The Gustavian Weekly

Philosophy lecture sparks conversation: Dr. Kenneth Stikkers shares ideas on the meaning of freedom | The Gustavian Weekly

By DeAnna Giles - Staff Writer | May 10, 2019 | News

What do we mean when we talk about freedom? The lecture hosted by the Philosophy Department, “To Preserve Their Freedom: What Frederick Douglass and the Haitian Revolution Teach us About the Meaning of Freedom,” took place on May 9 from 5-6:15 p.m.

“The event is a good demonstration of how Gustavus and the Philosophy Department has made an effort to educate students about oppression. I think as a Philosophy student it is essential to apply what we have learned in the classroom and by inviting speakers we can transition into acting on what we have learned,” Junior David Espe said.

“The issue of freedom and its preservation is incredibly important, both to philosophy as a discipline and just to people in general,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Laura Mueller, said.

Mueller has been teaching here since the fall semester of 2016. Being the first event Mueller has planned at Gustavus, she invited Dr. Kenneth Stikkers, who was her professor in graduate school and Master’s thesis adviser. He spoke about how we can better understand what we mean by “freedom” by providing a different standpoint and historical perspective.

The lecture included an introduction of Dr. Stikkers, why the meaning of freedom is important, and a question and answer session with the audience.

The lecture serves to give Gustavus students insight to the many avenues of freedom, using Frederick Douglass and the Haitian Revolution, that historians may not explore.

Dr. Stikkers is a Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies and Interim Director of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Mueller and Dr. Stikkers have been collaborating for a few years for Dr. Stikkers to do a talk here at Gustavus.

“A lot of Dr. Stikkers’ research is on philosophy of the economy, liberation, and Africana and African-American philosophy and he recently published two books: Utopian Visions Past, Present, and Future: Rethinking the Ethical Foundations of Economy, and Philosophy in the Time of Economic Crisis: Pragmatism and Economy,” Mueller said.

Philosophy faculty members invite speakers and organize public lectures based on what they’re teaching or researching or who they think might be, important for students to hear.

Previously, Professor Alberto Urquidez organized a talk by Dr. Tommy Curry, another one of Dr. Stikkers’ former students.

“I went to Dr. Curry’s lecture and I enjoyed learning about a new field of philosophy. Philosophy of race and gender should continue to develop and expand as an essential part of a liberal arts education,” Espe said.

This year’s lecture shared with the Gustavus community, what ‘freedom’ means and what it entails. The lecture was just one place out of many to enrich students’ mindset on the topic of freedom. The purpose of the lecture was to get people to “recognize that an awful lot of the dialogue concerning freedom has been pretty one-sided, so we aren’t getting the whole picture,” Mueller said.

“When we talk about freedom, we also have to think about the other side of it, the “underbelly” of freedom,” Mueller said.

Mueller wrote about an example of how living in St. Peter and learning at Gustavus–which used to be Dakota land–gives us the opportunity to live free, work, vote, and debate controversial ideas. However, people who were here long before the settlers lost a lot of their freedoms and their lives.

“Most of the people who have historically talked about freedom, or who have made laws and policies guaranteeing freedom, are the people who benefited from this darker side,” Mueller said.

Policies made from the darker side Mueller previously talked about are the issues our society faces today.

Dr. Strikkers’ gets his inspiration for his talk from another philosopher and activist, Angela Davis. In Davis’ work, she suggested that those who have struggled for freedom can teach us more about it than those who haven’t.

“In other words, if we really want to learn about freedom, we’ve got to listen to and recognize those whose freedoms were taken away,” Mueller said.

Philosophy, the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, helps us navigate our concepts, ideas, and actions, and helps us get to the very foundations of all of those aspects of life. The issue of freedom brings many questions to mind for Mueller.

“What are we doing when we act freely? How can we all live together politically and still be free? How many of my actions and thoughts presuppose that I’m free?” Mueller said.

Dr. Stikkers had been wanting to meet Mueller’s students and see what Gustavus is like.

“To have someone who was my teacher, and now is my colleague and friend, here interacting with my own students, means a lot personally, and I think reflects an intergenerational transference of knowledge,” Mueller said.

Hopefully you didn’t miss this lecture hosted by the philosophy department. The concept of freedom is very broad, and this lecture presented the opportunity to clearly define freedom.

“I wanted to gain more knowledge and hopefully develop more skills to keep educating my peers and others that I interact with,” Espe said.

“If we only listen to the dominant voices, only listen to the voices we want to hear or are used to hearing, then we aren’t getting the whole picture.  I think that’s pretty important for everyone to learn about,” Mueller said.

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