When I tell people that I have a PhD in philosophy the reaction is usually one of self-deprecation. (“Wow! You’re so smart. I could never do that.”) This reaction is typically accompanied by the assumption that the work I do is obtuse and obscure, and sometimes by the implication that the work is frivolous and/or unnecessary. This view of philosophy as an academic discipline is somewhat reasonable. Most of what philosophers write is intended for a very limited audience and pertains to very thin slices of a broad field. To understand these slices and their significance, it is helpful to have a lot of background knowledge. While there are some notable exceptions in terms of podcasts and blogs, most trained philosophers do not produce work on other mediums for wider audiences. If people have been exposed to philosophy it might be through a one-off introductory course as a college student. Despite many of our best efforts, introductory course material remains dominated by the canonical work of Old Dead White Dudes. In my experience, many students find this work interesting but archaic.
All of that fully acknowledged, I love philosophy and I find myself continually arguing for the value of its impulses and the usefulness of the skills it requires. Philosophy is motivated by curiosity and the need for justification. It is the product of the habit of asking “why,” and then making sure the answers that we or others provide are well-reasoned and continually reexamined. This is fundamentally a collaborative activity that leads to the cultivation of valuable, transferable skills: careful listening/reading, incisive questioning, critical thinking, synthesis of ideas, rigorous argumentation, ongoing critical reflection. In the current political climate, it is becoming easier for more of us to see the public dangers of undervaluing these skills! I reiterate to my students that these tools can and ought to be meaningfully applied in a wide range of personal, professional, and political contexts. My primary aim as an instructor is not really to have my students learn and retell me famous philosophical arguments, but to engage with those arguments and contemporary philosophical issues in ways that will help them hone these fundamental intellectual skills.
These values are, I sincerely hope, reflected in my own research, writing, and teaching. I continue to write philosophy papers intended for publication in academic journals. But as an academic philosopher without a permanent home in the academy, I wanted to create a platform for more informal writing as well. The purpose of this blog is to share my everyday philosophical reflections. I intend to engage politics, popular culture, parenthood, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I regard this writing as an expression of my commitments as a philosopher. Practically speaking, I also regard this blog as a way to create a small amount of dialogue and accountability. At the moment, I find myself in a situation where it would be very easy to have very little of either. So please do reach out with questions, comments, and suggestions for topics!