Rebekah Tobler, the vice president of the Honors Student Council, introduced Phillips on Jan. 26 and gave the audience the definition of “rad,” as is customary for any RAD lecture.
Phillips began by introducing himself and giving the audience a brief explanation of what he was going to cover in his lecture. He first addressed the issue of defining Liberal Arts by providing seemingly contradictory examples from figures like Benjamin Franklin and Martha Nussbaum.
He moved on to the issue of defining the word “practical.” After starting with a dictionary definition and modifying it until he reached an appropriate conclusion for the context of education, Phillips proposed that the idea behind the word “practical” is along the lines of aiming for or having the goal of a tangible payoff.
“It seems like this is a much better analysis of practicality, and in fact I think it’s probably the best we’re going to get,” Phillips said. “But I’m going to suggest that this is not how we should think of our educational activities.”
Phillips then used Google X as an example of something “impractical” that has enormous tangible payoffs.
“That (Google X) is impracticality at its best, and it’s producing some of the coolest stuff,” Phillips said. “So this is why I think that impracticality is, in its own sense, much better off.”
He also proposed that philosophy, as an illustration of a Liberal Arts subject, is both practical and impractical, but is still a valuable academic pursuit.
“People who are narrowly trained in the sciences without that background in the humanities, without that sort of twinge of impracticality, they could not conceptualize the same kinds of things that we do today,” Phillips said. “Humanities students are aware of looking at things in different ways. Dr. Bishop (for example) is constantly forcing us to rethink the way we look at film and literature and anything else.”
To conclude his lecture, Phillips discussed the fact that Liberal Arts degrees are “freeing” because they are not as limiting as vocational training degrees can be. He added that this freedom comes with the responsibility of making a decision as far as what to do with a Liberal Arts degree, which frequently causes discomfort among Liberal Arts students.
Kyrsten Lund, an SUU student, said she enjoyed the lecture because it positively reflected her decision to be a Liberal Arts major.
“It really made me feel like my choice of a degree is more worthwhile than a lot of people often think it would be,” Lund said. “I’m not going to put myself in any boxes, so I think this education is fruitful for me.”
Kyle Bishop, an associate professor of English at SUU and director of the Honors Program, said he hopes that students gained confidence by attending Phillips’ lecture.
“I think that students who really want to study the Liberal Arts are sometimes anxious because of the job market, and perhaps because of negative pressure from friends and family, and maybe this lecture gave them personal reassurances, but also maybe some ammunition to use against those that criticize their choices,” Bishop said.
Tobler said that Phillips came to the Honors Student Council with the idea for his lecture, which was unusual.
“We always try to find people who are passionate about whatever they’re presenting on,” Tobler said. “It was very clear that (Phillips) was passionate about it.”
Phillips said he approached the Honors Student Council with this lecture idea to help Liberal Arts majors and demonstrate why the study of humanities is important.
“I suspect that there are a lot of students who are humanities students who are feeling kind of left behind,” Phillips said. “As I mentioned in the lecture, we have this push toward science, technology, engineering and math and I think it’s great but if we do that at the cost of the humanities I think it’s too large of a cost.”