Exploring life's most fundamental questions is Richard Fumerton's specialty.
Philosophy has been his lifelong passion, and he believes that examining life through its lens benefits people in all fields and all walks of life.
"Philosophy has never stopped being fun for me," he says.
Fumerton, the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Philosophy at the University of Iowa, will give the 33rd Annual Presidential Lecture, “No Harm, No Foul: In Search of a Principled Defense of Freedom,” at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, in the fourth floor assembly hall of the Levitt Center for University Advancement.
Fumerton received his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1974, also in philosophy. His research has focused mainly on epistemology—how we know what we know—but he has also published books and articles on metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of science, value theory, and the philosophy of law.
Fumerton has received the UI’s M.L. Huit Award for Excellence in Teaching, the UI Collegiate Teaching Award, and the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence. He was also awarded a Canada Council Fellowship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and has served as both chairman of the Department of Philosophy in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and as president of the UI Faculty Senate.
We caught up with Fumerton to discuss the upcoming lecture, as well as his research.
Without giving too much away, what can people expect from your lecture? What do you hope people take away from your lecture?
It's going to be a talk in political philosophy. A topic people in this country, and many people elsewhere, are interested in is freedom. For a very long time, philosophers have been trying to find a principled way to decide what people should be free to do without interference by others. In my talk, I'm going to critically evaluate a prominent attempt at creating such a principle.
What inspired you to explore your particular area of research?
My interests in philosophy are fairly broad. My interest in political philosophy, specifically, is relatively recent and I've done a lot of my research in metaphysics and epistemology. I loved the first philosophy class I took in college. It was engaging, and I loved the give-and-take of the arguments. Even after finishing my B.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy, and becoming a professor, it never stopped being fun. If work is supposed to be something that you don't enjoy doing, then I feel I've never worked a day in my life.
What's been most rewarding about your work over the years?
Former students of mine will come up to me out of the blue and bring up a lecture they really enjoyed or got something useful out of, and it means a lot to me. Over the years, it's easy to become cynical and wonder if you're really making any impact at all. I was in Manhattan visiting my son, and while I was walking down the street, someone pointed and stopped me. It was a student of mine from 20 years ago who remembered a class of mine. We had a wonderful conversation. I'll never forget that.
What does it mean to be selected to give the presidential lecture?
It is a tremendous honor. I enormously appreciate that people think well enough of me to invite me to do this, especially at a university that has so many faculty members accomplishing so many great things.