When Brandon Rakowski ’20 studied abroad last year at Oxford University in Oxford, England, he created a tradition that he was inspired to Kenyon’s campus. After a day’s hard work, Rakowski would join fellow students in his program as well as his tutors, head down to the pub and argue over philosophy.
“We would often get together … at the pub and organize the night around a conversation topic—so, for example, the existence of free will—and then have a pint and talk about it. And I wanted to bring something like that back here,” Rakowski said.
Although Philosophy Table, a group which meets every Thursday at lunchtime to discuss a philosophic question, already exists, Rakowski wanted philosophy to achieve a wider appeal. He met with Noelle O’Neal ’21 and Patrick Hudnut ’20, the liaisons of the Philosophy Symposium, the philosophy department’s student organization. Together, they discussed the possibility of bringing Rakowski’s Oxford experience to Gambier.
Their musings resulted in a new lecture series called the Socratic Series. The Socratic Series will host lectures where Kenyon faculty will talk about philosophical topics in front of an audience, in hopes of stimulating interesting and provocative discussion.
Daniel Mark Epstein ’70, a Kenyon alumnus and accomplished poet, will give the first lecture in Samuel Mather, 202 Tuesday, September 10. In an ode to Plato’s Symposium, Epstein will give a lecture on the nature of love.
More importantly, however, there will be an informal meeting at the Village Inn that Friday to discuss Tuesday’s lecture. There, students and professors will chat, argue and philosophize on Epstein’s ideas about love over drinks (non-alcoholic for those underage). The anticipated outcome is to foster more debates at Kenyon that are both stimulating and sophisticated.
One of Rakowski’s missions for the Socratic Series is to have professors express their genuine opinions on popular issues. “I wanted … to give professors the opportunity to talk about things that they actually believed in instead of interpretations of the thoughts of somebody else,” he said. “The only rule I establish is that whatever the [lecturer] gives a talk on, it needs to be an argument they firmly believe in.”
The Village Inn may not be a replacement for the pub, but it will still bring philosophical arguments and discussions to Kenyon’s campus in a new way. Jokingly, O’Neal says the Symposium will make you smarter: “Your IQ immediately jumps 50 points when you join the Symposium,” she said.