Sunday, April 29, 2007

Carlo Filice

Carlo Filice:
Passion for the Big Questions

By: Michael Reiff

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Enjoy the read about...Carlo Filice...below! Thanks for your readership!

Carlo Filice, current chair of the philosophy department at SUNY Geneseo, will instantly put anyone at ease. His personable demeanor is relaxed and natural, and his wide breadth of ideas concerning philosophical concepts quickly indicate his expertise and forward-thinking in the field. Filice has lived a complex life, and is constantly looking towards the future for new projects, ideas and ways to improve the lives of his students through expanding their understanding of the world around them.

Filice grew up in Italy in what he considered a “middle age setting;”as a boy he tended two or three goats. His family and neighbors were mostly illiterate, but understood the importance of education: he was sent to a country school at an early age. Filice noted that when he got older he was made to walk to a city school in Cosenza, a mile away, and the juxtaposition of city and rural life had an impact on him. This gave Filice an early extra perspective on the two cultures.

Growing up in the most southern tip of Italy in the town of Calabria, near Sicily, Filice quickly learned how to read and found a passion for Italian comic books, snatching scraps where he could to collect and read.

Filice began his love of philosophy when he attended high school in Chicago in the United States. While in Italy, Filice was on track to becoming an engineer. However, after taking a year of engineering classes in Italy, he moved to the United States to attend high school, where he was placed in an advanced English course. He remarked, “I don’t know why I was stuck in that class.” Still, Filice was not one for business or science courses, and so he took the English class which involved Shakespeare, poetry and existentialism. Through the later subject, Filice read such works as Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five. It was through this first English class that Filice began his interest in philosophy, which later developed into a passion.

From there, Filice continued reading the works of Camus, Sartre and Rousseau, engrossing himself in some of the biggest minds in philosophy. Upon going to college at Western Illinois University, Filice chose to double major in philosophy and English. Along with philosophical books, Filice loved novels. “I must have read more novels than most English majors,” he said. Filice remembered reading the works of Dostoyevsky, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.

After being turned down for masters programs at Stanford and Harvard, Filice remained at the Western Illinois University for another couple of years. He said that he didn’t get burned out from all of the work, and even went as far as acquiring a second Ph.D. in Italian Literature after having gotten his first in philosophy. Filice takes pride in the fact that throughout his college career he received assistantship positions to help him pay for college. Because of that work, Filice was able to finish his formal education debt-free.

Dr. Filice's Office in Welles Hall

Filice first received work at Western Illinois, then taught at Ithaca College in New York State, and then finally moved to Geneseo, where he has.been teaching ever since. “[Geneseo] is where my home is,” he said. Filice has taught at Geneseo for around two decades. His office plants, which he waters daily, have been with him just as long.

Filice currently teaches courses in Ethics, Eastern Philosophy, Humanities and World Religions. He noted that due to the preponderance of ethics classes he teaches, “I’ve become the primary ethicist, even though that wasn’t my initial specialization in philosophy.”

Filice decided to pursue his academic career in philosophy after he graudated because, “it’s the only field that tackles the big questions.” He professed a long standing love for those big questions, and understands that while many people may not agree on answers, philosophy still allows for the most direct route to obtaining illusive answers.

Currently, Filice is working on perhaps the biggest question of all: the meaning of life. He is organizing his ideas, and will soon begin working on a book on the subject, in addition to a planned Spring 2008 class addressing the issue. By that time, Filice hopes to have an introduction to the book written.

Other goals for Filice include trying to figure out what the correct ethical religious or cosmic view is, what the correct view of God is. “Nothing small, obviously,” he noted.

Filice's bookshelf, hidden in foliage
A constant goal for Filice in the classroom is to make students more aware of things outside their own interests, whether it is awareness of international political happenings, global religions, and the value of non-human things in nature. Filice said he’s concerned that as a society we are becoming completely absorbed in humanist accounts and neglecting other aspects of nature, which is leading us towards our current ecological disaster. Filice believes we are causing great harm to the planet, and hopes to raise students’ awareness of environmental issues.

He has a wide and varied mental library of ideas concerning everything in life that is still unanswered to humans. Concerning death, Filice believes that when one passes away, he or she gains the ability to view past and future lives. Another of his beliefs to which he is strongly committed is that a spirit is able to leave time to view these lives before the spirit is reincarnated,

Filice is also constantly considering issues of social and cosmic justice. He said he often wonders if the universe is just; if it is, as Filice believes is the case, it is because of reincarnation. Filice believes that without many lives in the course of a soul’s existence, life couldn’t be fair for everyone.

Past lives also feature heavily into Filice’s beliefs. Growing up in Italy, Filice does not know how he formed his proclivity towards reading and philosophy, since his family never encouraged such things when he was growing up. Filice believes that this personal inclination, when found in a culturally-deprived setting like the one he grew up in, is grounds for believing in past lives and reincarnation.

Filice said he’s also puzzled by the notion of what the basis of all value is. He is particularly interested in moral value: who counts or what counts is at the core of the universe. He personally believes that whatever has consciousness and feeling has value, and that whatever meets those two criteria should be respected.

Filice was originally raised Catholic, but as he grew he went through a period of non-belief. However, as his Catholic faith passed away, he was continually interested in the question of spirituality. Filice has taken a great interest in Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. He has taken courses in college on Buddhism and Christianity, and has continued to research the “big questions” concerning religion ever since.

A peak out Filice's office window
When addressing the myriad of religious beliefs that are in the world, Filice said he believes that Buddhist beliefs are most correct, with the possible exceptions of the Taoists. Filice believes that those two religions have this “upper hand” because they aren’t biased towards purely human issues, like Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs. Filice is concerned with how those religions have relegated nature to simply a tool for humans. “I think that’s one of the biggest value mistakes that our civilization has made,” he said.

Filice’s Value Theory dictates that we need to worry about how we treat things, such as plants, which he believes may have a “weird consciousness level.” He also said he believes that people should be vegetarian if they can.

The nature of consciousness also intrigues Filice. He believes the issue cannot be approached physically, as it isn’t simply a question of the brain’s physical matter.
“There are these interesting puzzles,” he noted. He believes that there are layers of questions that every person must answer. In his courses, Filice wants to convey that concept to students. “The world is full of mysteries,” he said, noting with some humor that, “I can only solve one.”

Filice also has a great deal to say on current social issues, particularly education and health care. While he was able to leave his higher education with no debt, he said he realizes that this is not easily done anymore. He said that thirty years ago higher education was more affordable in both the public and private sector; he remembers a time when the government would give out grants, not loans, to help students with their education. Forcing them to take out loans is a problem that Filice feels is something the government could alleviate, instead of spending its money on “crazy destructive things, like war.”

Another social issue Filice finds unsettling is the lack of universal health care in the United States, while other nations have proved that it can work. Filice feels that the government has made the security of many people’s lives more fragile than it needs to be in not providing health care to those who need it.

Filice feels that he is personally disciplined. “I have never missed class for any reason,” he said. He always completes the duties of department chair, and mentioned that he has never fallen asleep in class, over-slept a class, or missed one because he was sick. He also said that he has never sworn in his life.

Moving more towards the everyday aspects of life, Filice remarks about boredom with, “I don’t have enough time! I don’t know where people get the boredom idea.”

Filice lives with his wife, Karen Davis-Filice, in Livonia, where she is a reading specialist for 7th and 8th graders. Filice met his wife through a mutual friend shortly after he arrived at Geneseo. He said that they met by chance, and that “We have been happy ever since.” Karen brought her son into their marriage, and while initially there was a bit of stepfather-stepson friction, they have since become very close. Anthony is now a student at New York University, and is pursuing a degree in philosophy.

When Filice came to the United States, his parents followed suit and worked in Illinois until their retirement. They now are back in Italy where Filice feels they are happier. “It’s good for them, among their own people,” he said. Filice says he visits them in Italy at least once a year, and spends some summers in Rome teaching a Humanities course. His brother Fausto is a “big capitalist” who works in the wheat futures market, buying and selling the product with major conglomerates like Cargill and Archers Daniel Midland. Filice says that while he and his brother are different, his brother has read and understood the “lefty Marxist literature,” and plays the capitalist game with a sense of “irony.”

Filice is also an avid film fan. He loves the movies of not only the Italian masters Antonini and Bertolucci, but also current films like Crash and Babel. Filice feels attracted to the ensemble casts in these movies, with different worlds and lives being represented in the film. Other films Filice enjoys are As Good As It Gets, Amarcord (“the best Fellini film,”) and The Big Lebowski, which is also his brother’s favorite movie. He added that “some of Hitchcock’s movies were superior.”

Filice continues his love of reading by exploring many contemporary works. He said he is enamored with mystery novels, especially those written by Patricia Cornwell, which are forensic novels, or as he calls them, “dead people analysis.” However, Filice’s favorite author is Jane Roberts, who writes inspiring, cultish, upbeat, semi-Buddhist books that are concerned with making your own reality. “I read all kinds of non-mainstream things,” he remarked.

Filice is an avid soccer and tennis player. He plays both sports every week, along with a little weight lifting. He is also a basketball fanatic who loves to watch and discuss the March Madness season. He is a huge devotee of the World Cup, and watches “probably every game,” equating the event to “sports heaven.” He has even been to some World Cup games, and credits participation in sports with being one of the things that makes him a happy person.

In the realm of TV, Filice watches TheDaily Show and The Colbert Report, though he said he finds Jon Stewart’s style to be superior.

Filice loves music from around the globe. He listens to a wide variety of international flavors, including Spanish, French, Italian, Middle Eastern and African. He said he believes that there is a great deal of music to listen to outside of the Anglo-American world, and it’s unfortunate that so much of it goes unheard. Filice also enjoys the music of Leonard Cohen, a songwriter with a long and illustrious career. He said that he believes music is, “good for the soul.”

One of his favorite activites, he said, is gardening in his backyard. Filice said that some of the things that make him the happiest are watching things grow in the spring time, and viewing birds return from their winter migrations. “Seeing my family happy makes me happy,” he said. “Winning a couple chess games,” also is something he said he enjoys from time to time.

Filice also finds happiness in cooking. “I like to cook, I’m pretty good at it,” he said. Specializing in vegetarian cuisine, he has played with the idea of one day opening his own restaurant. Some of his favorite foods include lentil soups and pasta dishes, including ones made with asparagus, garlic, and olive oil sauce. “I like food that takes half an hour at most to make,” he said of his kitchen exploits.

Filice enjoys the privilege and free time of his professorship. “The gods smiled on me,” he said
when talking about his comfortable position as a professor and the free time to read and think that comes along with it. He takes the bureaucratic tasks of his department chair position seriously, although he remarked that he prefers teaching.

Filice’s outward demeanor is one of calm collectiveness. Part of his happiness, he said, comes from the fact that “I have fun with students!” Overall, “I have a naturally sunny disposition,” he said.

As a pacifist, his role models usually follow suit, and the people that he looks up to are those who help humanity. Filice mentioned that he greatly admires doctors like Paul Farmer, a man who has dedicated himself to helping people in Haiti. “Heroes are all over the place. “The Jesus/Gandhi types tend to be pacifist, doing good to others,” he said.

There are not many things that really bother Filice, but one that does is the neglecting of some of Jesus’ primary teachings. “I’m really disappointed that teachings of Jesus regarding non-war, non-violence, not being selfish with wealth, anti-wealth, private possessions, have been ignored. That part of the message in the Christian world has been completely shunned, ignored,” he said.
In the same vein, hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty bother Filice a great deal.

As an example, Filice brought up the letters of Paul found in the New Testament. In them, Paul says things about man’s status above women, using one of the creation stories from Genesis as proof. Filice is quick to point out that there are, in fact, two creation stories. Paul’s disregarding of the story where they are made at the same time, in God’s image, is what Filice considers intellectual dishonesty made worse by its influential status in the world.

At the same token, Filice believes there is an aspect of intellectual dishonesty in the world of journalism. The things that are not said by big media outlets like The New York Times and Newsweek, are what Filice considers examples of this. Filice feels the media does a particularly poor job in covering the status of the poor people in places like Central America, Africa and India. Filice said that “most human beings are living in just terrible conditions,” but there’s almost no discussion of that between the big media sources. He believes that the suppression of crucial information is a form of dishonesty.

The media suppressions of political theorist and U.S. government-critic, Noam Chomsky are also some things which bother Filice. A lifelong devotee of the influential figure, Filice has a hard time understanding why one of the most-respected intellectual voices in the world has not been invited by outlets like CNN to discuss his ideas and add perspectives to discussions. Filice believes that, “it’s an embarrassment.” that in the free speech capital of the world a figure like Chomsky is shunned.

The media still plays a crucial role, however, in the daily aspects of his life. Every morning, “I wake up, I have my soy milk and cereal and coffee, and I read internet papers, like the Christian Science Monitor,, and sometimes The New York Times, and The National Review,” he said.

Filice said he hopes that students come away from his courses with, “skills that all of us in philosophy try to make students better at,” like critical reading and intensive thinking. He said that through his classes, he works towards enlarging his student’s perspectives. He has a strong conviction that, “there just isn’t enough global awareness” in our culture today, and he is working to change that.
Joseph, Dr. Filice, Michael Reiff (Team VIP)

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Carlo Filice
Professor and Chair
SUNY Geneseo
Department of Philosophy