In 1930, Muhlenberg College was the first school to establish a chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, a philosophical honors society that focuses on promoting philosophical thought among undergraduates.
The nationally recognized organization came to Lehigh’s campus in 2013 after gaining approval from the 200 nationwide chapters, and has since been a means of promoting academic philosophical inquiry and developing a philosophical community.
The group is characterized by the Greek expression, “The honor of those who love wisdom.”
With currently 10 members enrolled and an induction ceremony being planned, Phi Sigma Tau has doubled since 2013 and plans to continue strengthening its recruitment efforts throughout the year.
For treasurer Ryan Spirko, ‘16, who is pursuing a minor in philosophy, Phi Sigma Tau has played an influential role in his college career since his involvement as a sophomore.
“It’s a niche club that encourages you to think about things in a new way, with general inquisitiveness that can apply to work experience, academics, everything,” Spirko said. “Beyond our interest in philosophy we share a general outlook on life and are easy to get along with.”
Despite the sense of camaraderie among the group, Spirko admits there is a lack of awareness on behalf of the student body. As a result, he says much of this semester will be more focused on broader outreach through philosophical discussions and other activities such as posting thought-provoking sticky notes around campus.
Providing exposure to students in philosophy classes is another way Phi Sigma Tau spreads the word.
For its faculty adviser professor Robin Dillon, a common misconception regarding philosophy is the detachment that students perceive it to have from their lives.
“Some think it’s esoteric and has no relevance to their own lives, but it’s relevant to everyone’s lives and everyone’s future plans,” Dillon said. “Members are from different colleges (and) different years, but what brings them together is that they all love philosophy.”
In spring of 2015, Phi Sigma Tau officers helped organize the first ever undergraduate ethics symposium which gave students across the university the opportunity to present their work on any ethics-related topic. The event was sponsored by alumni donors and the three colleges, and the honor society’s officers served as judgesthe event’s cash prizes, which acknowledged the importance of the projects and served as incentive for involvement.
“Although we are new and relatively small, I believe that PST has at least fostered some awareness of the philosophy department through our major event in the spring — the Ethics Symposium,” wrote vice president Daniel Leal, ’16, a philosophy and international relations double major, in an email. “Last year we had a great turn out and I’m excited to see what direction it will lead towards.”
According to Leal, the group will also be utilizing social media and handouts as a form of marketing.
“One of our goals is to break down the stereotypes of what philosophy actually is, and how it plays a part in not just daily life, but almost every academic course of study,” he wrote. “It is also a great outlet for those who are interested in philosophy to have conversations with other like-minded people.”
Initiation ceremonies take place twice a year and eligible members must have taken at least two philosophy courses, be a second semester sophomore in the top 35 percent of their graduating class and have an overall GPA of B+ or higher.
“It’s not just another credential on your resume, but it’s a social community,” Dillon said. “All of the students who have been eligible who have contacted us have become members or are in the process of becoming members.”
Up until now the organization has been meeting every other week to organize campaign logistics to fulfill nationals’ requirements, but plans to solidify the year’s activities within the next few weeks.