89 after shooting an 80 on Saturday. The Oles are poised to challenge the Knights and prevent them from winning their fourth straight tournament of the year.

Low rounds from all St. Olaf golfers could be enough to compete for the MIAC Championship and their first title since winning back-to-back two years ago.

Bunker Hills golf course will be a difficult test with a lot of trees, tough angles and fast greens. Weather conditions always have the potential to be an issue, but experience will be invaluable in the upcoming tournament. If the Oles can mentally prepare and come in with momentum, then they have a strong chance of claiming victory.

We can hope to see the trophy back on Northfield’s top campus.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote