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Dr. Young Faculty Spotlight Q&A

Dr. Young

Dr. Benjamin Young is a permanent faculty member in the Honors College who has been teaching in the college since 2008. He takes pride in the fact he rarely teaches the same class twice; with new topics motivated by particular research projects and the interests and needs of the students and the college. He enjoys traveling and likes to put himself in situations in which his ideas, abilities, and expectations are at risk, and so from which he might learn better and more adequate ideas and skills. Check out the question-and-answer below to learn more about Dr. Young.

1) What is your educational/research background?
My graduate training was in Philosophy, with a focus on Hermeneutic Phenomenology and Ethics (esp. Eudaimonic Ethics). The first might be thought of, roughly, as the study of how perception is shaped by the ongoing processes of interpretation. Eudiamonic Ethics, on the other hand, aims to use reason to inform how we think about, and cultivate, the most choice-worthy lives. I also did a fair amount of reading in Philosophy of Science, Ancient Philosophy, and Aesthetics. My undergraduate degree is in Psychology.

2) What is your favorite area of study/research?
If I had to sum up all my studies into one question, it would go something like this, "how best to live as a human being?" Though I am often seduced into various technical fascinations, every enduring research project, for me, always finds its ultimate meaning and significance in the way that it informs this question. I am particularly interested in those aspects of our lives that are closest to us -- emotions, desires, memories, perceptions, habits, cognition, etc. -- and how these together work to shape our experience with others within various environments and over time. I am especially interested in our moral psychology, and how it is shaped by narrative, as well as in the vast variety of particular human cultures (present and historical) that compose the human repertoire of answers to the question "how best to live as a human being?", and how these answers shape (and are shaped by) the dynamic ecological and social systems of which they are a part.

3) How many years have you been working in the Honors College?
I first taught for the Honors College in 2008 and became a full-time faculty member in 2017.

4) What are all of the classes you teach in the Honors College?
I very rarely teach the same course twice. Most of my courses are motivated by particular research projects; so my courses have evolved in conversation with those interests and the particular needs of the college in a given year. The courses I have taught this past year include Citizen Scholar: Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Practical Wisdom, Self-Interpreting Animals: Knowledge, Meaning, and Purpose, Body Ethic: Practice, Place, and Community, and Doctor Who? Bioethics, Medicine, and the Human Condition.

5) What is your favorite class that you teach at the Honors College?
That is hard to say. It's a bit like asking "who is your favorite child?" I like them all in both similar and different ways. But if I had to pick one, it would be Love: Subversion and Redemption. Using some key ideas from the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard to frame the topic, and drawing on both a broad range of historical ideas and contemporary psychological and neurological research, the course investigates the experience of "falling in love" (with a person, idea, cause, vocation, etc.) and how the phenomenon shapes our interpretations and experience of ourselves, others, and the world. I think more than any other course, this thematic entry point to the broad range of interdisciplinary research projects that animate my thinking connects most with the underlying existential concerns that motivate my scholarly life.

6) What is one lesson you want all of your students to take away from studying your course?
That there is something miraculous in our ability to project the meaning of our lives as a whole, from birth to death—and that, moreover, we have the creative flexibility to image far beyond the span of our lives, stretching into a future that depends on our actions and a past that depends on our interpretations. And furthermore, that everything we do and think can be experienced as having infinite significance, even as we keep in mind that our lives are finite—and although the inevitability of death and loss that this sort of projection implies is the source of our anxiety, it is also the condition of possibility for a life of meaning and significance. I hope my students take away a desire and disposition to actively cultivate a meaningful life, with a deep concern for others, and for a durable and sustainable relationship with their environment.

7) What do you like about being a faculty member in the Honors College?
Working with students who have good intellectual and social habits. On a whole, Honors College students are not distinguished primarily by their intelligence, but rather, by their habits, curiosity, ambition, and confidence to take risks, to learn, and to effectively care for themselves, others, and their environment.

8) What activities do you like to do for fun when you're not teaching in the Honors College?
Travel. I like to put myself in situations in which my ideas, abilities, and expectations are at risk, and so from which I might learn better and more adequate ideas and skills. Travel—meeting new peoples and negotiating new environments—is the most important teacher I have had the privilege of learning from. The other great teacher in this regard is our relationships with others and the material world around us. When I am not teaching or traveling, I cultivate relationships and work with the material world around me to make music and art.

9) Are there any other insights about you that you would like to add?
If there is one idea that unifies both my teaching, research, and personal life, it is Play. Not play in the sense of entertainment or in trivial matters, but play in the sense of being wholly evolved and responsive to the situations within which I realize my life—and the opportunities for creativity, compassion, connection, refinement, clarity, and gratitude that it offers. I experience a great deal of gratitude from day to day for the opportunity to be a part of the Honors College, and to playfully inquire with such capable students and colleagues about the most important aspects of human experience.