Third Annual BGSA Conference: on friendship

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The third annual BGSA conference included many speakers from across the country, including Dr. Ronna Burger, who gave the keynote address. Photo by Anthony Garnier.

On Jan. 27-28, the Braniff Graduate Student Association (BGSA) hosted scholars from around the country to discuss philosophy’s relationship to the idea of friendship.

According to the description, the conference’s goal each year is to “reflect the unique interdisciplinary nature of the Braniff Graduate School and its emphases on the Western tradition, classical education and contemporary scholarship.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Dean of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts, the Dean of the Constantin College of Liberal Arts, the University of Dallas English Department, the UD Politics Department and the Tocqueville Society.

Schools from all across the country were represented, including the University of St. Thomas, University of North Texas, U.S. Naval Academy, Tulane University, St. John’s University, Rowan University, St. Vincent College, Baylor University, Catholic University of America, University of Texas at Austin, the John Marshall School of Law and, of course, UD.

Many author’s papers were related to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, but other topics ranged from Leo Strauss to St. Augustine to Shakespeare.

After each address from a graduate student, a Braniff Graduate School professor or graduate student provided remarks in order to improve the paper.

Select papers will be printed in a special edition of the BGSA’s publication, “Ramify.”

The keynote speaker of the conference was Tulane University’s Catherine & Henry J. Gaisman Chair in Judeo-Christian Studies Dr. Ronna Burger, who gave an address titled “Aristotle on Friendship, Philosophy, and the Metaphysics of Eros.”

Burger took an unconventional approach to most ancient philosophy scholars.

Instead of pointing out the differences between the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, she found their common ground, believing their philosophies are not as different as many speculate.

Her address centered on the teaching of friendship and Eros in Aristotle’s “Ethics” and “Metaphysics” and their shared definitions of love and friendship shared with the works of Plato.

“Among the many debts that our philosophic tradition owes to Plato and Aristotle, one of the greatest lies in their reflections on friendship and love,” Burger said. “The centrality of this concern for the ancients, perhaps in contrast with the later philosophic tradition, brings them together. They seem to share the same set of assumptions about these two experiences.”

Plenary speakers included Dr. Erika Kidd, assistant professor of Catholic studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and Dr. Gary Borjesson, a psychotherapist and former faculty member of St. John’s University in Annapolis, Md.

Kidd’s address was entitled “Parting Words: Augustine on Language and Loss,” and it focused largely on books four and nine of the “Confessions” and Augustine’s reflections on intimacy.

“Augustine’s heart is in the foreground of the scene,” Kidd said. “What it tells us is that we are close [to each other] all the time inescapably close. Our hearts and Augustine’s heart are tangled up in affections.”

As Kidd would describe it, the central question of Augustine’s thought on intimacy is this: Can you love a God who lets you lose what you love?

For Augustine, that question was posed by the deaths of his friend and his son, Adeodatus, she claimed.

The memory of Adeodatus in Augustine’s mind, especially the continued recognition that during his time on earth they shared in God’s infinite affection and God’s love, prevented their separation in both life and death.

More precisely, the person of Christ proposes both the eternal and temporal solution to this difficult question.

“When the question is one of intimacy, it is not one of closeness.” Kidd said. “Our hearts are already not our own. Sometimes we worry that they might be too shattered to see beauty, but our memory pushes back into an awareness of how full they are. Christ unites beauty and fragility, as he is intimately present to the human heart.”

Borjesson’s address, entitled “Friendship and Psychotherapy: Reflections on Friendship’s Therapeutic Power,” took a slightly different approach.

His observation, as both a philosopher and a counselor, is that the role of friend and vocation of counselor are two tasks seeking the same teleological end.

“Like good friends, therapists pay attention to interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics,” Borjesson said. “As a therapist seeks to support the patient, so friends seek to better each other and themselves through their relations. As Aristotle points out, friendships amplify our will to live and act well, and of course to be happy … as a therapist seeks to support the patient, so friends seek to better each other and themselves through their relations.”

 

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