Philosophy student, instructor shows
value of interdisciplinary approach
By David King
Kandace Lytle owes a lot to the Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State.
Her participation in the Philosophy Department’s unique program, which crosses academic borders each semester to investigate and discuss the issues of the day, helped land her a position as a lecturer with the department.
The series helps her students — many of whom are in their first philosophy classes — understand the concept of dialogue, the civil exchange of ideas that is at the heart of the academic discipline.
And in many ways, the Philosophy Dialogue Series created the path for Lytle to earn a master’s degree in applied philosophy and ethics from Texas State. The series, which had its genesis in the 1980s and can be taken for class credit, helped the Philosophy Department launch its first master’s degree program this fall.
“I’ve taken the dialogue class before, and I’m taking it again,” Lytle says. “I gave two lectures last semester and another this semester. I’ve attended a number of other dialogues. I encourage my students to go.”
The dialogue series began as a way to build interest in philosophy. When department chair Vincent Luizzi launched it in the 1980s, there were probably no more than a dozen philosophy majors on campus.
“We were asking what we could do for the community, along with how we could build our number of majors,” he says. “We also wanted to recognize the things we could do to build a sense of community in the department.”
The series started with a talk or two a week on selected topics. It gradually expanded to bring in the entire university community, and then philosophers and academics from across the state, nation and world. In the fall of 2010, the series featured 120 speakers and sessions on topics related to the Common Experience theme of sustainability, attracting students, faculty and staff from across campus.
“I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world,” says Luizzi, who started at the university in 1976 and has been the Philosophy Department chairman since 1982. “It’s a locus for pursuing issues of controversy, interest, diversity.”
The series helped the department develop master’s-level courses in what is referred to as “applied philosophy” — a concept at the heart of the dialogue series. It also is the basis for the degree program that launched this fall with more than 20 students, a complement to the more than 140 undergraduate philosophy majors now studying at the university.
Joining the program
Lytle came to Texas State after earning a bachelor’s degree at Southwestern University in English and philosophy.
“I don’t know exactly how it happened; it was very organic,” Lytle says of her undergraduate experience as the first person at the college in Georgetown, Texas, to combine her disciplines into a double major. “I would be taking one class, and then another, and there would be overlap. I kept noticing all these strings between them, and I didn’t understand why it wasn’t a paired major.”
She came to Texas State to earn a master’s in literature, started taking the master’s-level philosophy courses as electives and then began to work as a teaching assistant in philosophy.
“This department embraces children of other avenues,” she says. “We have recreation majors, science majors, political science, anthropology majors working as TAs. Dr. Luizzi is very interested in having different perspectives in his office. It’s not all just philosophers, because sometimes coming from a different background brings something new to philosophy.”
She began working for Luizzi, and when she finished her master’s in English, he offered her a job as a lecturer. The master of applied philosophy and ethics program came along soon afterward, and Lytle was hooked.
A new degree
The master’s program is unique in the state for its wide scope, which can appeal to disciplines from medicine to law to business.
“That’s exactly what we had in mind with a program like this, a very general appeal for people who want to view the world in a unique way,” Luizzi says.
Its appeal has worked — more than 20 students enrolled this fall, a significant number in a start-up, the department chair says. And those students, some of whom had little or no connection to Texas State or the Philosophy Department, have come from a diverse range of fields, from education to recreation to politics.
The program also was just what Lytle wanted.
“I fell in love with looking at things critically, through the English major side of me,” says Lytle, “but in philosophy, you’re analyzing things very differently. I love being able to look at a text through two different lenses.”
Her graduate school studies have evolved from children’s literature to science fiction and ethics. The thesis for her master’s in applied philosophy and ethics is on Oryx and Crake, a book by Margaret Atwood that addresses numerous issues of ethics in today’s society through a futuristic perspective.
She also uses what she is finding in her master’s research in the classes she teaches — Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics and Society — with both Oryx and Crake and Alice in Wonderland.
And of course, the dialogue series plays a major part in her teaching.
“They go to the dialogues, and I assign them a report on what they got from it as it relates to their disciplines,” she says. “And they see me a lot at the dialogue events; seeing their teacher there shows them it’s important to interact with things on campus.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for any student to come to the dialogue series and reflect on the experience.”
They’ll be in good company.