First-Year-Experience Speaker

By Sarah Donofrio
      The First Year Experience Speaker Series hosted its first speaker of the spring semester on Wednesday, February 8th. The presentation was entitled “Stillness and Silence: The Beginning and the End of Academic Life” and was presented by Freshman Year Experience Teaching Fellow Carl Vater. Vater’s lecture engaged students by discussing new philosophical ideas in the context of the texts the freshmen class has studied in their Learning Communities.

      “The Freshman Year Experience Speakers are always interesting and they leave me with something to think about,” said freshman Mary Pergolini.
Vater started the lecture by talking about academic life, which he defined in terms of stillness and silence. Students engaged in the lecture by participating and asking questions pertaining to stillness in relation to academic life.
      The lecture proceeded with a discussion of bodily stillness. Students discussed various relationships between the body and mind, while discussing studying and the academic life. Through the discussion, the students recognized that a certain stillness is often necessary for thinking.
      “Plato tells us the soul reasons best when none of the senses are troubling it, neither hearing nor sight,” said Vater. “We are not at rest. We are not still. The body keeps moving us in so many ways.”
      Vater continued the lecture with a discussion about virtue. He referenced the Nichomachean Ethics, which freshmen read in the first semester in their philosophy classes.
      “Aristotle talks about desires. With virtue, I can desire the right amount in the right way,” said Vater.
      Despite attaining both stillness and silence, Vater described that more is necessary. Vater referenced a math example from the Catholic University of America Primer given to all freshman prior to orientation.
       “We begin from the things that we know, and move to the things that we don’t yet know,” said Vater. “In this proof, we start with what we know about isosceles triangles and angles, and move to the conclusion that any two sides of the triangle are always larger than the third side. That conclusion is absolutely stable.”
      The speaker also recognized that more questions always exist.
       “St. Augustine tells us that our heart is restless, and has no stillness, until it rests in God. God, like the conclusion, has this stability about him,” said Vater. “The goal of this academic life, that towards which we strive, is to be still and silent. To come up against this thing that is infinite and fall silent.”
       The speaker finished the event with a discussion on an excerpt from Descartes’ Discourse on the Method.
      “If we solve death, it seems like life becomes the problem. We don’t have any rest. We don’t have any stillness. A long life can be fulfilling, but a short life, lived well, could be just as fulfilling,” said Vater, in conclusion.
      “[The speaker] definitely gave me a lot of food for thought, that’s for sure. And tonight’s topic was a lot about thinking, and at what point we are satisfied with our answers. I, for one, am very satisfied,” said freshman computer science major Ariana Johnson.

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