(Editor’s note: Image provided by Kenny Eliason at Unsplash.)
By Jake Moore
Each time Rose Donnelly walks up the “Hill” to Cherry Hall, she steps in the tracks of past masters.
Donnelly, a third-year philosophy major at Western Kentucky University, spends her evenings dissecting the works of Aristotle, Plato, Sartre and Camus with her arsenal of sticky notes, sipping kombucha and drowning out the world with her noise-canceling headphones.
Donnelly’s desk is a hodge-podge of inside jokes and priceless knick-knacks, including a painting of a crying Tetris block, a Minecraft Lego figure, and a Beanie Baby worm named after the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Donnelly hungers to learn, tackling unanswerable questions with tenacity of a detectve. Her bookshelves run the gamut — from Foucault and Hegal to Kant and Marx. Her goal is not to solve complicated logic puzzles or discover the meaning of life, but to constantly wrestle with her own world view.
“If there ever comes a day where I’m satisfied with philosophy, that’ll be the day where I walk away,” she says with a smile.
Donnelly gossips and jokes about the Greek philosophers as if they were annoying classmates. She has a list of favorite and hated figures, not unlike a sports fan.
“I love to hate Plato,” she says. “He’s one of those philosophers where his work is so well-known, everyone loves his work, and I make it my personal project to make fun of him for no reason because he actually is pretty good.”
Donnelly isn’t quite so forgiving of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
“I think Hobbes is kind of stinky,” she says. “He gives me weird vibes when I read him sometimes.”
Donnelly never intended to wind up on this path. She came to college seeking a biology career, armed with goggles and beakers instead of the works of Nietzsche.
A class called “Why Bad People Do Bad Things” opened her eyes to a world she never considered.
“I realized I wanted to at least make philosophy a minor,” she says. “And the more classes I took, the more I realized that this is what I want to do with my life.”
The young philosopher, recognizable by her emerald-rimmed glasses, post-ironic T-shirts and messy bun, faces an uphill fight.
Her field is only about 20% female, and she jokes, with a bit of truth, that it’s hard to compete in a discipline “dominated by dead white dudes.”
This didn’t stop her from trying.
In late February, Donnelly was chosen to present her thesis — on Aristotle on improper praise and blame with children — at the Kentucky Philosophical Association, an undergrad sharing her ideas with a room of heavy-hitters.
Having a strong female role model helped in her successful run through academia.
“It’s been very beneficial to work with my mentor, Dr. Audrey Anton, who is a woman in a male-dominated field,” she says. “Seeing how she thrives and overcomes hardships within a field that’s full of — don’t want to be too harsh here — privileged white dudes.”
Donnelly hopes her work can inspire similar young minds to take on the same ancient conundrums and problems and to paint a broader picture of what philosophy really is.
“Philosophy isn’t just Aristotle and Plato, Socrates and Descartes,” she says. “It’s also Simone de Beauvoir. It’s Dr. Susan Wolf. It’s Rose Donnelly.”