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Two Philosophy Profs Receive Major Honor

Papers make Philosopher’s Annual top-10 list

| From BU Today | By Amy Laskowski

Articles by two CAS philosophy assistant professors, David Liebesman (left) and Paul Katsafanas, are included in the 2011 top-10 list in Philosopher’s Annual. Photos courtesy of Liebesman and Katsafanas

Paul Katsafanas and David Liebesman, both College of Arts & Sciences assistant professors of philosophy, were recently honored when their papers were selected for inclusion in the 2011 Philosopher’s Annual, the respected journal that lists the top-10 articles published in the field of philosophy each year. Journal editors note on the website that the attempt to cull a top-10 list is “as simple to state as it is admittedly impossible to fulfill.”

Philosopher’s Annual’s editors ask prominent philosophers every year to serve as nominators. Each suggests three outstanding articles they have read during the year. A second review whittles down the list to come up with 10 articles deemed exceptional contributions to philosophical literature.

Katsafanas’ paper, “The Concept of Unified Agency in Nietzsche, Plato, and Schiller,” was originally published in January 2011 in the Journal of the History of Philosophy. On sabbatical this semester, Katsafanas, the department’s director of undergraduate studies and the recipient of this year’s Boston University Center for the Humanities junior fellowship, wasn’t even aware his paper was being considered for the list, he says, calling the honor “fantastic.”

His paper examines Nietzsche’s concept of unified agency by drawing on Plato’s and Schiller’s takes on the subject. “Nietzsche seems skeptical that conscious thought, choices, deliberation, and acts of willing play a very significant role in human agency,” explains Katsafanas, whose work focuses on 19th-century philosophy and ethics. “He thinks our actions and decisions are strongly influenced by unconscious and unknown aspects of ourselves. But at the same time he has some conception of what it is to will something reflectively. So I’m looking at how he understands the relationship between the conscious and unconscious factors that bring about action.”

Liebesman was honored for his paper “Simple Generics,” which was first published in the journal Noûs in January 2011. Liebesman’s paper investigates generics—sentences that express general claims about kinds of, instead of claims about particular, individuals. His paper argues that there is a mistake in the founding assumption of current generics literature.

Like colleague Katsafanas, Liebesman was surprised to learn that his paper made the list. “The life of a nontenured academic is striving for publication,” he says. “I had dreamt about being named to it at some point in my career, but I didn’t know that this particular paper was impressing people enough.”

It’s unusual for a university to have two professors featured in the Philosopher’s Annual, Liebesman says, and it’s a further achievement for the philosophy department, which is currently ranked in the top 50 programs nationwide by the Philosophical Gourmet Report, a well-respected rankings list.

“Katsafanas and Liebesman are excellent young scholars who are making great strides in their research,” says David Roochnik, a CAS professor of philosophy and department chair. “They are also both excellent teachers who care deeply about sharing their knowledge with others. They will make their mark not only on the profession, but on Boston University students as well.”

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