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Steven Schoonover, Ph.D.

Steven SchoonoverVisiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Hollenbeck Hall 308

I finished my Ph.D. at Michigan State University in December 2015 where I specialized in Ethics and International Development and have now returned home to Ohio after teaching for three years at St. Cloud Technical and Community College in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I read a great deal in a variety of areas, attempting to focus on traditional problems which (re)appear in new ways. Old questions like "How ought one live?," "What sort of life is a good life?," or "What is harm?" have reemerged with contemporary flavor within the post-Cold War triumph of global capitalism. Ethics of international development looks at, among other things, how questions of right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice take shape within domestic and global systems. We ask about the principles by which institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, or the International Monetary fund ought to operate. We ask how entitlements and duties ought to be thought about and distributed within societies and across the planet. We try to hear our critics.

My long study of ethical responsibility has recently prompted me to explore its ground in the old problem of what it means and whether it is possible for human beings to will and act freely. Again, this traditional topic has taken new shape in a world of neuroscientists like Sam Harris and Benjamin Libet who tell us that human freedom is an illusion; that what appear to us as choices we control are in fact occurrences which follow deterministically from a mixture of our brain chemistry and our environmental stimuli. Human beings are not, a new chorus loudly proclaims, in the driver's seat! But if we cannot make coherent sense of how human beings control our own decisions and acts, then in what sense can we be morally and legally responsible for our behavior? What exactly are we strange creatures? Are we really capable of the sort of self-control and autonomy which has since the European Enlightenment furnished our self-conceptions? Or, is the idea of free will yet another conceit condemned to the dustbin of history along with our pre-Copernican, pre-Darwinian certainty that humans occupy a special place in the universe?

Fully convinced that life is better when we nurture passion for exploring these and other "big questions" and finding myself revolted by the lack of educational opportunities in US prisons, I have begun devoting myself on weekends to co-teaching an introductory philosophy course through the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Using the juxtaposition of prose and poetry (Plato was wrong to banish the poets!), we explore central themes such as "What does it mean to be guided by reason?," "Do we need more or less common sense?," and "What does it mean to be educated?." Working with folk inside prison settings confirms my conviction that while the joy of philosophical life is fragile and must be daily renewed, there is hope that it may after all be able to flourish where it belongs outside university walls and in the lives of everyday people.

I live in the wild and wonderful Yellow Springs with my son Biron who loves skateboarding and my partner Laura who likes to read Stephen King and tell me about her home country of Cameroon while sipping wine. I never finished Moby Dick and hope one day to change that sad fact.

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