Graduate Student of the Month - Michelle Mahoney

Michelle Mahoney is a doctoral candidate of philosophy who works and writes at Memorial University and at her family residence of Clarke’s Beach, Conception Bay.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?

My recent work has been driven by the thinking of Charles Peirce, a rather underrated thinker who I first encountered in my early studies at Memorial. His plethora of unpublished work is still housed at Harvard where he had lectured in the 1890’s, but Peirce’s scholarship has been a key part of British and American Idealism. This movement is largely responsible for the development of Memorial’s philosophy department with professors from Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh and one of the finest thinkers on Peirce, Dr. James Bradley who came to Memorial in the late 1980’s. My tutelage with him during my Master’s studies in the 90’s has brought me back to the work he has left behind here. The other important attraction of this department is that it is specialized with three clear strands of study. I had greatly benefited from this interwoven approach to philosophy’s history and saw that together with the re-vitalization brought by recent new faculty hires makes this an excellent place to study. So I awaited the opportunity to return to this department because of my research area and because when I lived in the UK, I become aware of Memorial philosophy’s presence in international networks within the field providing conferencing and publication opportunities.

What drew you to explore philosophy?

My siblings and I grew up with my dad’s determination to make mythology, Shakespeare, the Bible as literature, and social justice part of our education. I learned to work through my experiences and discoveries in the larger world through this kind of engagement. This led me to want to see the world through the lens of philosophical thinking. I need to explore the underpinnings of things we accept in order to find out why, in fact, they are often based upon constructs of principles and ideas that can be challenged, changed or rejected. This affects how we live and can impact what it is we hold to be important.

Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

Currently, I am working through C.S. Peirce’s writings, developing my interpretation of his metaphysics guided by Dr. Bradley’s work. Dr. James Bradley demonstrated extraordinary scope and depth in his scholarly work on the British Idealists of the late 19th century. He investigated these philosophers’ historical relevance in the context of German Idealism which preceded them and in the context of the American and British mathematicians and pragmatists who also emerged from this period. He provides us now, posthumously, with a roadmap to reasons for the impact that British Idealists and their North American counterparts are having on emerging philosophical thinking. I am taking up this challenge as I articulate the development of C.S. Peirce’s ontology. I aim to demonstrate how Peirce’s critique of anthropocentric thinking opens up the possibility for explanatory principles of actualization in order to better understand our relationship within the larger context of nature itself. This leads to the practical development of questions concerning moral and ethical concerns, and inter-disciplinary ecological studies, bringing them within our grasp more effectively than has been our possibility of late. Now is the time to seek a way forward to better ourselves and the world of which we are an important part.

A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor Scott Johnston bring to his role as your advisor and mentor?

Dr. Scott Johnston’s areas of expertise span the history of philosophy with a special concentration of work in American pragmatism, and of Charles Peirce and John Dewey in particular. He closely followed the thinking of my first mentor, Dr. Bradley and he understands Peirce in light of metaphysics and post-idealist thinking. Through Dr. Johnston’s work in education, science and the arts he is a great guide to thinking through metaphysics to its practical relevance. His superb background in logic and mathematics also allows me to investigate and pursue the reasons why and how 19th and 20th century metaphysical thinking is possible in its strongest explanatory sense. Peirce scholars are not a dime a dozen and Johnston is one of the best.

Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?

I tend to structure my writing around conferences that pertain to my thesis work as a method of airing ideas and arguments to test their metal and to allow for revision as I go. I love the community enterprise that academics can bring with it. For this reason I apply for peer reviewed conferences as part of my learning process. In September, our department hosted the Fourth Annual Meeting of the North American Schelling Society on The Heritage and Legacy of F.W.J. Schelling for which I was invited so give my paper ‘Schelling’s Late Philosophy and C.S. Peirce’.

I next attended McGill’s Center for Research on Religion graduate conference on Religious Ideas & Scientific Thought and gave a paper called ‘Scientific Inquiry and Agapaic Creativity in C.S. Peirce’. Last spring, I acted as a commentator at two conferences: The 2nd Annual Meeting of the Memorial ‘s European Summer School in Philosophy 2015, University of Freiburg. Questioning the Secular, with ‘Critique of the Hermeneutic circle in Jean-Luc-Nancy’s Deconstruction of Christianity’; and The 66th Annual Meeting of the Metaphysics Society of America, in Athens, Georgia on Self-determination and Metaphysics, responding to Andrew German of Ben Gurion University, for his paper ‘Speculari Aude : Self-Consciousness and Post-Kantian Metaphysics in Dieter Henrich’.

As well, during last term, I was invited to University of Clemson, South Carolina as a guest lecturer to present my work on ‘Three Potencies, the Activity of Actualization: Schelling’s Legacy to Peirce’.
Of course, here at Memorial’s department of philosophy we are given ample opportunity to present to our university community. Two weeks ago I thus presented a paper on Peirce’s ‘Evolutionary Love’ to kick off the winter colloquium in philosophy. The thorough Q and A sessions that follow are great in that they help to prepare us for defending and discussing our papers in other venues. I will finish off this academic year with three conferences: The Metaphysics Society of America, Annapolis, in March; the Meeting of the Academie du Midi, Carcassonne and Memorial’s European Colloquium in Philosophy, Krakov, both in May 2016.

Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?

In connection with my research interest in inter-disciplinary ecology, I have been working with Dr. Sean McGrath founder of For a New Earth. An up-coming event, ‘Towards an Integral Ecology: Perspective from the Humanities and Social Sciences’ March 3-4, 2016 is taking place at Queen’s College about which everyone will hear more in the coming weeks. I recently worked as program co-developer with the Future of Nature: Gros Morne, a SSHRC sponsored event held from September 10 to 13, 2015 involving over 70 researchers from trans-disciplinary fields.

As well, I am the co-founder, director, and coordinator of MESSP Memorial European Summer School in Philosophy. Memorial University’s Go Global Grant from our International Center has provide substantial support in 2014, our inaugural year of MESSP. Last spring we received welcome support from the Dean of the SGS. Memorial currently has a Memorandum of Understanding with the first two programs installments at the University of Augsburg and the University of Freiberg as part of our International Center’s Strategic Internationalizing Plan. The aim is for graduate students like myself, and faculty is to work with European programs in research, conferences and courses. This May we will be hosted by Jesuit University Ignatianum Krakow, International Institute for Hermeneutics, Uniwersytet Warszawski Wydzial Pedagogiczny Philosophies of Education and Hermeneutics of the Self, co-host Prof. Dr. Dr. Andrzej Wiercinski, Ignatianum College, Krakow, May 23-27, 2016.

I very much enjoy being a member of the following philosophical societies: the Metaphysics Society of America, the Academie du Midi, France, the Iris Murdoch Society, UK, and last, but most importantly, the Department of Philosophy’s Jockey Club, Newfoundland.

What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?

There is great opportunity at Memorial to contribute to the overall engagement with the academic community and beyond. The year before last, my colleague, Gil Shalev, and I ran the Inaugural Graduate Conference in Philosophy celebrating our then, new PhD program. We received such strong encouragement and support from our fellow students, PhD, M.A. and undergraduate, from our department head, faculty, PCIs and retired members of the philosophy community and their families with logistics, budgeting advice, transport, and social aspects of the event. People helped to welcome the many visiting graduate presenters and our wonderful keynote speaker, Ian Hamilton Grant. We were really appreciative of the great attendance by everyone mentioned and many people from various departments whose interest merges with ours. I should add here that this spring new PhD students Zachary Fouchard and David Tracey will be running and hosting this year’s graduate conference in philosophy where many of us hope to give papers alongside our peers from other parts of the country.

On the whole, Memorial University boosts a tight community of teachers and scholars. The is no trade off of one for the other, rather as students we are learning first hand how it is that the professor standing before you is innovatively thinking sharing and creating the very work toward which they are devoted, as they bring to life and relevance the work which we study.

What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?

One can’t help but shape one’s future by current choices and engagements. This means that the three-fold enterprise of teaching, writing and editing lies before me. I am an educator and intend to teach philosophy well into the future. As my research is propelling me forward, I am now about to embark upon writing my own book on C.S. Peirce. And to further contribute to the scholarship of current and future philosophers, Dr. McGrath and myself, are dedicating what is needed to see James Bradley’s book, Essays on Speculative Metaphysics through to the publication in the coming year.


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