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ISSUE 119 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 9/30/2005

Lear ponders ethics

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Belgum Lecture series has been at St. Olaf for as long as many professors and alumni can remember. Now in its 27th year, the series brings to campus great thinkers who share their philosophical insights with students, faculty, and other members of the Northfield community.

The lecture series honors the memory of alumna Eunice Belgum '67. She received a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard University, one of the strongest graduate philosophy programs in the world at the time.

Belgum's life ended only 10 years after she left St. Olaf. Her family and friends established the lecture series in the hope that her influence on philosophy would live on, and indeed it has.

"The list of past lectures is an impressive testament to that continuing influence over twenty-six years," Head of the Philosophy Department and Professor of Philosophy Corliss Swain said. "These lectures have inspired students and faculty at St. Olaf and contributed to the philosophical community at large."

This year's lectures continued that tradition. Speaking on "Ethics and the Collapse of Civilization," Jonathan Lear appeared at St. Olaf as this year's Belgum lecturer. He held two sessions on the topic: one on Sept. 21 entitled "After That, Nothing Happened," and one on Sept. 22 entitled "Living at the Abyss."

Lear is the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on social thought and a faculty member in the department of philosophy at the University of Chicago. He is also a graduate of the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis, and a faculty member of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute and the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis.

He has published numerous works focusing on the intersection of psychoanalysis and philosophy and has received the Gradiva Award for the Best Psychoanalytic Book of the Year for two of his publications: "Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul" (1998) and "Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life" (2000).

Lear has contributed to a number of recognized lecture series; he has given the Tanner Lectures at Cambridge University, the Richard B. Lippin Lectures in Ethics at Penn State, and the Donellan Lectures at Trinity College in Dublin.

In his Belgum lecture, Lear addressed the question, "Given the real human possibility that our civilization could collapse, how should we live now?"

According to Lear, history illustrates that however robust a civilization is, there is always the possibility of its collapse. He illuminated this question by focusing on the transition of the Crow Indian tribe from their traditional way of life to living on reservations.

In his first lecture, Lear stated that once a way of life dies, a civilization must acknowledge this death in order to move forward and create a new way of living.

Lear's second lecture addressed the problems of practical reason and moral psychology in the collapse of a civilization and illustrated the value of radical hope and courage in the midst of collapse. Lear's reflections on the value of hope and courage aptly continued the tradition of a strong and thought-provoking lecture series.

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