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Dean’s Lecture Series

2016-2017 Academic Year

Lectures are free and open to the public and are followed by a question-and-answer period.

"A Muslim Spy in the Paris of Louis XIV"

Alain Antoine, The University of New Mexico, Ph.D. candidate, French Studies Department

Wednesday, September 28, 3:15 p.m. The Junior Common Room

The mysterious creation of an international protagonist in a 17th century novel: Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, all but forgotten today, was a great success when first published in 1684. This epistolary novel may be the first “spy” story ever published, as well as the first to feature a Muslim protagonist, an Arab living incognito in Paris during the reign of Louis XIV and reporting his observations to the Ottoman Sultan. My talk will explore the many facets of this mysterious character, a Muslim in a Christian world, a vegetarian in a meat-eating society, a skeptic amidst the wars of religion, and ultimately a deist whose ideas presage Enlightenment thinkers.

Alain Antoine hails from France and moved to the United States in 1996. He graduated from the Liberal Arts Program at St. John’s in 2003, and from the Eastern Classics Program in 2010. His experience at St. John’s convinced him to pursue his studies and he is presently a doctoral candidate in the French Studies Department at UNM, finishing his dissertation on Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, the text he will present in his talk.

"Einstein between War and Fiction"

Jimena Canales, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Friday, September 30, 7:30 p.m.

Recent scholarship on Albert Einstein and the publication of his collected papers have presented an unprecedented opportunity for historians and philosophers of science to rethink his work. My talk will focus on three axes, “War, Fiction and Media,” to show how the cosmological lessons of Einstein’s theory of relativity—usually considered as universal and fundamental—emerged from a particular historical context. My intention is to explore the relation of science to fiction and of theoretical science to technology in order to examine the formation of rationality more broadly. The realization that no message can travel at speeds faster than light, often associated with Einstein’s theory of relativity, was tightly coupled with the development of light-based communication technologies in the twentieth century.

Jimena Canales is the author of The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time (Princeton University Press) voted Best Science Books for 2015 (Science Friday, NPR and brainpickings), and A Tenth of a Second: A History (University of Chicago Press). She currently holds the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science at the University of Illinois-UC and was previously an Assistant and Associate Professor in History of Science at Harvard University. She has published widely in specialized journals (Isis, Science in Context, History of Science, the British Journal for the History of Science, and the MLN, among others) and also writes for wider audiences (The New Yorker, WIRED magazine, BBC, Aperture, and Artforum).

"The Telos of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling"

Richard McCombs, St. John’s College

Friday, October 7, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

Fear and Trembling is Kierkegaard’s most exciting book, but also his most misleading and most misunderstood book. In order to understand this book well it is crucial to get clear about its telos or purpose, and to read it in the light of its purpose. In his lecture Richard McCombs argues that the telos of Fear and Trembling is to provoke readers to perceive, with admiration and horror, the greatness and heroism of faith. Mr. McCombs will also begin to show the interpretive consequences of this telos.

"Political Order and Political Decay: The American Political System in a Time of Global Upheaval"

Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University, Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
Annual Steiner Lecture

Friday, October 16, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

The major divisions in world politics today are less about democracy v. authoritarian government, than about modern v. corrupt neo-patrimonial ones. The difficulties of sustaining modern states are present in the contemporary US as well, where state capture has provoked a crisis of legitimacy and government dysfunction that has laid the ground for the populist politics of the 2016 election.

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and the Mosbacher Director of FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. He is professor (by courtesy) of political science.

Dr. Fukuyama has written widely on issues in development and international politics. His book, The End of History and the Last Man,was published by Free Press in 1992 and has appeared in over twenty foreign editions. His most recent book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, was published in September 2014. Other books include America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, and Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.

Francis Fukuyama received his B.A. from Cornell University in classics, and his Ph.D. from Harvard in Political Science. He was a member of the Political Science Department of the RAND Corporation, and of the Policy Planning Staff of the US Department of State. He previously taught at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University and at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. He served as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001-2004.

Dr. Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest, which he helped to found in 2005. He is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Global Development. He holds honorary doctorates from Connecticut College, Doane College, Doshisha University (Japan), Kansai University (Japan), Aarhus University (Denmark), and the Pardee Rand Graduate School. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, and a member of the advisory board for the Journal of Democracy. He is also a member of the American Political Science Association, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Pacific Council for International Affairs. He is married to Laura Holmgren and has three children.

"Speaking of the Dead: Plato's Menexenus"

Michael Davis, Sarah Lawrence College, Department of Philosophy

Friday, October 28, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

While the annual funeral oration was a ritual unique to ancient Athens, it reflects something more universal. We human beings understand, justify, and mold ourselves in terms of a past that we, on the one hand, celebrate as a paradigm and, on the other, seek to surpass. That we praise those who have died for their country as models for how to live as good citizens has to do with our natures as temporal beings. In the Menexenus Plato playfully (Socrates has been dead for thirteen years when he offers his funeral oration) invites us to explore the implications of this temporality both for political life and for thinking.

Michael Davis is Professor of Philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College. He taught philosophy for many years in the Graduate Faculty of the New School University and in the graduate program in political theory at Fordham University. Mr. Davis’s most recent book is The Soul of the Greeks: An Inquiry. He is the translator, with Seth Benardete, of Aristotle: On Poetics and has written on a variety of philosophers from Plato to Heidegger and of literary figures from Homer to Saul Bellow. Mr. Davis is currently writing a book on the self in Plato, of which “Speaking of the Dead: On Plato’s Menexenus” will be a part.

"Evolution as a Cause"

Benjamin Liebeskind, University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology

Friday, November 4, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

In what ways is evolution a cause of living organisms? Although modern scientific explanations are usually ’bottom-up,’ biologists cannot do without ’top-down’ reasoning, where the whole is prior to the part. I’ll delve into modern evolutionary biology to show why this is, and discuss the implications for biology and other scientific fields. Finally, I’ll briefly discuss how a better understanding of Aristotle’s classic treatment of causes can inform modern biology.

Benjamin Liebeskind is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, and a St. Johns alumnus. He works on the molecular evolution of the nervous system and the origin of animals.

"Money or Love? An Introduction to Xenophon and his dialogue the Oeconomicus"

Eric Buzzetti, Concordia University, Liberal Arts College

Friday, November 18, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

The Oeconomicus of Xenophon contains a report of conversation that Socrates once had with a perfect gentleman named Ischomachos. The subject of the conversation was household-management (oikonomia). The subject included a discussion of how to make money through farming but also of how to educate one’s wife. Why was Socrates so eager to have this seemingly mundane conversation, as he reports that he was? The conversation even marked a turning point in the life of the philosopher. In this lecture, I will suggest that in his encounter with Ischomachos, Socrates was seeking clarity about the relation between what one might call the two poles of human life—the economic and the erotic. For if Ischomachos was an accomplished money-maker, the key to Socrates’s interest in him may lie in understanding how (or in what sense) he was also, paradoxically, a lover.

Mr. Buzzetti’s primary field of expertise is classical political philosophy. He is the author of Xenophon the Socratic Prince: The Argument of the Anabasis of Cyrus (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). He has also published papers on Plato, Xenophon and Leo Strauss.

"Learning to Read Moses Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed"

Judith Seeger, St. John’s College

Friday, December 2, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

Over eight centuries ago the great Jewish scholar and philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote a book he called The Guide of the Perplexed. The work purports to provide guidance for a thoughtful person facing a crisis of faith brought on by the apparent contradictions between philosophical and scriptural teachings. Yet, despite its promising title, The Guide has resisted definitive interpretation to this day. My goal is not to provide that interpretation. It is, rather, to give a summary of the problems the book raises, to consider reasons Maimonides would have written it as he did, and then to follow a single interpretive path through this dense work to see where it leads.

"In Search of Manliness Herself in Plato's Laches"

Leo Pickens, St. John’s College, Annapolis Director of Alumni Relations

Friday, December 9, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

What is courage? This lecture is an attempt to gain some insight into the nature of this excellence through an examination of Plato’s dialogue The Laches.

Leo Pickens graduated from St. John’s College, Annapolis, in 1978. After working as a banker in Baltimore, he returned to St. John’s in 1988 to serve as the Director of Athletics on the Annapolis campus, a position he held for 24 years. In 2012, he became the Director of Alumni Relations in Annapolis. This past July he joined the college’s development team as the Director of Leadership Annual Gifts.