Midwest theorists gather for Webster’s Philosophy Conference


The Sunnen Lounge, previously home to techno concerts and chess tournaments, held theorists from institutions across  the Midwest during Webster’s 17th annual Philosophy Conference. 

On the morning of March 24, faculty members, students and those interested in philosophical thinking joined for a day-long gathering of speakers, panels and conversation. The morning agenda included local baked goods and coffee, followed by a catered vegan lunch.

Contributed photo from Webster’s Department of Philosophy.

“Philosophers and travelers have gathered here with a common goal of cultivating habits and communicating significant matters, helping people be more responsible and lead more creative and meaningful lives.” the department chair Bruce Umbaugh said. 

Audience members engaged in a seminar, allowing for discussion between students, speakers, and faculty. The event was held with the help of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Philosophy Department and coalition, the faculty speakers committee and a generous contribution from alumna Eve Coulson.

“I think what’s so good about [the conference] is  for undergraduates to have the opportunity to have this experience,” Coulson, who received her undergraduate degree of philosophy in 1973, said. 

An addition to this year’s conference, students had a venue to display zines – short written pieces and collages – and other works, with topics ranging from the impossibility of a priori knowledge to the melancholy of childhood. 

“We’re really committed to trying to be inclusive to many different ideas. We’re trying to think of philosophy as a discipline in a much more expansive way,” Umbaugh said.

Student involvement was on display, as philosophy students Luke Adams and Aidan Brown spoke about Marxism. The pair encouraged audience members to participate in community potlucks that discourage fascism in rural communities, including Festus. The Community Liberation Network can be found on social media, @communityliberationnetwork.

“The goal of these is not just to walk up to people and be like, ‘hey guess what, everybody you should start screaming,’” said Adams. 

Instead, they work firsthand with the homeless population to provide aid. Community gatherings encourage conversations about financial freedom, unionizing and voter education.

“I thought Luke and Aidan’s presentation was very lively and engaging and really got people to think,”  philosophy professor Donald Morse said.

Morse founded the conference in 2001.

“It was something a lot of students were interested in. I was a relatively new hire at Webster, I started in 2001, and it was something I was used to having in graduate school at the University of Oregon. I thought it might be a good thing to do here at Webster,” he said.

Though Morse brought the conference to Webster, the idea has now spread to another school in the area. Student of philosophy at Washington University, Brett Fabregas, hopes to bring the conference beyond Webster. 

“I think that the ability to express your ideas in a way that allows others to comment and criticize can allow you to further develop yourself,” Fabregas said.

The conference provided attendees with the 2023 edition of the Sophia, a collection of philosophical ideas. More about Webster’s philosophy program and previous conferences can be found on the department’s website. 

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Lauren Brennecke
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