PROFile: Philosophy is?

Carolyn Garland, contract instructor, philosophy department, U of W

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During her undergrad, Carolyn Garland – contract instructor for the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) philosophy department – was initially divided between two fields of study.

“My first few years as an undergrad, I was very torn between ‘science-y’ classes and more creative-writing, liberal-arts classes,” Garland says.

“What I found about philosophy was it sort of let me combine the things I liked about each field into one class.”

With science, Garland appreciated learning precise methods of investigation for the purpose of understanding reality. But she equally enjoyed the more creative aspects of her English courses. Fortunately, Garland found a happy medium in philosophy, where she was able to unite her analytical thinking and creative ingenuity into a single critical process.

Now, as an instructor, Garland is met with some exceedingly tough philosophical questions. Specifically, she mentions how her students will ask her to define philosophy.

When asked that all-too-complicated question, Garland quotes an answer she heard from a fellow educator in a teaching group she’s a part of.

“I say, ‘philosophy is questions that five-year-old(s) might ask, approached with the rigor of professional lawyers.’”

For Garland, this captures the spirit of her field: digging into seemingly basic understandings and assertions that are often glossed over and arriving at a more well-rounded conclusion.

That kind of work is no small feat, but it’s what Garland is thrilled to do.

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“Being confused is, a lot of times, a gift.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“Spend time with family, watch some hockey and some baseball.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I’ll give a philosophical answer: I would like to be able to causally interact with abstract concepts, as opposed to concrete particulars.”

What is the philosophical concept that stays with you all the time?

“One thing I think I’m constantly coming back to is this question ... of how much (of) who I am and what I am is determined by the people around me.”

Published in Volume 76, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 4, 2021)

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