Philosophy Revisited: New Professor Questions Old Narratives

Professor Alex Adamson

The main reason Alex Adamson, a new assistant professor of philosophy, chose to work at Babson College is one that most entrepreneurs would immediately understand: freedom.

“Babson stood out to me because of the freedom of what we can teach and the support of our research,” said Adamson, who uses they/them pronouns.

And, while entrepreneurs often savor the freedom of where, when, and how they do their work, Adamson said their freedom has more to do with what kind of philosophies they can teach and what sources they are able to use. Adamson said when they taught at other liberal arts institutions, they were very limited in terms of curriculum.

“I was looking at the course offerings here, and none of them were boilerplate,” Adamson said. “Everything was so clearly crafted by an individual who was putting forward what they thought was important for students to learn, and that’s definitely similar to my approach to teaching.”

Adamson utilizes primary sources that highlight the multitude of influences behind types of philosophical thought and famous philosophers. French philosopher René Descartes, for example, had a variety of highly influential sources which aren’t often discussed.

“A lot of textbooks are very one-dimensional,” Adamson said. “You don’t find out that Descartes was reading Mexican logicians during his studies, you don’t learn about people in context.

“I felt like my style of teaching and my approach to course development just fit in with the profile of how other faculty work, at least in the humanities side,” Adamson said. “There’s not that many schools that give you that much freedom.”

Decolonial Philosophy

The teaching highlights Adamson’s training in decolonial philosophy, which revisits stories around previously established philosophical lessons and philosophers and examines whether race, gender, or other global influences played a role that so far hasn’t been reflected.

“Babson stood out to me because of the freedom of what we can teach and the support of our research.”
Alex Adamson, assistant professor of philosophy at Babson College

Adamson—one of 19 new faculty members at Babson this academic year—hasn’t wasted time when it comes to asking students to question those narratives, even in their first introduction to philosophy class.

“One of our projects was looking at a scientific discovery and what are the epistemological foundations that made it possible. Whose knowledge did it build on, and how did it challenge paradigms?” Adamson said. “Usually, we learn about some hero that just discovered something, and it’s actually an impoverished understanding of reality and it’s tied to all these prejudices that just aren’t true to how science or philosophy really works.”

Adamson said it has been a pleasant surprise watching Babson students, who are often drawn to the College because of its entrepreneurial reputation, respond to the humanities-focused class.

“I found the students to be just awesome here and super engaged. I was worried they were going to treat my class like just a requirement, but they’ve been super into it,” Adamson said. “I think it’s because they’re seeing that it’s a mode of thinking that is useful for their other classes, and also just for their life.”

Learning Curve

As enjoyable as crafting new curriculum and interacting with Babson’s students and faculty has been, Adamson faced some challenges as a transgender person relocating to Massachusetts from Michigan in August.

Alex Adamson, new assistant professor of philosophy, plays upright bass as a hobby.
Alex Adamson, assistant professor of philosophy at Babson College, plays upright bass as a hobby.

Massachusetts, long identified as a liberal, inclusive state, charges $165 just to file for a name change petition. The fees and charges continue as the petitioner must publish their petition in a local newspaper at their own expense, or apply for a court waiver. State officials also require a criminal records check if someone wants to change their first name. Once the petitioner gets through what could be a months-long process to get their name changed, they can start the process of changing their name on their state driver’s license, according to Massachusetts law.

The bureaucratic hurdles come as Adamson is already dealing with the logistics of moving to a new state and starting a new job. “It’s a long process, and it’s not easy. It’s much easier for people to change their last name when they get married,” they said.

“I think a lot of the problems I’ve faced are because there were assumptions about what it was going to be like,” Adamson said, adding that members of the Babson community have been strong allies. “People don’t fully know all this, and I get it because it doesn’t affect them directly. And so, it’s just been a level of educating some people on certain things.”

The Babson community’s general eagerness and interest in learning is what has made Adamson glad they’re here. The strong respect for all teaching was on display at a Babson Faculty Research Fund discussion in early November that featured research on entrepreneurship as well as on the humanities.

“I was wondering how it was going to work to have these two talks together, and I was so impressed with the engagement on both sides,” Adamson said. “It just felt very collegial and people were so interested; there was a great energy about it.”

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