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Philosophy professor from Kirkwood reveals meaning behind suffering

Prairie+Lights+bookstore+on+Monday%2C+Nov.+13%2C+2017.+%28David+Harmantas%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
Prairie Lights bookstore on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Prairie Lights bookstore on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Prairie Lights bookstore on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Sarah Stortz, [email protected]

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Scott Samuelson, a professor of philosophy at Kirkwood Community College, will appear at Prairie Lights tonight to read his latest book from the University of Chicago Press, Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering: What Philosophy Can Tell Us about the Hardest Mystery of All.

Samuelson’s passion for philosophy emerged when he was 16 years old; he came across the five proofs of God by St. Thomas Aquinas, immediately becoming fascinated with the topic.

“I thought that it was amazing that someone was trying to prove the existence of God,” he said.

Samuelson took his love for philosophy further by receiving a doctorate from Emory University. Shortly afterwards, he received a call about an open job position at Kirkwood. Around this time, he also had a wife and kids and saw Iowa City as the perfect community for his family.

“I was passionate to bring philosophy to people interested in it,” he said. “That’s why I love teaching at community college.”

In the book, Samuelson explores the concept of suffering, whether as minor as that from migraines or as serious as the Holocaust.

“They can lead us to philosophy because it leads up to the question of Why me?,” he said. “I look at [suffering] all sorts of different ways, but many of the common things is they all embody some kind of paradox. We can try to remedy the suffering, but we also have to face it and accept it.”

Although he looks up to several of the great philosophers, Samuelson said, he was particularly influenced by William James.

“He was a fascinating thinker, but he saw philosophy [as something] on how we could live a good life,” he said. “He wrote beautifully, and he wrote with a lot of humanity.”

Samuelson released his first book, The Deepest Human Life, in 2014.

“The first book is kind of general exploration of philosophy,” he said. “It tries to do so in that it relates to everyday people’s lives.”

The book won him the 2015 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, “an annual award aimed at identifying candidates who are in the early stages of careers devoted to the humanities and whose work shows extraordinary promise and has a significant public component related to contemporary culture,” according to the Hiett Prize website.

“With the Hiett Prize, the appreciation in the work was bringing philosophy to working-class students,” Samuelson said. “The book portrays me as a writer but also as a teacher.”

Outside of his work, he said, he has an affinity for cooking. For his next writing project, he believes can show how the culinary arts go hand-in-hand with philosophy.

“My conception of philosophy is focused on how we life,” Samuelson said. “What are we normally doing with our lives? We’re sitting down and eating. I think that with preparing good food, we can learn lessons on preparing a good life.”

For locals coming to the reading, Samuelson said he hopes they’ll look at suffering from a different point of view, despite finding them to be taken aback by the topic.

“The next things I find, they immediately want to talk experiences in their life,” Samuelson said. “I think we all have a hunger for finding the meaning of suffering.”

When: 7p.m., tonight

Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S.Dubuque St.

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