College’s first Louise M. Olmsted Fellow for Ethics aims to spur philosophical dialogue throughout campus community
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
In June, Lafayette and the Department of Philosophy welcomed Matthew Andler, the College’s first Louise M. Olmsted Fellow for Ethics. During their two-year tenure, Andler will be teaching two courses per academic year, conducting ethics-focused research, organizing various ethics-related campus-wide events, and serving as a mentor to the Philosophy Club.
Andler earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from University of Virginia in spring 2020. Their research, which focuses on the intersection of ethics and social ontology, has been published in several competitive journals, such as Ethics and Hypatia. “In my research, I’m especially interested in ethical questions about how (if at all) we ought to socially categorize individuals with respect to gender and sexual orientation,” Andler says. Andler’s teaching interests include applied ethics, philosophy of technology, and philosophy of race.
“I am especially excited about the fellowship because it makes possible the creation of philosophical spaces that are accessible to everyone in the community,” Andler says. “Especially in contexts of oppression and injustice, I think those spaces are so important as we attempt to gain what might be called ‘moral knowledge’—knowledge about what we owe each other and how we ought to organize society.”
This new position is made possible by the Office of the Provost and the Louise M. Olmsted Endowment Fund for Ethics, which aims to encourage students to critically address complex ethical issues, and to reflect on the many ways in which our ethical judgments contribute to forming and expressing our values as people and citizens.
Alessandro Giovannelli, associate professor and head of the Department of Philosophy, explains that the benefits of this unique new ethics-focused initiative will be twofold: It will not only help students grow into self-aware, responsible citizens and members of their communities, but also give Andler the opportunity to continue their research and grow as a professional philosopher.
“Ethical concerns have been emerging everywhere—across campus, across academic divisions, and across the student body,” Giovannelli says. “As philosophers, we hope to bring about in our students a certain type of renewed and revisited self-awareness. The goal of the Louise M. Olmsted Endowment Fund is precisely that of helping students reach an increased awareness of the ethical questions the contemporary world raises, hence helping them be better equipped to address these complex ethical issues. And so, this fellowship couldn’t be any more relevant these days. We hope that colleagues from all corners of the campus will participate in broad dialogue around ethical issues. We hope that Professor Andler’s position will quickly become a resource for not only the philosophy department, but for the entire campus community.”
Andler has already formulated exciting plans for the coming academic year. They aim to hold campus-wide conversations to hone in on the ethical issues that are most important to the Lafayette community, and then design events and courses that explore those issues on philosophical and systematic levels.
In the fall, Andler is scheduled to teach PHIL 102: Basic Social Questions, which is an introductory-level course in applied ethics. Plus, in the future they hope to teach courses on the philosophy of race and philosophy of technology. As for events, Andler and the Olmsted initiative will host the Race and Racial Justice series, which will comprise various events—including workshops, discussions, and classroom visits—in addition to corresponding Philosophy Club efforts.
“The aim of the series is to promote understanding of long-pressing ethical issues that the international civil rights movement Black Lives Matter has rightfully foregrounded in our public conversation,” Andler says. “I’m thrilled to announce that Vanessa Wills, assistant professor of philosophy at George Washington University, and Rima Basu, assistant professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, have recently accepted invitations to participate in workshops on whiteness and anti-Black racism. The details of those events will be announced soon.” In the meantime, Andler invites any faculty, students, or staff interested in collaborating on the project to reach out via email.
Finally, Andler also plans to continue their existing research projects on ethical issues related to the philosophy of gender and sexuality. For example, Andler is currently exploring philosophical issues related to masculinity.
Giovannelli says the Department of Philosophy is excited about not only being able to offer such a unique fellowship, but also having a professor as enthusiastic, accomplished, and engaged as Andler join the team.
“We’re proud of this fellowship, and we strongly believe it was an experiment worth running,” Giovannelli says. “We’re trying to build a two-way street between philosophy and the rest of the campus community, and Professor Andler is the perfect person to do that. Having started to work with them in the past several weeks, all of us in philosophy truly consider ourselves very lucky. I suspect their enthusiasm and vision will quickly get many students and faculty colleagues engaged in a variety of projects.”