Among all of the conferences that I have attended or presented at, Kent State’s Graduate Philosophy Conference was the most professionally done of the bunch. I think the reputation of this conference is growing, based on the quality of the papers presented (and from the number I heard that were submitted) and representatives present from top school; this year there were two Harvard students and one Oxford student presenting, along with some of the most creative philosophers-in-training from the American West to East Coast, California to New York, as it were. For anyone looking a good and productive venue to make intellectual progress, I strongly suggest submitting to this conference in the future. Among the most impressive aspects of the conference, in addition to the accommodation, hospitality, and coordination, was the effort put forward to determine which papers were best among the field submitted and establishing a set of criteria for judgment. The eclectic sampling that resulted was as appreciable as the interesting nature of all of the papers presented, and the keynote speaker was very, very well chosen.
One of the components of the conference that made it more productive than the one I had previously presented at was that they set up a commenter to present a mini-response to the presented papers, so that there would be a forum for structure, non-spontaneous criticisms, positive and negative. The only shortcoming I saw in the event was with two of the formal comment sets that I encountered. (Note: I did not sit in on every talk because talks prior to the “main event” were two at a time.) One set of comments, received by Robert Long of Harvard, was quite a bit out of line, in a number of respects: they were not written to format (it was nearly impossible to read the complete comment set aloud because of its overly technical verbiage and formal logic included), some of the comments (about assumptions) were irrelevant, and I even wonder whether the commenter understood the paper, to begin with, based on erroneous remarks made (about assumptions that were not assumptions made by Long and the author he was responding to, Susanna Siegel). I think putting some parameters on the commenter’s comment set would have been productive, here. The other instance in which there was a problem with comments made was my own. My commenter was not familiar —and my judgment inclines me to add “at all”— with my paper’s subject matter or the kind of philosophy that I was performing in the paper. (I will post the presented version of the paper and the comments in the second part of this blog post.) My paper was a metaphysical paper that challenged claims by philosophers of time who unanimously presume or maintain explicitly that change cannot be metaphysically prior to time. The commenter was Kevin Lower of Miami University of Ohio, and his bio from their philosophy department’s website reads, ‘I am primarily interested in conceptions of the body that take root in Ancient Greek philosophy and medicine, phenomenology, and post-structuralist feminism.’ I think the reader can imagine that this set of interests (and likely background competency) hardly qualifies him to comment on the kind of technical work I had to present. I aired my state of annoyance at the issue, and I am sure this sort of thing won’t happen in the future, but, if anyone is inclined to take a similarly technical project to this (or other) graduate conference, such as in an extremely precise and nuanced area within existing literature or philosophy of math or whatnot, it would probably be best to ask who the commenter is and their qualifications. Despite having cut out an overwhelming majority of the literature I was using in the longer version of my paper, I was, unfortunately, left in a situation in which I was in a room full of philosophers who were hung up on that were uncited/referenced supporting ideas for the paper (found in texts by McTaggart, Paul Horwhich, David Albert, John Earman, Julian Barbour, etc.), not the actual novelties in the paper. While a definitely did (and still do) appreciate the invite, acquiring a qualified commenter is absolutely necessary, and I gave subtle exhortation that a higher degree of discrimination is required in similar future cases. Nonetheless, I sympathize with the difficulty of the affair. Were it the case that I had the quality of commentary as that brought by Zachary Milstead of Western Michigan University or Ryan Comeau of Kent State, my experience would have been superlative.
I would particularly like to thank Kristin Weis, Beth Emerson, and Kevin Winterfeldt for being particularly kind to me during my visit.