‘Philosophy about more than the existence of chairs’

22 Oct

Park University does not have a philosophy major, or minor. All Park University students have bright futures. Therefore, philosophy majors do not have bright futures. This kind of equation statement is called logic, a passion of new full-time philosophy professor Adam Potthast.

Kind of like math, Potthast’s philosophy is based around argument. It’s a far cry from the stoner-kid philosophy concepts seen in every college movie ever.

“Substances actually make you worse at philosophy,” says Potthast. “There are the crazies that want to argue about the existence of chairs when you’ re not looking at them… I’ m pretty sure chairs exist, and the more important issues are about right and wrong.”

More important than logic – which is more than common sense or trying to repudiate faith – is the study of ethics. Ethics is defined as a set of personal principles that determine what is right and wrong. Potthast, author of Ethics for Dummies, believes ethics affects all college students.

“There’ s the easy ethical stuff like plagiarism and honesty,” says Potthast. “But there’ s also creating your own identity as an adult when life is demanding so much.”

He defines personal identity as being the set of characteristics that are the same from year to year from personality to ethics. Personal identity involves the choices one makes as a central pillar in whom someone is.

Potthast became interested in philosophy as an undergrad when he saw a classmate drawing a logic proof in her notebook during class. A logic proof looks something like algebra formulas using ancient symbols instead of numbers. He asked what it was, and became hooked. He changed his major and it set the path for the rest of his life. He says every student should be required to take an ethics class, currently only required for business and political science students at Park.

“Everyone has to deal with ethical issues,” says Potthast. “It’ s a pressing need in today’ s society. If I could show ethics in every discipline, it would really raise consciousness.”

One of the dreams Potthast expresses includes a competitive “Ethics Bowl,” where students can debate on difficult contemporary issues like online privacy. This is under the realm of the brand-new Philosophy Club, advised by Potthast and headed by junior English major Cody Croan. The Philosophy Club is just one step toward establishing philosophy as a course of study at Park.

“I want to stress that people shouldn’ t be afraid of philosophy because it sounds like something deep and esoteric,” says Potthast. “It’ s actually a practical skill that will make you better at other things, too. It’ s critical thinking.”

One of Potthast’s loves is bioethics. He recently presented a paper over bioethics in the health care reform movement at the Society for Ethics Across Curriculum conference. In his paper, he argues that bioethics needs to be a part of the discussion when passing legislation about health care.

After a long hard day of arguing theoretical statements, Potthast says he wants something concrete. For those moments, he pulls out a calculus textbook from the overloaded bookshelf in his office in the library.

“Sometimes, it helps to have a solid answer,” says Potthast. “ You don’t always get that from philosophy, but you always do from math!”

Published in The Stylus Newspaper, 22 October 2010

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