Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Meet USFSP’s youngest philosopher
“I was Steven my whole life,” Steven Starke said.
Starke is an adjunct philosophy professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP).
“Not Steve,” he said, “deliberately not Steve.” He has always been Steven because of a mental test he occasionally utilizes for life decisions. Starke asks himself, “If I ever had to shake the president’s hand and say this, how would I feel about it?”
Starke did not like the sound of introducing himself to the president as Steve anymore than introducing himself as part of a circus act. “ ‘Hello Mr. President, I am a professional unicyclist.’ You don’t say that,” said Starke.
Starke has recently finished his first year teaching philosophy at USFSP. Students may know him, if not for being in his Introduction to Philosophy class, for his distinctive clothes. Starke can often be seen sporting embroidered vests, vibrant bow ties, a pocket watch, old fashion hats, and a myriad of pins depicting anything from the American flag to a little-known science fiction villain. Starke offered up his time to Connect not to discuss Aristotle or Plato, but to teach USFSP about the man behind the bowler hat.
“I recently had the interesting epiphany that Tallahassee was my hometown,” Starke said. “I know it’s strange, one should know this right? But it came utterly without my permission, and it’s utterly uninteresting to me.”
Starke’s family moved to Tallahassee from Fort Myers when he was eight years old.
When asked what his childhood was like, Starke replied, “Apparently forgettable.”
Starke is a self-ascribed “nerd.” He was president of his high school chess club. “And I fit the profile,” he added.
When asked what his first experience with philosophy was, Starke explained that he had stumbled upon it.
“It is exactly the experience I expect most of my students to have,” Starke said. “I needed to fill a credit and philosophy sounded easy. It wasn’t, as it turned out.” Starke then pursued related classes with the intention of earning a philosophy minor to accompany his degree in mathematics.
“By the time I got my minor,” Starke said, “I figured out I was not a mathematician.” Starke planned to teach math before his realization.
“I knew I wanted to teach before I knew what I wanted to teach,” he explained. Starke tutored younger students while in high school. “It was wonderful,” Starke said. “Seeing the light on their face, when they got that ‘ah-ha’ moment. I loved it.” Starke switched his major to philosophy and kept a minor in mathematics. Luckily, Starke had stumbled upon a passion he would continue for years, and never plans to forfeit.
Starke earned an associate degree from Tallahassee Community College in 2009 and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with a minor in mathematics from Florida State University in 2011. He then earned a master’s degree in philosophy from USF Tampa in 2013, and a doctorate in philosophy from USF Tampa in 2016.
“I like my authors dead. If the author is dead they can’t mess with the world they’ve created.” -Steven Starke
“I actually enjoy doing philosophy, being a philosopher,” Starke said. “Or the few opportunities I have to be a philosopher. Because teaching philosophy and doing philosophy are two very different things, so I have to balance the two out a little bit.”
It was after graduate school that Starke’s style evolved into a unique gathering of sentimental, humorous, and old fashioned items. Being 26 at the time, Starke wanted to differentiate himself from his students.
When asked if he had any interesting hobbies, Starke paused before answering. “Probably not,” he said laughing. He went on to say that most of his spare time is dedicated to reading, an endeavor he recommends.
When asked what his favorite book is, Starke appeared perplexed. “Well what day of the week is it?” he said. For fun, he recommends The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.
When asked what every college student should read, Starke again looked stumped. “Just one book?” Starke asked. “Maybe The Once and Future King… but also possibly Starship Troopers. Because they do a good job of presenting a relatively complex and diverse set of ideas. I think it’s very helpful to look at these views and ways of life . . . Fiction cuts through all the practicalities of the real world.” Starke paused. “Maybe The Hobbit too,” he added. Past these genre preferences, Starke has another expectation.
“I like my authors dead,” Starke said. “If the author is dead they can’t mess with the world they’ve created.”
When asked about his favorite philosophical quotes, Starke pondered the question for a while. “What comes to mind is the epitaph on Kant’s grave,” Starke said. “Which I’m going to misquote.” Kant’s grave reads, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
Starke’s other recent favorite is one from Nintendo. “Nintendo the entertainment system,” Starke clarified. “Everything not saved will be lost,” Starke said. “It’s talking about game data,” he explained. “But it’s pretty applicable.”
When asked what his plans for the future consist of, Starke’s response was simple; continue to teach and work at universities.
“The classic line of someone in philosophy, what they want to do, is to write a memorable book,” Starke said. “Be the next Aristotle and Plato, that kind of thing. That’s not me. I know that’s not me, and I’m ok with that. But, I think it might be helpful for me to be in an administrative position . . . And if I can do that, at a department where somebody might be the next Heidegger, or Wittgenstein, or what have you. That, I think might be a good contribution to the profession.”
Information gathered from http://www.platoandaplatypus.com/books/