Philosopher Interviews

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Philosophy Professor Joan McGregor

      Professor Joan McGregor specializes in applying moral and legal philosophy in a variety of areas including Bioethics, Sustainability Ethics and Food Justice. Her articles include “Eating Right: Eating Local or Global" and “Enhancing Humans and Sustainability: The Reunion of Bioethics and Environmental Ethics.” Her Dinner 2040: The Future of Food brought together philosophers, scholars, farmers, food systems workers, public health consultants, chefs, and food-related nonprofits to envision what the food system should look like in Maricopa County in 2040. She obtained her Ph.D. in Philosophy with a minor in Law from the University of Arizona in 1985. Students interested in questions like, “What is consent and how does it apply in medical and legal contexts?” or “What are the ethical considerations of Environmental Sustainability?” should read her work or consider taking one of the many courses which she teaches at ASU. And see this piece on her Future of Food project.

Interview by Christopher Horvath

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

According to Dr. McGregor, Applied Philosophy takes the distinctive tools of philosophy, including skills in analysis, definition, and conception, and uses them to solve real-world problems. Applied philosophy can be used to examine questions like, “How does Artificial Intelligence differ from Human Consciousness?” She contrasts this with theoretical or pure philosophy which deals mainly with a priori questions like “what is the nature of reality?” Applied philosophy can also include the application of a particular school of thought, like Utilitarianism, to specific issues or problems though this is not required.  

 

How does your research fit within applied philosophy, as you define it?  Tell us about this research?

Dr. McGregor has conducted research in a variety of areas. For instance, she examined the notion of consent in the context of rape law, arguing that our legal understanding of consent was bankrupt because it failed to map onto any meaningful moral understanding. This lack of understanding has led, in her opinion, to significant injustices in the legal treatment of rape, issues which can be corrected by applying a philosophical understanding of consent. More recently her research has focused on the moral dimensions of Food Justice and Food Sustainability. Viewing the issues through a philosophical lens leads to a very different perspective than that of a strictly practical approach to the problem of food production. Applied Philosophy can, as she says; “… make something transparent that was opaque before.”

 

Where do you predict your research field will be in five-ten years?

According to Dr. McGregor the issue of Food Justice and Sustainability will be an important area for applied philosophy in the coming years as this is a space where applied philosophy, until recently, had not been present. She also sees two other areas as in particular need of a philosophical approach. The first is gender relations, especially as they relate to the “#MeToo” movement. In addition, she sees a need for philosophy, especially Social Epistemology, to help improve our understanding of race relations. This is particularly important for understanding how and why the knowledge of groups, like Native Americans, is often discounted.  Finally, she has recently started work on examining the concepts of civil discourse and free speech and how it can be fostered in society, especially on college campuses. While she is not yet clear on where this work will lead she sees it as an issue of “applied virtue” and as crucial to combating the growing sense of tribalism dominating our civil and political discussion.

 

Does your work in applied philosophy require you to consult with or conduct research with faculty in other disciplines? Was it difficult to find experts in the field you wish to do applied philosophy in?

Most of Dr. McGregor’s work in applied philosophy has required her to work closely with faculty and other experts in various fields. She says that rarely does one do this type of work completely independently and that by-and-large she has been well-received by professionals in other disciplines. She noted that she is always careful to bring the philosophical tools and skills while leaving behind the didactic approach when working with non-philosophers. She cautioned that starting a sentence with “Kant said…”  is rarely well received!

 

Does it require you to be proficient in a field outside of philosophy – and how proficient do you have to be in your co-field? 

While her formal education focused on philosophy and law, Dr. McGregor’s work in applied philosophy has required her to develop a basic understanding of several other disciplines. For example, she worked for several years on the Human Genome Diversity Project which required her to learn about genetics, populations and genetic diversity. She says that she encourages all her students to take classes in the subjects in which they are interested in doing philosophy. Taking the time to study the relevant literature is also crucial.  She added that “there is nothing worse than being in some situation where some scientist, some social-scientist or some politician says, ‘well you just don’t know x’.”

 

What philosopher/philosophical School has been most influential in your research?

Dr. McGregor cites the work and approach of Joel Feinberg, who was her Dissertation Director, as a significant influence throughout her career. She also includes the work of John Stuart Mill, especially On Liberty, as influential in her thinking. Ultimately, she sees herself as a Pluralist, someone who approaches an issue from a variety of philosophical viewpoints as she works through a problem.

 

What would you say to a student who is considering studying philosophy to encourage them to do so?

Dr. McGregor emphasized the wide applicability of philosophy to other disciplines. Regardless of what field might interest a student the critical thinking and communication skills developed in studying philosophy are likely to serve them well. What’s more she sees no issue or problem which could not benefit from applied philosophy. In short, her advice would be to pursue the issues or topics about which one is passionate while making good use of the tools and skills philosophy can provide. 

November 7, 2018

 

Philosopher Shawn Klein on CNBCSports Ethicist Shawn Klein

Shawn E. Klein, Ph.D. specializes in ethics, popular culture, and the philosophy of sport. He is the editor of several books including Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlines (Lexington, 2016) Steve Jobs and Philosophy: For Those Who Think Different (Open Court, 2015), and Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts (Open Court, 2004). He is the general editor of Studies in the Philosophy of Sport, a book series from Lexington Books. Dr. Klein blogs and podcasts at SportsEthicist.com.

Do concussions make football immoral? Should steroids be allowed in sports? Do pro athletes make too much money? If you’re interested in questions like these, take Shawn E. Klein’s “Sports Ethics” class or read his written work!

Interview by Nathanael Pierce

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

In one sense, all philosophy is applied philosophy. Philosophy informs, influences, or impacts nearly every decision and action one takes – whether one is consciously aware of it or not. But more specifically, I define “applied philosophy” as the deliberate application of the ideas and concepts in philosophy to current issues, debates, or affairs.

 

How does your research fit within applied philosophy, as you define it?  Tell us about this research. What made you want to research this topic?

My research focus is, generally, on the philosophy of sport and play. Some of it is more theoretical, such as trying to define the concepts of sport or play. But fundamentally it is all applied because sport and play are part of our lives in significant ways, so a better understanding of these human activities gives us a better understanding of ourselves more broadly.

Sport also has a lot of ongoing controversies and dilemmas, so much of my work is also focused on applying philosophy to these issues. Philosophy is essential here because it helps to get more precision in the concepts or brings out various assumptions or implicit premises. These important clarifications allow us to better understand the problems and help, hopefully, to resolve them.

I got interested in the philosophy of sport and sports ethics because I saw the effectiveness of using examples from sport as illustrations in my teaching. As pop culture became more niche, it was harder to find examples that my classes related to. But sport was something that almost everyone has had some experience with, in some capacity. In this way, it has become our universal text. The Ancient Greeks had the Iliad; the Early Moderns had Shakespeare, we have football.

 

Where do you predict your research field will be in five-ten years?

The philosophy of sport is, relative to philosophy, quite young. The International Association of the Philosophy for the Sport (IAPS) was founded in 1972 (originally named the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport). So I think the field will continue to grow and expand, pulling in more voices that go beyond the perspectives of the original generation of sport philosophers. This is already happening.

 

Does your work in applied philosophy require you to consult with or conduct research with faculty in other disciplines?  Does it require you to be proficient in a field outside of philosophy – and how proficient do you have to be in your co-field?  Was it difficult to find experts in the field you wish to do applied philosophy? 

It is always helpful to consult with the literature and scholars from other fields on specific points of fact: making sure I get the historical context right or that I am not saying something inconsistent with the current science. It depends on the issue as well. When working on a topic related to concussions or performance-enhancing drugs, understanding the state of the science is important. So having enough of a science foundation to understand the literature is helpful. On other issues, such as domestic violence by athletes or NCAA rule-violations, being familiar with the relevant laws or institutional practices is important.

 

What philosopher/philosophical School has been most influential in your research?

Without question, Aristotle, and those influenced by Aristotelian thinking, is the greatest influence on all my thinking and work.

 

What would you say to a student who is considering studying philosophy to encourage them to do so? How early in one’s academic career can one start doing applied philosophy?

I think philosophy is one of the best degrees one can pursue at the undergraduate level: to succeed in philosophy means you have developed the writing skills, the critical thinking and reading skills, and the clarity and precision of thought to succeed in almost any contemporary career (and in life more generally). I would encourage anyone interested in philosophy to pursue an undergraduate degree in philosophy. But only if one is genuinely interested in philosophy. If you don’t really like philosophy but want to go law school, then I would advise you to look for a major with coursework you do like. The most important thing about a college (and probably the only thing in terms of job prospects) is that you finish the degree. The more you enjoy the work and classes, the more likely you will do well and graduate. If you are most passionate about philosophy, you should major in philosophy.

Graduate school is a different and more difficult story. Graduate school is professional training to be a philosopher. While there are non-academic career paths for masters and doctoral students in philosophy, the vast majority of the jobs are university teaching jobs. If that’s what you want to do, then graduate school is worth a serious look. If teaching is not really your goal, then looking elsewhere would be better.

September 11, 2018