Philosopher Interviews

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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