Monday, February 16, 2015

"Philosophy Bakes Bread," An address in thanks and acceptance of the MS Humanities Council's 2015 Public Humanities Scholar Award

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"Philosophy Bakes Bread" 

An address in thanks and acceptance of the Mississippi Humanities Council's 2015 Public Humanities Scholar Award, received on Friday, February 13, 2015, in the Old Capitol Building, Jackson, MS. 

Given the occasion to say thank you to many people, I recorded this address and am using it as my first podcast. I'm learning... What I'm posting here is 1) a link to the podcast page, then 2) an embedded podcast mechanism, in case you'd like to listen to it here on this page. Then, below that I'm including 3) the text of my speech and then 4) the bio that the MHC kindly put together and 5) a picture of my wife, Dr. Annie Davis Weber, and I posing with Governor William Winter and his wife, Elise Varner Winter.  

NOTE: This recording was created with my cellphone, which I kept in my suit pocket. There are consequently some noises and somewhat odd sounding moments, muffled a little bit by the way in which I recorded this file. It seemed clear enough to me to be worth sharing nonetheless, but it also is not an example of what my future podcasts will sound like. 

Recording / Podcast page:

Or, listen to it here: 

Text of the speech: 

Philosophy Bakes Bread
In thanks for the MHC’s Humanities Scholar Award
Dr. Eric Thomas Weber

In the last two years, I have experimented with the hobby of baking bread. The activity is creative, giving a sense of accomplishment, as well as something tasty.

As a philosopher, I have often heard that “philosophy bakes no bread.” Perhaps philosophy does not, but some philosophers do. There is a rift in thinking about the humanities, which hinges on the question of whether they do or should metaphorically bake bread. In recent years, the controversial physicist Freeman Dyson asked “When did philosophy lose its bite?” As a scholar, I have from the start sought to advance the connection between humanistic inquiry and contemporary problems. I am not alone in this work, but more importantly I owe immeasurable debts to many people who modeled the work I aspire to do and who have made it possible. So, as I thank the Mississippi Humanities Council and all of you here tonight, I am moved to express my gratitude to many people who have given me guidance, support, and encouragement.

Since our first interactions in 2008, Carol Andersen of the Mississippi Humanities Council has offered me invaluable guidance. I appreciated the opportunity I had recently to meet Executive Director Rockoff, who kindly visited me on a recent trip to Oxford. I thank you both for your support. The Mississippi Humanities Council fills an important role in a state widely known for its rich art and culture. When unique opportunities arise for serious, thoughtful, humanistic engagement, the council gives our local communities the support they need.

I am also grateful to my department chair, Dr. Weixing Chen, who not only took the time to nominate me for this award and to be here tonight, but who also shows his sincere appreciation for the importance of ethics and philosophy for the scholarship and pedagogy of leadership and public policy. My first chair at the university deserves special thanks. Dr. Robert Haws’s vision led to the creation of the interdisciplinary department of Public Policy Leadership in which I write and teach. He strongly encouraged me in the direction of publicly engaged work. While it was my desire and inclination to head in that direction, the pressures of the tenure clock lead many scholars away from less traditional work, such as public writing. So I thank Drs. Chen and Haws as well as the reporters and newspaper editors who welcomed my participation.

David Hampton of the Clarion Ledger took a chance on my writing, and since his retirement, Sam Hall and Jerry Mitchell at the paper have both been supportive. Javad Heiran-Nia, reporter at the Tehran Times, Iran’s major English-language newspaper, has invited me numerous times to write about democracy and liberty where they are sorely needed. And I thank these friends for their encouragement.

More recently, I have had inspiring collaborations with the Executive Director and the Academic Director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, Drs. Susan Glisson and Jennifer Stollman. Dr. Glisson introduced me to Governor Winter. The Governor has been an inspiration for me, as a man respected by everyone with whom his name has ever come up in conversation. He kindly endorsed my 2013 book, titled Democracy and Leadership, and honored me further when he penned an elegant and supportive foreword for my forthcoming 2015 book, titled Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South.

My deepest thanks go to my family. I married a brilliant woman, who has always strangely enough believed in me and been my strongest supporter. Her parents, Dr. Paul and Jane Davis have shown me love and encouragement, and even came to a symposium I organized with the support of the Council. Here tonight are my parents, Drs. Collin and Dominique Weber, who never flinched for a second when I let them know, “Mom and Dad, I want to major in Philosophy.” My last two notes of thanks go two teachers who have been such mentors to me that I consider them family. Dr. Larry Hickman was the ideal dissertation director at Southern Illinois University and a role model as the engaged and active scholar. Finally, Dr. John Lachs of Vanderbilt University has mentored me since my early undergraduate days, back in the twentieth century. Dr. Lachs showed me what philosophy can do to help each of us pursue happier, more passionate lives. He first taught me that indeed philosophy bakes bread, and he and Dr. Hickman guided me in my studies of philosophy, especially to John Dewey’s work.

Dewey was the greatest public philosopher that the United States has known. His bread baking was prolific, in his voluminous public writings and engagements. His ideas about democracy and education are still vital and needed, and highlight what he called the “supreme intellectual obligation.” At bottom, it involves cultivating in ourselves and in the wider public the scientific attitudes and intellectual habits of mind necessary for appreciating wisdom and for putting it to use. I intend always for my work to pursue this crucial goal, which I believe is one of the most important ways that philosophy, the humanities, and the Mississippi Humanities Council bake the nourishing intellectual bread so vital for living happy and meaningful lives together. I thank you all for the award and for your support for the humanities.


2015 Humanities Scholar Award

Thumbnail photo of a scan of the MHC Bio that was published in the program for the ceremony.The Humanities Scholar Award recognizes a humanities scholar who has participated in Council programs, serving as an interpreter of his or her discipline for public audiences. Dr. Weber was selected to receive this award in recognition of his outstanding teaching at the University of Mississippi and his work with the Mississippi Humanities Council as a program evaluator, Speakers Bureau presenter and project director on several grants.

Dr. Weber has served as a professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi since 2007. He is also an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Philosophy. He teaches courses in ethics and public policy, critical thinking and communication for public policy, and philosophy of leadership, as well as courses in the Honors College.

Dr. Weber's work with the Mississippi Humanities Council has bridged the complicated academic study of philosophy with engaging, interpretative public programs for general audiences, using philosophical disciplines to understand our unique human experience, and particularly our Mississippi experience, more fully. With grant support from the Council, Weber has brought academics, students and the general public together to contemplate philosophical questions such as ethics at the end of life and civic responsibility as it relates to disabilities.

Photo with Governor Winter

Photo with Elise Varner Winter, Dr. Annie Davis Weber, Governor William Winter, and Dr. Eric Thomas Weber
From left to right: Elise Varner Winter, Dr. Annie Davis Weber, Governor William Winter, and Dr. Eric Thomas Weber

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1 comment:

  1. Good post, loved the way you wrote it and the video you shared. Going to share it with others, thanks for posting it here