Category Archives: philosophy

Career Preparation Event for Philosophy Students

Philosophy students, whether they are majors, minors, or just interested students who have taken a few classes, are sure to have been asked, “What job can you get by studying that?” or “What use is a philosophy degree?” And in some cases, “asked” isn’t really the right word – in uttering those words, a fair number of people mean such questions as a challenge and a criticism, assuming the answer is “none.”

But that just isn’t so. Nor is it the case that the only jobs for philosophy students involve going to graduate school and becoming a philosophy professor.

So a few of my colleagues in the Philosophy & Religious Studies Department, along with a career coach from the Career Center, have planned a series of events for this academic year designed to help our students better (a) understand the range of jobs available to them, (b) narrow down their career goals, (c) formulate a specific plan of action, and (d) get to work on cover letters, resumes, interviews, and so on, by taking tangible steps in a supportive environment.

Our first event will focus on career exploration and discovery. We’ll be reflecting on the variety of kinds of jobs for which PHIL / RELS students are suited and identifying personal interests, talents, preferences, and skills that will help focus one’s career plans and goals. This first event will take place from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. in North Quad 078 on Wednesday, November 15th. Please consider joining us!

Book recommendations about democracy & the workplace

Elizabeth Anderson’s new book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), was even more of an eye-opener for me than her last one (The Imperative of Integration). In her latest book, Anderson defends answers two main questions: (a) “why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state? (xx)” and (b) how could we talk differently about the ways that employers constrain workers, potentially helping restructure workplaces to better serve the interests of workers?

In answering those questions, Anderson critiques the ideology that undergirds the dictatorial control that many employers exert over their employees, both on and off the job. In doing so, she carefully analyzes the historical context in which that ideology arose and explains why that ideology (which appeared to be rational prior to the Industrial Revolution) cannot be defended in the world as we now know it.  The book also includes critical comments from two historians, a philosopher, and an economist, as well as Anderson’s responses to them, which I found very useful.

While reading it, I couldn’t help but think back on Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, another excellent book about how workers could have more say in their working conditions, and the many benefits that could be gained from structuring workplaces as democracies. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which Wolff explains distinctions between various kinds of capitalisms and socialisms, which are easy to mix up (and often are mixed up).

While you are at it, or if you want something on the lighter side that engages with similar ideas, why not try The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki?

Book recommendation: Minimizing Marriage

Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law, by Elizabeth Brake, is a thoughtful, respectful investigation of the moral and legal status of marriage as it actually exists and as it could exist in a more ideal society.

Brake argues forcefully that current marriage practices privilege amatonormative relationships (those between monogamous sexual pairs) in ways that unjustly discriminate against other caring relationships (like friendships and relationships between people who live together without sexual/romantic intimacy) and thus that we ought to extend marriage rights to a wider range of voluntary relationships between consenting, caring adults.

I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had written this book, but thankfully Brake already has, and has done so more skillfully than I ever could. Now I just hope that more and more people read it.

Book recommendation: Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender

I usually categorize the books I read into “for work” books and “for fun” books. That isn’t because the books I read for work are never fun (they often are), but because I generally read at a different pace and with a different set of purposes, depending on which kind of book I have before me. It is a rare book that I would say that I read simultaneously for work and for fun, but I recently read one that did a lovely job straddling that line for me. It was Shannon Dea’s Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender, and I strongly recommend it.

While most of the time that I spend thinking about sex, gender, and sexuality, I’m primarily concerned with ethical and political questions, Dea’s book brought to light a range of metaphysical issues relating to sex, gender, and sexuality in a way that unquestionably deepened my understanding, but would definitely be accessible to more novice readers as well. It is a real gem of a book – a great example of integrating empirical research, narratives, and philosophical argumentation to show that concepts relating to sex, gender, and sexuality aren’t nearly so simple as many people would like us to believe.

Can Emotions Have Abstract Objects? The Example of Awe

As part of the annual conference of the European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions in Athens last June, I gave a presentation that became a paper called “Can Emotions Have Abstract Objects? The Example of Awe.”

Now that paper has been published in the journal Philosophia, and is available for free to anyone via the link above (which takes you to a full text, read-only version). I welcome any questions or comments you may have about it!

Moral philosophy on network television!?!?

I became a fan of Grey’s Anatomy when I spent six weeks in Argentina – reruns were on television just about every moment of every day, so whenever I got lonely, or missed Seattle, or wanted to hear some English, it was there for me. Since then, I’ve often imagined a show that, instead of following medical students through surgical internships and residencies and beyond, would follow graduate students getting their PhDs in the humanities. If you’ve been through it, you know that there is a lot of dramatic potential there (and if any tv execs are out there and want to hear a more detailed pitch – I’m ready)! Plus, who doesn’t enjoy seeing lives like their own represented in mass media, so long as it isn’t as the butt of a joke or a mere token or an offensively simplified caricature or something?

Well, part of my wish has been fulfilled. This fall, NBC is airing a new show called The Good Place; the title refers to a place kind of like heaven, which is where it takes place, and one of the main characters (Chidi) is a moral philosopher! I never thought I would see a major network television show where a character holds up a copy of Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other and starts giving a brief introduction to contractualism, or where the lead character reads some Kant and Aristotle and starts using what she’s learned in her life outside the classroom!

Is it a perfect portrayal of the life of an ethicist? Of course not – it does play up certain stereotypes (though it violates others), and we could easily get nit-picky about the content of Chidi’s lectures if we wanted to (it isn’t like there is no critical thinking to be done about any given product of mass media). Nevertheless, for now, I’m pretty stoked about the fact that lots of different people might be getting their first exposure to the possibility of real people earning a living by thinking about morality, and the idea that maybe we do make valuable contributions to society sometimes.

Book review: Love and Its Objects, edited by Christian Maurer, Tony Milligan, & Kamila Pacovská

When it rains, it pours! This week I actually had two book reviews published – what a weird coincidence. The second was a review of Love and Its Objects: What Can We Care For?, a collection edited by Christian Maurer, Tony Milligan, & Kamila Pacovská. I was invited to write the review for the Hypatia special issue, “Feminist Love Studies in the 21st Century,” which was guest edited by Dr. Margaret Toye and Dr. Ann Ferguson. My book review is available for free here (as are 11 others to go with the special issue). The full special issue on love is not available yet, but that is something to look forward to.

In fact, in case you didn’t know, all new Hypatia book reviews are available for free, regardless of whether you have a subscription, by visiting Hypatia Reviews Online. I worked hard on the creation of this new website back when I was the editorial assistant for the journal, and it is great to see the archive really filling up with reviews of new feminist scholarship! Even better, the new editorial team is creating podcasts of the reviews, if listening is more your style!

Book review: How We Hope, by Adrienne Martin

Just about one year ago, I started reading Adrienne Martin’s book, How We Hope: A Moral Psychology, which I had been asked to review for the journal Mind.  I really enjoyed reading it, especially Martin’s dualist theory of motivation, and the book review was a good project to work on during my stay in Seattle that summer. Over these last months, I had nearly forgotten about my book review, but then I got an email this week saying that it is now available via advance access. You can read the full text here, or a pdf here. You don’t have to be a Mind subscriber to access the review for free via these links (thank you, Mind)!

European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions in Athens

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting a paper at the European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions (EPSSE) in Athens, Greece. I have to say that it was a wonderful experience!

I also presented at the group’s inaugural conference in Lisbon in 2014, and both times, it was the kind of conference I really look forward to: the attendees included people from all sorts of different places who were friendly and supportive while still giving interesting and challenging feedback, which was informed by a wide range of different philosophical methods and areas of expertise. I highly recommend EPSSE to anyone who has a philosophical interest in the emotions!

I would like to mention just a handful of my favorite talks from the conference, which include “Admiration and Moral Responsibility,” by Alfred Archer, “Affective Consciousness and Moral Responsibility,” by Alex Madva, “The Break-Up Check: Testing Theories of Romantic Love in Relationship Terminations,” by Pila Lopez-Cantero, “Moral Regret and the Psychological Constitution of the Kantian Agent,” by Katherine Giambastiani, “Emergent Emotion,” by Elaine O’Connell, and “Scaffolded Affectivity,” by Achim Stephan and Sven Walter. Now if only my paper would revise itself in light of everything I learned …

Northwestern University Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics (NUSTEP)

I want to express my appreciation to the organizers of NUSTEP for inviting me to serve as commentator at this year’s conference; I had a really good time. The highlight for me was Nomy Arpaly’s talk about “good old-fashioned benevolence,” which was an excellent model of how to make precise and rigorous argument using well-crafted examples but without using any jargon, while expressing a great sense of humor, all at the same time!

Of course, some nice walks along Lake Michigan and good local food were also very welcome. Regarding food in Evanston, Found Kitchen deserves a special mention – the many dishes I tried were all delicious, the space had a great atmosphere, and the people involved enact a worthy social mission of hiring and training people coming out of homelessness.