Colorado College philosophy major Thomas Roberts ’17 and Professor of Philosophy John Riker co-authored an article that recently appeared in The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (Fall 2016, vol. 36, issue 4). The article, “Jonathan Lear’s Psychoanalytic Ontology,” is the result of a Colorado College collaborative faculty-student research grant, which in turn was part of a larger grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supporting CC’s Center for Immersive Learning and Engaged Teaching.
The faculty-student research grant provided Roberts with the funding to spend the summer of 2015 conducting research in Chicago, and Riker gained a collaborator on the project. The bulk of the research and writing took place in Chicago, where Jonathan Lear is the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor at the Committee on Social Thought and in the Philosophy Department, and the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago. Much of Lear’s work involves the intersection of psychoanalysis and philosophy.
Riker and Roberts’ work already is garnering critical acclaim, with Robert Stolorow one of the leading psychoanalysts and philosophers in the country, saying the article “presents a wonderful and comprehensive account of the evolution and unity of Lear’s thought.”
“John’s openness to collaborating and co-authoring with me was one of the most deeply enriching experiences I've had at CC, and it helped to affirm my commitment to pursuing a career in academia after college,” says Roberts. Roberts, who recently was named a Fulbright semifinalist, hopes to study German Idealism at the Free University of Berlin.
Riker notes that Roberts truly was a co-writer, serving as much more than an assistant researcher. “While I had read the entirety of Lear's publications on psychoanalysis, I was rusty on a number of them. Tom read them all in a month’s time and was completely on top of them. So this was a true collaboration in which we each took responsibility for different sections and each corrected/enhanced the other’s sections.”
Roberts says his first job was to read the vast majority of Lear's canon — something on the order of seven books and several articles — during the first month or so of the summer. He and Riker would meet once or twice a week to discuss the material and begin brainstorming directions in which they could start to synthesize Lear's work.
“By the time I had read all of Lear's material, a basic overall structure had begun to emerge, so we began writing,” Roberts says. “Our strategies for writing were several. For a couple sections, we would both write a version in our own voice and then sit down together to synthesize them into a cohesive whole — collaboratively picking and choosing sentences from each of our respective sections. However, we later started to each take on individual sections which we felt more comfortable tackling on our own.”
Roberts, who is a German Studies minor, wrote the sections on Wittgenstein and the linguistic construction of socially recognized meaning since he had just read Lear’s work on those subjects. Riker, who has been conducting research on psychoanalysis and ethics for years, wrote the section that relates Lear’s ethical framework to the tradition of ethics in Western philosophy as a whole. “We would always send each other our sections and give each other extensive feedback,” Roberts says.
Riker and Roberts also were able to sit down with Lear himself at the University of Chicago and ask him several questions, including ones about how he perceives his work’s relationship to Nietzsche's concept of self-overcoming.
“We had begun to develop a direction of synthesis that made use of Nietzsche and Emerson's poetic renditions of the perpetually deepening ethical human spirit,” Roberts says. “Among the issues raised by this direction was what John and I perceived to be a foregone normative judgment in favor of complexity with respect to the human psyche, which we did not see explicitly addressed in Lear’s work. Fortunately, Lear was able to himself confirm such a positive valuation of complexity as it relates to human ethical flourishing, and we were able to use insights from this conversation in the crafting of our article.”
“It was a great experience for both of us and the article is far better than if I had tried to write it myself,” Riker says. “Indeed, without Tom's wanting to collaborate on a philosophical production, the article never would have been written, although I had thought about it for years.
“It was CC at its best — a really bright student with fabulous initiative contacting a professor and then working together to produce what I think is a fabulous article of some importance,” Riker says.