Philosopher Interviews

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Dr. Nestor Ángel PinillosInterview with Philosophy Professor Dr. Nestor Ángel Pinillos

Interviewed by Anna Espinoza

Dr. Pinillos received a B.S. in Mathematics along with a certificate in Cognitive Science from Rutgers University in 1996, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Tufts University in 2006. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at ASU specializing in Philosophy of Language, Experimental Philosophy, and Epistemology.

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

I think of “Applied Philosophy” as philosophical thinking and research applied to areas that are not philosophy. History is filled with cases where philosophers have made major contributions to other areas. Here are two specific examples which are close to my research interest. In the twentieth century, we saw philosophers of mind spark “theory of mind” research (which is now a branch of psychology) and philosophers of language spark semantics (which is now a branch of linguistics).  

 

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?

I have done some work applying epistemology to jury behavior. And I’ve written an op-ed on the relevance of epistemology to public discourse on climate change.  

However, I wouldn’t consider the bulk of my work to be applied philosophy (as I define the term). I am interested in traditional questions like ‘How do we achieve knowledge?’ and ‘How do symbols get their meanings?’. I wish I had more time to study other fundamental questions like ‘How can mathematics explain the world?’.

My research is “applied”, nonetheless, in the sense that I apply knowledge from other disciplines to traditional philosophical questions. For example, in recent work, I have applied mathematical tools (logic and probability) and psychology to answer questions about the nature of knowledge and how symbols get their meanings. There is a very long tradition in philosophy, as old as the discipline itself, of applying these methods to philosophy. The methods have proved useful. In fact, not using them sometimes leads to embarrassing results.

I don’t really know why I study these traditional questions except that I find great beauty in them, as have generations of other philosophers. The fact that some of the issues I am interested in are timeless and non-applied actually makes them more attractive to me. This is because they lack a sense of urgency. For example, imagine a researcher trying to find a cure for a disease that is ravaging a population. There is no doubt that what they are doing is extremely important, but the attitude brought to this research carries with it a sense of urgency and stress where making a certain assumption could lead to people being harmed (or helped). On the other hand, a timeless question, like “what exists?” (to give one example), is one which gives you room to explore. No one is going to die because of what a philosopher thinks about this. As a consequence, you can explore “out-of-the-box” ideas, question “obvious” assumptions, and even try out different logics. So long as you are thinking about this carefully, with rigor (perhaps bringing in mathematic or scientific knowledge) and aim for the truth, your exploration will be fruitful. I personally find this way of thinking really rewarding, so I tend to gravitate towards it.

It should be granted that these pure philosophical questions are less important than many applied philosophy questions, but they are still important. In my opinion, they are important for the simple reason that (due to their foundational nature) we need to grapple with them to have any shot at having a minimal understanding of our world.

 

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

It’s hard to make predictions, but I see stronger interdisciplinary work in epistemology. For example, I see philosophers working on epistemology using more advanced techniques from both math (formal epistemology) and psychology in their work. This will mean the field will become more specialized. Specialization tends to be a good thing because it can be a sign of progress. But the downside is that it will become harder for non-specialists to understand what epistemologists are up to, and so epistemology will lose its popularity and prominence in the philosophical landscape. A nice benefit of this specialization, however, is that you see people from other fields get interested in philosophy. For example, in recent years, many psychologists have published in “experimental epistemology.”

 

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?

I regularly co-author with psychologists.

It is very hard to keep up with different disciplines. It probably can’t be done and this is the drawback with inter-disciplinary work. But we shouldn’t worry about this too much. At the end of the day, what matters is that you produce high quality research. If you can’t produce excellent work yourself, because there are parts which go beyond your area of expertise, you collaborate with others. This is why co-authorship is the norm in many disciplines. There should be more collaboration in philosophy.

 

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

Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam have had a big influence on me. I was blown away by how these authors used logic and science to inform traditional philosophical questions.

 

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 am a true believer in the power of philosophy. If you enjoy philosophy, you should study it as much as you can. You will learn valuable critical thinking skills which will help you succeed in whatever you decide to do. But you should also take some science and math courses which will help to keep you grounded in the empirical world (and will help you land a job). In particular, you should take some statistics and programming classes.

If you are choosing an academic career, you have to follow your passion whatever that is. It’s hard to do good work in an area you are not excited about. So if you are passionate about applied philosophy, there is no time like the present to start studying it.  

May 10, 2019

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Maura Priest on a skateboardInterview with Philosophy Professor Maura Priest

Interviewed by Nathanael Pierce

Maura Priest graduated with her PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, in 2016, and a Master of Science in Bioethics from Columbia University in 2018. She also has a Certificate in Pediatric Bioethics from Children’s Mercy Hospital (2018). Her published work consists in over 20 articles touching on ethics, applied ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and collective action. Among other projects, she is currently working on a short book about the ethics of elites and elitism. She has three main areas of research: virtue theory, medical ethics, and the ethics of collective action. Outside of academia, she runs, skateboards, snowboards, and hangs out with her two dogs, Christmas and Spooky. 

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”? 

In general, I am not a fan of definitions, but prefer general descriptions. Definitions often leave little room for leeway and exceptions, and most terms fit best into what Wittgenstein has called a “family resemblance.” Rather than just having one way to understand a concept, the truth is we use a single word in many, but related, ways. With all that in mind, my general description of applied philosophy is this: using philosophical tools to analyze issues that have direct consequences for real people and their everyday lives. The easier it is to draw this connection, the more likely I would call the topic “applied philosophy.” Consider, for instance, the possibility we are all being deceived by a demon. This is an interesting exercise, but unlikely to have consequences for everyday folk. On the other hand, consider the morality of drug use. Whether or not we should be morally or legally concerned with drug use easily connects to real persons and the everyday problems they face.

 

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?  

I do research in several areas in applied philosophy. First, I am concerned with character traits that make us good and bad people. This connects to our lives, insofar as most of us care about being decent persons, and we judge those we consider bad persons. I also work on issues in medical ethics, especially psychiatric issues concerning children. We were all children once, and many of us will become parents. Hence the way that children are treated medically, and troubles they face psychologically, often have serious consequences for the lives of many. Lastly, I research the ethics of drug use, which I consider applied for the reasons mentioned in the previous answer.

 

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

This is hard to predict. Virtue theory has recently seen a large growth in intellectual ethics, and my hope is that this growth will continue and become more main stream. I do think we are headed in a direction of taking psychological harm more seriously, but I am not sure if in 10 years is enough to see a major shift. There are legal and financial difficulties with implementing ethical corrections, and these influence the direction of applied philosophy. I do think more and more states and nations will start to legalize “soft” drugs, and this will take scholarship in the direction of discussing the best way to implement regulations, alongside discussions about whether legalizing harder drugs is acceptable.

 

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?

 Medical Ethics is a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, consisting of not only philosophers, but also physicians, psychologists, lawyers, sociologists, and a few others. To advance in this subfield, I completed a MS in bioethics at Columbia University, and a post-doc at Children’s Mercy hospital. At Columbia there was only a few philosophers in the program. Most were some type of medical professional. Likewise, at Children’s Mercy, I mostly worked with physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. While I am not sure I would say you have to gain proficiency in these other fields, you do need to gain a basic understanding. Knowledge of statistics is helpful for many areas of my research. And lastly, knowledge of psychology is important for work in virtue theory.

 

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

I will always be indebted to Aristotle. My first philosophy class was based on The Nicomachean Ethics, and to do this day I haven’t found a work that surpasses it. Virtue theory is in the minority within philosophical ethics, and I still can’t understand why. Adam Smith’s book on ethics, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is probably a close second. His work puts emotions front and center in a compelling way that I try to do in my own work. Lastly, I will mention J.L. Austin, whose straight-forward, no nonsense style is something I wish all philosophers would imitate.

 

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?

As far as I’m concerned, you can do applied philosophy on day one, or day zero. I disagree with Plato’s claim that you have to be 30 before doing real philosophy. Of course, the philosophy you do on the first day of undergrad may not be particularly sophisticated, but we all need to start somewhere. Thinking deeply about right and wrong in our everyday lives seems a great place to start.

As to what I would say to students. Philosophy is a great major, and provides skills for almost any area of life. It is also correlated with especially high scores on standardized tests like the GRE and LSAT. That said, while you are majoring in philosophy, you might consider two things. First, a second major that supplements philosophy, or alternatively, getting experience through volunteering or internships in areas that you might consider for a career. If you have a career path to go along with your philosophy degree, you will better know how to apply your skills and can perhaps calm your worried parents. 

April 12, 2019

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Dr. Andrew Khoury

Interview with Philosophy Professor Dr. Andrew Khoury

 Interviewed by Christopher Horvath

Andrew Khoury is a philosopher working at the intersection of moral philosophy, moral psychology, and metaphysics on issues surrounding free will and moral responsibility. Prior to coming to Arizona State University, he was a senior fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. Khoury’s work has appeared in Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Studies, and Journal of Value Inquiry and he is an editor of Midwest Studies in Philosophy. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California – Santa Barbara and his Ph.D. from ASU. 

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

I think applied philosophy involves applying the tools of philosophy to issues of public interest.

 

How do your studies and research fit within applied philosophy, as you define it?  Tell us about this work, what made you want to study applied philosophy?

My own interest in philosophy arose because I was convinced that the practical question of what I should do was among the, if not the, most important question in life. This eventually led me to the topic of free will and moral responsibility. The philosophical debate on freedom and responsibility often occurs at a pretty abstract level, but I found the topic to be especially gripping precisely because it has significant practical implications. Very roughly, I think that rather than being primarily about free will, moral responsibility is a matter of quality of will. I’ve now become interested in exploring the implications this view has in applied contexts such as criminal law and corporate and national responsibility.

 

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

Ha-ha, given the pace at which philosophy advances it probably won’t be too far off from where it is now! But I don’t think this is a bad thing, progress is incremental.

 

Does your work in applied philosophy require you to consult with or conduct research with faculty or professionals 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 this field?

Yes, some of my work engages with research in experimental psychology. When working on topics that address legal issues, I’ll often consult a lawyer friend of mine. Academia has become increasingly hyper-specialized. There are benefits to this, but there are also risks. I think some of my best insights have occurred when I’ve approached an issue from across sub-disciplinary and disciplinary lines.

 

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

My favorite piece of philosophy is probably an article called “Freedom and Resentment,” first published in 1962 by P.F. Strawson. In it Strawson argued that the traditional free will debate has gone astray because, basically, philosophers have not remained in close intuitive contact with the phenomenon that they are trying to investigate. This had a big impact on how I approach philosophy.

 

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?

We are doing applied philosophy whenever we are striving to think clearly through some of the conceptual terrain involved in some issue of the day. So, for many students, the answer to “when should you start doing applied philosophy?” is “you are already doing it.” There are certainly drawbacks to studying philosophy. It is frequently disorienting. There are no easy answers. It is hard. But moments of philosophical insight are immensely satisfying. Philosophy is one of the most rewarding activities that I know of. If you find satisfaction in philosophy, then I say follow your curiosity.

 

In your article “Criminal Attempts and the Penal Lottery” you argue that because most justice systems include some element of moral luck in determining punishment, they fail to deliver justice. Could you briefly describe what you think justice is? Has your definition of justice evolved over time and if so, how?

The penal system in the US is primarily conceived as retributive. That is, criminal punishment is thought to be a matter of giving people what they deserve. (This is in stark contrast to how punishment is conceived in other places, notably Scandinavia.) So, part of my point in that article is that the current penal system does not deliver retributive justice because of the role that luck plays in criminal sentencing. Should the goal of punishment be retributive justice? I’m not sure. I oscillate between finding Kantian and Utilitarian considerations more plausible on lots of issues.

 

To what extent, if any, do you think the penal system in America delivers justice? Do you see any ways in which the system might be reformed to make it more just?

I think retributivism may have a role to play in the penal system. So insofar as the current American system aims at that, it has that going for it. But I do think that the current practice of punishing successful criminal actions (e.g. murder) more severely than ones that are unsuccessful due to luck (e.g. attempted murder) is contrary to the retributive approach. If that’s right, then reform in which we punish equal attempts equally would be more just. This leaves open the question how we achieve consistency.

 

In your article you describe the various reformist views as belonging to a spectrum with some believing that an unsuccessful act should be punished more severely (similar to a successful act) while others believe that a successful act should be punished less severely (in line with an unsuccessful act) and still others as being somewhere in between. Where does your own view fall on this spectrum and why?

Well I think, as with many things, that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. For instance, we might be punishing negligent driving that leads to a death too harshly and negligent driving that doesn’t not harshly enough. Why do I think this? Well, amongst other things there’s a lot of research in psychology suggesting that we have hindsight bias. This means that we tend to overestimate how foreseeable a bad outcome was when it actually happens. So, when negligent driving actually results in a harm, we think that the harm was very foreseeable and so the person must have been really very negligent. When negligent driving (of which most of us are guilty at one point or another!) doesn’t result in a harm we are probably underestimating how risky our behavior actually was.

March 13, 2019

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Interview with Philosophy Graduate Student Rachel Levit Ades 

Interview by Christopher Horvath

Rachel obtained her BA in Philosophy from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduation, she worked first, at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut and then in a special education classroom for the San Francisco public school system. During her time at ASU she has completed internships with the National Association for the Deaf and the Mayo Clinic. Her dissertation will focus on the justifications for spending on accommodations for the disabled.  

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

In a certain sense, all philosophy is applied philosophy, because we're all trying to apply our love of wisdom to this crazy thing called life! But, “applied philosophy” as a sub-field usually means that the work interacts with real problems, questions, or people.

 

How do your studies and research fit within applied philosophy, as you define it? Tell us about this work, what made you want to study applied philosophy? 

Broadly speaking, I study ethics and political philosophy and issues that have to do with disability. Philosophy is supposed to entail thinking critically, of course, but I think for a long time when philosophers discussed disability, they just assumed whatever the dominant narrative of their time was and refused to consider either other possibilities or the actual lived experiences of the people they were talking about. I try really hard to make sure that my work does not do this. I have always been drawn to issues of culture in medicine. When I was an undergraduate, I saw the documentary “The Sound and the Fury,” which is about a large family struggling with whether or not to get cochlear implants for two young children. I had never considered before the ways in which disability creates culture yet is also shaped by medicine. This deep tension stuck with me, and, in one form or another, I've been exploring how disability interacts with social institutions for the past eight years and I keep finding more to think about.

 

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

I hope there will be more people doing philosophy of disability and more people who deeply consider questions of disability in ethics and political philosophy, right now there aren't so many! Disability problematizes many of our assumptions, and I hope that philosophy becomes more comfortable with sitting with these questions. I think too that bioethics curriculums will become more inclusive of the range of debates in questions regarding disability. Emerging medical technology, from the very beginning of life to the very end of it, gives us an enormous amount of power. I hope medicine gets better at imagining patients outside the walls of the hospital, and that we undertake a genuine, surely complicated, discussion about disability and quality of life. I also hope that, as a discipline, philosophy becomes more encouraging and open to students and professionals who have disabilities themselves. I think this is imperative to having the best discussion possible.

 

Does your work in applied philosophy require you to consult with or conduct research with faculty or professionals 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 this field?

I think some proficiency in disability studies is important; so is some familiarity with discussions of disability in gender studies, critical theory, the law...unfortunately, this all can be difficult to come by. I'm very grateful that the PhD program at ASU has us take classes outside of the philosophy department - doing this has really helped my work. I also get a lot of books through inter-library loans and do my best to find conferences with small groups of people that I can pepper with questions. I also have some good relationships with people who are involved in various aspects of the disability rights movement, and that often provides a good spark for ideas I can investigate further.

 

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

It's difficult to say. I think Plato still does the best job of demonstrating the philosophical method. Philosophy really can be more math than story, but Plato does a good job of showing you they're not so different... In thinking about philosophy and disability, I would recommend starting with pretty much anything by Anita Silvers - I think her work is still gold standard (no pun intended). Leonard Davis wrote one of the first books I read about disability, which I also come back to often, called “Enforcing Normalcy.” And Andrew Solomon's “Far From The Tree” is a great non-academic way to start the ball rolling. For my research now, I keep finding really compelling articles in law journals. Perhaps that's a bit strange, but some law professors in fact are doing “applied philosophy,” and do it quite well.

 

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 find philosophy intrinsically valuable - it's delightful, rewarding, challenging, and you get to think about all of those questions your friends thought were pesky, and that Google couldn't answer! Luckily, philosophy is also instrumentally valuable; if you want to get better at thinking clearly and being creative, there's no better way. (If you're thinking “Well, maybe there is...,” you're doing philosophy!) You can start doing applied philosophy as soon as you see the relationship between the philosophical questions you're asking and the world, as it is. Try to see how each can make the other a little more complete. 

February 12, 2019

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 Interview with Steven Reynolds

Interview by Nathanael Pierce

Steven Reynolds studied at the University of Chicago (BA, Philosophy) and UCLA (Ph.D.) where Rogers Albritton was his dissertation director. He’s taught at ASU since 1988, specializing in epistemology. Author, Knowledge as Acceptable Testimony, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

Applied philosophy uses the methods and techniques of philosophy in combination with empirical methods to answer relatively practical questions. It also uses empirical methods to make progress in understanding philosophical questions and the theories with which we attempt to answer them.

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?

Most of my work in applied philosophy has been in epistemology. It applies social scientific concepts, particularly the concept of a social norm or informal rule, to the ancient philosophical question: What is knowledge? In my recent book I argue that knowledge is acceptable testimony.

Edward Craig argued we could make progress understanding the nature of knowledge by investigating the social function of the concept of knowledge.  He argued that a society that lacked a concept of knowledge would gradually develop one in order to communicate more conveniently about whom to ask various particular questions. My complementary idea is that the concept of knowledge would develop as we ask each other questions and express our approval and disapproval regarding the helpfulness of the answers. We would come to hold a social norm requiring us to know that p if we testify that p, and the content of the concept of knowledge, that is truth, belief and the rest, would be explained by that process.

 

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

There are many ways to divide up the area of philosophy I’m working in. Five to ten years is a short time to expect much change in the interests of a few hundred philosophers, so ten years from now the field of epistemology will probably look pretty much as it does now. Taking my field narrowly, there are a number of energetic and capable philosophers writing articles and books in “function first epistemology.” I think that particular interest of mine will become more popular and the various plausible views about it should develop rapidly. As for trends in epistemology, I’m pretty confident that cognitive psychology will continue to have considerable influence on epistemology, including more philosophers attempting psychological experiments on topics that particularly interest them.

 

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?

Psychology is the discipline other than philosophy that I cite most often and take the most interest in, and it is of course widely taught and practiced. ASU is a good place for a researcher with my interests. William Fabricius in the Psychology department is interested in philosophy and specializes in the sort of developmental cognitive psychology that I find most pertinent to my work. Recently ASU has recruited Zachary Horne, a psychologist who also has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is interested in applied philosophy, to teach at ASU West.

More proficiency is always better, as long as you still have time for your own proper work. Tyler Burge’s work exemplifies the sort of detailed, deep, and philosophically relevant understanding of psychology and neurology that I wish I had. However, the degree of proficiency in psychology required for my sort of work is not high, especially since I’m not doing psychological experiments myself. I try to be careful about what the psychologists have said and to be clear about what they are more and less confident on as opposed to what is still speculative or controversial.

 

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

In addition to the philosophers already mentioned in answer to previous questions, I should mention Donald Davidson and Ernie Sosa. I knew Davidson slightly as a student when he kindly supervised my undergraduate honors thesis and I’ve been interested in his philosophy ever since. Sosa is hugely influential in the areas of epistemology that interest me and obviously his work on virtue epistemology is the sort of thing I’ve been doing, although I tend to stress analogies with skills rather than virtues.

 

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?

You should study philosophy if you want to learn to think carefully about important issues. Philosophy raises questions about matters that tend to be taken for granted by other subjects, from history to medicine to business. Those questions can be disorienting at first, as beginning philosophy students have always noticed.  But most of us find that struggling to understand and justify the best answers we can give to those questions, even if we are only partially successful, yields a certain kind of clarity in thinking, which is a very satisfying replacement for the lost confidence in unexamined assumptions.

If you are feeling pressure to develop career-focused skills while still an undergraduate, you should be aware that studying philosophy is an excellent way to practice thinking and speaking clearly and persuasively on even the most difficult subjects. It develops the ability to organize your thoughts and to communicate them clearly. Many philosophy students who decide not to teach the subject have found these to be important advantages in their subsequent careers in other scholarly areas or in business or the professions.

I don’t see any reason to wait on the applied philosophy. If the questions that interest you are applied philosophical questions, and you can learn enough to investigate them competently under the rather unforgiving institutional deadlines for producing philosophical work, then you should do applied philosophy. Most of the people making a reputation in applied philosophy now are younger scholars.  

January 18, 2019

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Philosophy Graduate Student Aubrey Spivey

Aubrey C. Spivey is a graduate student in philosophy with research interest in prisons and punishment. She earned her BA in philosophy with a certificate of criminology and corrections from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Florida. She also teaches philosophy at the Arizona State Prison in Florence, AZ, serves as ASU’s Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) chapter representative, and served on the American Philosophical Association's (APA) Graduate Student Council (GSC).

Staking out the coffee pot in the Philosophy Faculty lounge, we were able to catch graduate student Aubrey Spivey and ask about her work in applied philosophy. Aubrey’s primary philosophical interest lies in prisons and punishment. Besides pursuing her Ph.D. at Arizona State University, she teaches philosophy at the Arizona State Prison in Florence, AZ. A little-known fact about her: she was the one who amazingly rearranged and cataloged the Philosophy Faculty lounge’s library not too long ago.

Interview by Nathanael Pierce

How do you define “Applied Philosophy”?

Applied Philosophy is two-fold. First, it is taking fundamental, theoretical questions and looking at them in a specific context; that is applying our abstract knowledge to the practical. Second, it is looking at the specific contexts and utilizing philosophy in order to understand it; that is taking practical knowledge and having it inform our theoretical views. Theory and practice come together to help improve how we theorize about the world and how the world can inform our theories.

 

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?

I work on prisons and punishment, which fits within applied philosophy by employing our theories regarding justice, fairness, equality, and etc. within the context of institutional punishment and prisons. I also hope that by analyzing and discussing what goes on in prison, and with punishment more generally, we can form better theories based on how the world actually is. My research interest in punishment, and specifically prisons, started when I took a course on the Philosophy of Psychopathy and Bioethics. I realized that philosophy could intersect with a wide variety of research interests and topics. Shortly after I took some courses in criminology, I was struck by how many of the questions in Criminology overlapped with philosophy. There seemed to be a lot of good that could be produced by facilitating a conversation between these fields.

 

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

Prisons as a research area is growing within philosophy. I think this is due to the seriousness of prison policy and mass incarceration, in the US especially. So I predict that there will be a lot of research and work done on the topic. I hope that this work, as well as my own, can then inform prison policy and help de-escalate problems like mass incarceration and carceral treatments.

 

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?

Yes, in order to do my research I have to engage several other disciplines. I have to look at legal scholarship, criminology, psychology, and sociology in order to do the majority of my research. Depending on the topic I may also have to look at other fields as well, like medical research. In order to effectively speak about the practice of punishment and prisons, it requires that I have to at least be familiar with and done work on the criminal justice system. I think that theorists risk doing a great deal of harm by not being informed about the topic they write on. As such, I earned a certificate of criminology and corrections, have worked in prisons for several years, and plan to pursue a graduate certificate. In my field, there are a growing number of people that can be considered an expert in prison philosophy. However, there is no shortage of experts in all the related fields that I can turn to in developing my views.

 

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

I was raised, so to speak, in the analytical tradition, but I have a fondness for pragmatism and would say that informs the way I do philosophy. There are many philosophers that have influenced my research including Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Kant, and Aristotle. I have also been influenced by many non-philosophers, including Joan Belknap.

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?

Philosophy is about building toolkits. You develop critical thinking and reading skills that are useful in many fields. By working on argumentation and theory, students get skills that can be applied in combination with the information you can gain in other areas to improve research and practice. That is why applied philosophy does well in bringing together the theories and skills learned as a philosopher with the information and procedures of other disciplines. For any topic a student finds interesting, philosophy can inform and improve their engaging in those disciplines. 

December 13, 2018

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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

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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