Philosophy major wins first Duncan Award

Award honoring faculty member given for best philosophy paper

Philosophy major wins first Duncan Award

Photo by Submitted

When UW-Eau Claire senior philosophy major David Strenke found out he won the newly established Duncan Award for his Seminar in Problems of Philosophy paper, he couldn’t have been more surprised.

“I’m more of a sit in the back row and listen kind of guy so I never thought I would get something like this,” Strenke said.

The Duncan Award recognizes outstanding research and writing skills within the field of philosophy. Strenke received the award for his paper, “The Role of Analogy in Inference to the Best Explanation.”  The research paper was a requirement for his philosophy seminar class this past fall, which all philosophy majors must take in order to graduate. All members of the class were required to write a research paper.

“I’ve never taken a seminar class before so I wasn’t sure how it would go,” Strenke said. “But once I got into the writing, I really enjoyed the process. My paper was about 25 pages, but I could have added more.”

This academic year, philosophy and religious studies professor Brian Woodcock taught the course and chose Strenke’s paper as the winner. Woodcock chose the broad topic of everyone’s paper, but the students were able to narrow their subject even further.

“It was interesting to see the various topics they came up with and some of the insights they made,” Woodcock said. “There were cases where I gleaned insights I hadn’t had before.”

Woodcock said Strenke’s paper was impressive because of his strong thesis supported by good examples.

“David wrote on the role of analogy and how it can be used for constructing theory,” Woodcock said. “He illustrated that point with two really good examples, Darwinian theory of evolution and the asteroid hypothesis about the extinction of the dinosaurs. And who doesn’t like to read about dinosaurs?”

Strenke received a certificate for academic excellence and $100, funded by the creator of the Duncan Award, Edward Beach.

Beach is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies who retired last spring. The Duncan Award honors philosophy professor Diane Moira Duncan, who taught at UW-Eau Claire from 1999 to 2003, and passed away in 2009.

Beach worked closely with her and wanted to honor her accomplishments and unique teaching style.

“She was a very creative and lively professor who got students involved,” Beach said. “Philosophy students, and even many people in other disciplines, responded to her teaching approach.”

Beach said Duncan had several specialties, including European and feminist philosophy, and she encouraged many female students to find interest in philosophy.  He also said she used literature in her classes.

“She bridged the gap between literature, psychology and philosophy,” he said. “It’s a fascinating way to look at philosophy and it really excited her students.”

Students enrolled in the seminar course every year will continue to receive the Duncan Award. Woodcock said the award is a good way to showcase philosophy majors’ hard work.

“In philosophical work, you don’t build a contraption, you don’t go out into the community and do work there,” he said, “so here was a nice way to recognize their kind of work.”