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  • Synopsis of the Eighth Annual Building Bridges:East and West Graduate Student Philosophy Conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, November 4 and 5, 2005
  • Joshua P. Kimber

The Eighth Annual Building Bridges: East and West Graduate Student Philosophy Conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) was held on November 4 and 5, 2005. Nine students representing nine different universities presented papers over the two days of the conference. Since its inception in 1998, the Building Bridges conference has provided an annual opportunity for graduate students to present their research on several different comparative themes in philosophy. The context of comparison for the 2005 conference, as indicated in its title, was East and West.

Professor Philip J. Ivanhoe was the keynote speaker, and his presentation, titled "The Values of Spontaneity," was a highlight of the first day of the conference. Professor Ivanhoe began by making a distinction between two senses of spontaneity generally present in Western writings, which he referred to as "untutored" and "cultivated" spontaneity. He aligned these two senses of the term with Daoism and Confucianism, respectively, and sought to demonstrate the ethical value of spontaneity within these traditions. "Untutored" spontaneity, which characterizes the notions of wuwei and ziran in Daoism is not something that is acquired. It is rooted in one's inherent nature and is more effectively enhanced by the removal of impediments to its realization than by learning. "Cultured" spontaneity, on the other hand, presupposes a disposition that is acquired through appropriate enculturation. It is exemplified in the rituals and rites of Confucianism. In both cases, spontaneous activity consists of participation within a greater scheme, whether nature or culture, and it is in such spontaneous participation that one may experience greater significance in one's actions, "metaphysical comfort," and joy.

Through his comparative approach, Professor Ivanhoe contributed to an enriched understanding of the value of spontaneity while illuminating significant aspects of Daoism and Confucianism. The student presentations that spanned the two days of the conference were characterized by a similar use of comparison. A variety of topics were addressed from property ownership to the locus of moral responsibility, and in each case the topic of investigation was developed by way of an appeal to Eastern and Western philosophical perspectives. Facets of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Russian thought were brought into dialogue with philosophers of the West from Aristotle to Sartre. [End Page 707]

One theme that became evident in the different presentations and discussions that followed was the role and importance of composure. Each of the presentations exposed valuable, yet distinct ways of understanding how one may relate to history, others, the world, or, more generally, one's greater context. There was a common interest in clarifying what kind of composure is called for in these different approaches to relationality. In the separate papers and in the ensuing questions, there was an attempt to understand better how these diverse perspectives can inform one's actions and contribute to the realization of greater benefit, value, and significance in one's life. These considerations contributed not only to the building of several comparative philosophy "bridges" but also to an appreciation of the value that traversing such bridges may offer.

On a more aesthetic note, Carbondale and the surrounding area offered a spectacular sense of the season marked by beautiful fall foliage and large, calm lakes. The SIUC campus was blanketed with colorful leaves and swept with cool breezes. This autumn environment contributed a sense of seasonal charm and aesthetic character that further enhanced the overall experience of the conference.

Even more inviting than the environment were the many people who made the conference a success. The 2005 conference coordinator, Travis Smith, and the other SIUC graduate students who shared their homes, culinary skills, and conversation effectively conveyed a genuine sense of hospitality that made the many people who traveled to Illinois from around the country feel welcome and comfortable.

Several of the practices that contributed to the success of the Building Bridges Conference have since contributed to the structure of the CrossCurrents Graduate Student Conference that will be held at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa on March 16 and 17, 2006. The CrossCurrents theme for...


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