Philosophy professors and their guests don’t know what to expect during any given Philosophy Slam to which they play host, and that creates the beauty and intrigue of the Slams. Free-wheeling and say what’s on your mind.
The Slams, which began more than a decade ago, are held three times per semester with one of the JU philosophy professors or a designated presenter, which have included internationally known philosophers and authors, leading discussion on a variety of topics at the popular get-togethers.
For Dr. Scott Kimbrough, professor of philosophy, chair of the Division of Humanities and outfielder for the Westside Giants in the July 4 throwback baseball game played in Springfield where players use 1920s equipment, the Slams are but one facet of his work life.
Of course he teaches, but he also is an accomplished author and presenter of things philosophical, involved with a variety of events and groups throughout the community.
He has been active in the Florida Philosophical Association serving as president in 2013. He has been published at least 12 times on an array of topics, including the philosophy of language, Descartes’ philosophy, philosophy of emotion and his article “On Letting It Slide” was chapter one in the anthology Bullshit and Philosophy.
In addition to his writing, Kimbrough has given dozens of presentations throughout the country including locally to the Jacksonville Free Thought Society, most recently (last June) on “Can Moral Reasoning Rise Above Emotion?”
The Slams, though, are one of the key components of a quite lively three professor department, Professors Erich Freiberger and Matt Groe (both of whom also have presented to the Jacksonville Free Thought Society) join Kimbrough, and came about in 2005 when Freiberger, with whom Kimbrough has worked since 1998, and University of North Florida professor Ellen Wagner collaborated on the idea.
“They began at the Fuel Coffeehouse in Riverside and were held at various sites off campus during the first decade,’’ Kimbrough said. About two years ago, the Slams moved on campus to the River House to give more students the opportunity to attend.
The Slams always have been held in an establishment with a bar and that’s by design Kimbrough, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
“That’s a Greek tradition,’’ he said. “It is free-wheeling and we want people to feel comfortable. There’s always lively debate.’’
It also has been tradition that the Slams are open to anyone in the community and prior to moving on campus there was nothing unusual about people wandering in to participate. That includes one fellow Kimbrough remembers who got particularly wound up a few years back.
“When we were in Five Points, we had one guy come in and began making a point and by the time he was done he was doing a nuclear bomb dance,’’ he said. “You never know what people are going to say and that’s part of the fun of it.’’
Another beauty of the Slams are the topics as virtually anything has been up for discussion through the years.
This semester alone renowned philosopher/author Dr. Christopher Phillips has led discussion on what it means to act your age and prior to that “Analyzing the Gun Debate’’ was discussed. Upcoming Nov. 15 will be Post-Mortem: The Media and the 2016 Election with Professor Keith Saliba leading discussion which is free and open to the public.
In part because of the topics, through the years, attendance at the Slams has remained relatively steady and that helps Kimbrough, who married his high school sweetheart, Tonia, and has two kids, Emi, a future JU student, and Cal, work toward one of the event goals.
“We want to show students people are interested in philosophic questions and this also gives a chance for students to speak in public,’’ he said. “The Philosophy Slams give people a voice; we don’t want it to feel like a class.’’
– Jim Nasella