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Alicia Juarrero

Born in Cuba, Alicia Juarrero received her BA, MA and Ph.D. in Philosophy from theUniversity of Miami (Florida). She has taught at Prince George's (MD) Community College since 1975, and was the first community college professor to receive a Presidential appointment to the National Council on the Humanities, the governing board of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She serves as Chair of the NEH's Committee on Federal/State Partnership, which oversees the $32 million that the NEH distributes annually among the 56 State Humanities Councils. Dr. Juarrero lectures widely, both in the U.S. and Europe, and her many articles on action theory have appeared in prestigious professional journals, including The Review of Metaphysics and The Texas Law Review. Her book Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System will be published by NUT Press in October, 1999. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Juarrero considers herself a teacher, not a therapist. She believes, with Socrates, that her role is to serve as midwife to the student's learning and renewal process. To that end, she has found that philosophers of the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods (particularly Aristotle, Epictetus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Seneca) and the philosophical framework of contemporary complexity theory elicit the most personal resonance with students. The virtues-based ethics of the classics have much to teach us about our connectedness to others. And the healing value of Stoicism is not new: from turn-of-the-century European authors to the testimony of Vietnam War POW'S, its benefits have been widely reported.

On the other hand, Aristotle and Ilya Prigogine may seem to be strange bedfellows; but they are not. Unlike modem philosophers from Descartes to Kant who think of human beings as isolated atoms-- philosophers, incidentally, whose conceptual framework our culture takes for granted -- both Aristotle and complexity theory take temporal and contextual embeddedness seriously. Complex adaptive systems teach us that resilience is more important than stability: resilient organisms withstand perturbations, adapt, and survive. To do so, however, they cannot be separate and closed off from the world: they must be open to and interact with their environment. Instead of trying to find in life a certainty and a set of absolutes that don't exist (as the cognitive framework we have inherited from Plato would have it), the writings of Aristotle and Prigogine therefore teach us that we must embrace uncertainty and novelty.

Only in a complex world with room for chance can individuality and creativity arise and flourish. It is the appreciation of these gifts that some philosophies -- both ancient and new -can offer those minds and spirits looking for guidance with everyday personal problems.


 

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