UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of December 2017: Robert Gooding-Williams

Robert Gooding-Williams

Professor of Philosophy and M. Moran Weston/Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American StudiesColumbia University


AOS: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, African American Philosophy, Critical Theory, European Philosophy, Existentialism, History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Race, Social and Political Philosophy

My main areas of research include social and political philosophy (esp. anti-racist critical theory), the history of African-American political thought, 19th Century European Philosophy (esp. Nietzsche), existentialism, and aesthetics (including literature and philosophy, representations of race in film, and the literary theory and criticism of African-American literature).

My book, Zarathustra’s Dionysian Modernism (Stanford UP, 2001) is a contribution to the philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; in Zarathustra, I argue, Nietzsche exploits literature’s capacity for philosophical invention (what my colleague, Philip Kitcher, describes as its ability to “build new ways of conceiving the world and our place in it”) to elaborate a philosophical explanation of the possibility of creating new values.

Much of my work lies at the intersection of aesthetics and the philosophy of race or at the intersection of political philosophy and the philosophy of race.

My writings in the former vein have focused on representations of race in film. In “Aesthetics and Receptivity: Kant, Nietzsche, Cavell, and Astaire,” for example, I take issue with Stanley Cavell’s reading of two routines performed by Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon and argue that a failure to give sufficient attention to the workings of racial ideology can lead aesthetic judgment astray.

My writings in the latter vein pivot around the theme of racial injustice. In “Race, Multiculturalism, and Democracy,” for example, I 1) defend a social constructionist account of black racial identity and 2) rely on that account to argue the case for endorsing race-conscious multicultural education as a means for fostering the capacity for democratic deliberation. In another essay, “Autobiography, Political Hope, and Racial Justice,” I consider current prospects for a racially progressive politics in the perspective of two autobiographies, Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father and W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dusk of Dawn.

During the last ten years, or so, my scholarship has focused on the history of Afro-Modern and, specifically, African-American political thought. In In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), I situate Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk within the Afro-modern tradition, a rich body of inquiry that is bound together by certain thematic preoccupations-—e.g., the political organization of white supremacy, the nature and effects of racial ideology, and the possibilities of black emancipation—and that includes the writings of Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, Frantz Fanon, and others. Souls, I argue, is this tradition’s preeminent, political theoretical response to Jim Crow, the now defunct system of American racial apartheid. My ongoing scholarly engagement with the Afro-Modern tradition includes a book-in-progress on Martin Delany’s political thought, an essay on M.L. King’s concept of dignity, and plans for a short study of Du Bois’s Darkwater.

Finally, I have recently begun to write about the contributions that the study of the history of African American political thought can make to anti-racist critical theory and about issues relating to the concept of ideology.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of November 2017: Grant J. Silva

Grant J. Silva

Assistant Professor, Marquette University


AOS: Comparative Philosophy, Ethics, Indigenous Philosophy, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of the Americas, Social and Political Philosophy

My work strives to maintain a sense of philosophical practice endowed with much social significance. While philosophers should continue to ask and answer metaphysical, ethical and epistemological questions, these endeavors are not ends in themselves. Paraphrasing Ignacio Ellacuría, the Jesuit philosopher murdered during the Salvadoran Civil War, even if reduced to “the pursuit of truth,” philosophy is not reducible to “the pursuit of truth for its own sake.”

Recent publications of mine take place at the intersection of philosophy of race, political philosophy and ethical questions pertaining to immigration and nationality. My current research focuses on the nature of racism as connected to anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment as well as officer related shootings of African Americans in the United States. Rather than predicated on hatred or malice, I think of racism as predicated on self-love. In the above contexts, “self-love” first materializes in the need to preserve the social conditions enabling one’s sense of self, a feat accomplished by means of national borders and the specious embracement of law and lawfulness. Second, engendered by interactions with individuals viewed primarily through the lens of black criminality, self-love racism is visible in the heightened sense of self-preservation expressed by law enforcement agents. In terms of the ethics of immigration, I am working on a theory of migratory disobedience that views the act of irregular migration as protest against the unjust nature of immigration law into first world nations like the United States.

My work in Latin American philosophy focuses on the idea of liberation as a philosophical point of departure. As espoused by those immersed in decolonial, anti-racist and even anti-sexist struggles, the idea of liberation suggests of an ongoing process the meaning of which should be viewed as of comparable magnitude for the peoples of the Americas as that of “enlightenment” within in the contexts of Western intellectual traditions. Whereas the sense of subjectivity problematized by Western philosophy grapples with skepticism, dogmatism and a variety of forms of heteronomy, liberatory thinkers focus on forms of subjective experience unfolding in the contexts of racial/sexual objectivity, colonial “totalization” and historical marginalization. Along these lines, I think there is a fundamental difference between philosophizing for freedom and philosophizing from freedom. This difference manifests in the types of questions one considers worthy of philosophical analysis, the kinds of interlocutors and range of experience one is willing to dialogue with, as well as the overall significance of philosophical inquiry. Extending these ideas, my book project provides a narrative of Latin American philosophy that views this sub-discipline as a response to decolonial attempts at liberating the mind. Because I take seriously the notion that to describe oneself as a “Latin American philosopher” is a political statement challenging preconceived understandings of the nature of philosophical inquiry, I offer a take on the history of Latin American philosophy that recognizes the significance of “place,” i.e. from where one philosophizes, as an important factor to the philosophical process.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of October 2017: David K. Chan

David K. Chan

Professor, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point


AOS: Ancient Greek and Roman, Applied Ethics, Bioethics/Medical Ethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Philosophy of Action, Practical Reason

I began my philosophical career as a philosopher of action, and I still am. However, I am first and foremost a virtue ethicist, and my research projects follow Anscombe’s dictum in “Modern Moral Philosophy” to do philosophy of psychology before ethical theory. In pursuing my interest in a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, I am at the stage where I have completed my work in moral psychology, published in Action Reconceptualized: Human Agency and Its Sources (Lexington Books, 2016), and I am about to embark on developing my own version of virtue ethics. I also think there is an important third part in doing virtue ethics, which is its application in applied ethics. I am particularly interested in both medical ethics and the ethics of war, on which I have published Beyond Just War: A Virtue Ethics Approach (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). More recently, I have been working on issues in the ethics of new technologies in warfare, in particular, the use of drones.

Philosophers of action rightly do not develop theories of reason, intention, and motivation with ethical concerns in mind. But I do not think the widely shared assumption, that human action necessarily involves intentional action in one way or another, lends itself to an understanding of agency that is suitable for use in virtue ethics. I have argued that desire, understood as intrinsic desire, in contrast with intention, is what provides the basis for the ethical evaluation of agents in terms of their character. In fact, virtuous agents can and do act directly from desire without forming intentions to act. Moreover, I have made the case for there being a third category of actions, the non-intentional, alongside the intentional and the unintentional. Such actions are not done for reasons or in the course of doing something for reasons, and are exemplified by habitual actions, including the kind needed in the process of character formation. Yet this does not mean that the process is non-rational or that the desires acquired are brute forces that one can disown.

In previous work, I have sought to recapture two deontological principles for virtue ethics, namely the doctrine of double effect and the doctrine of doing and allowing. In my ethics of war book, I sought to replace the just war doctrine of rights and duties, with an approach that starts from the question, “Would a leader with courage, justice, compassion, and all the other moral virtues ever choose to engage in the great evil of war?” My answer is that war would be a tragic choice for such a leader, and in choosing to bring about the evils of war, the leader’s good character is adversely affected. What I will be doing in developing a virtue theory is to provide criteria for goodness of character, and to explain how practical wisdom is exercised by virtuous agents in a way that does not depend on the application of rules or the comparison of alternatives in terms of a single value.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of September 2017: Quayshawn Spencer

Quayshawn Spencer

Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania


AOS: Philosophy of Biology, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of Science

My research focuses on topics that lie in the philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of race. The overlapping theme is that I work on philosophical issues having to do with classification. In philosophy of science, I have worked on the issue of what is the nature of a natural kind (understood as a real kind in the natural sciences). The theory I have developed is that natural kinds are plausibly thought of as “genuine kinds,” where a genuine kind is a metaphysically neutral competitor to traditional natural kinds, at least with respect to the scientific realism debate. This work has been published in Catherine Kendig’s (2016) “Natural Kinds and Classification in Scientific Practice.”

In philosophy of biology, I have worked on the issue of what is the nature of a biological population in evolutionary biology. In this work, I have defended “population pluralism” in an indirect way by articulating “K population theory,” which is a theory about what ‘population’ means when population geneticists talk about “continental populations” of humans. This work is in a 2016 issue of Philosophy of Science.

Last, but not least, in philosophy of race, I have worked on various issues in the metaphysics of race. In particular, I have defended a particular view of what ‘biological racial realism’ should mean, which appeared in Philosophical Studies in 2012. But also, I’ve advanced an actual defense of biological racial realism, which appeared in a 2014 issue of Philosophy of Science. Finally, I am working on three books in the philosophy of race. The first is The Race Debates from Metaphysics to Medicine (under contract with Oxford University Press), which is an edited volume that gets metaphysicians of race and scholars in the biomedical race debate to engage with one another. There will be many fantastic contributors, such as Naomi Zack, Joshua Glasgow, Robin Andreasen, Noah Rosenberg, Dorothy Roberts, Sarah Tishkoff, and many others. The second is Four Views on Race (under contract with Oxford University Press), which is a dialogue between myself, Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, and Chike Jeffers on the nature and reality of race.  The last is tentatively titled, A Radical Solution to the Race Problem, which is an attempt to defend “radical racial pluralism” as the correct metametaphysical position to take about the structure of the correct race theory for US race talk.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of August 2017: George Yancy

George Yancy

Professor of Philosophy, Emory University


AOS: African American Philosophy, Philosophy of Race

As an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, my initial passion was for sense data theory after philosopher Wilfrid Sellars directed my honors thesis on this aspect of Bertrand Russell’s work. After doing graduate work at Yale, I became interested in questions of hermeneutics, especially its impact on science and questions of how our judgments are mediated by paradigms and communities of intelligibility. I was influenced by the work of Kuhn, Feyerabend, Hesse, Bloor, Barnes, Lipton, and Laudan. I moved beyond the question of the “givenness” of perceptual objects to the ways in which objects are inextricably linked to discourse and how our historical situatedness impacts our epistemological horizons. There was a short distance to philosophical inquiries related to race as embodied, as “given,” as culturally and historically embedded, and as linked to our fundamental modes of being in the world (our assumptions, motility, grieving, loving, and subtle sensorial engagements). Sellars’ influence is still present. He argued that philosophy aims to comprehend how things (cabbages and kings, numbers, duties, possibilities, finger snaps, aesthetic experience, and death) in the broadest possible sense hang together in the broadest possible sense. Surely, “race” is one of those “things,” one that is far more existentially turbulent, politically and socially urgent, than either finger snaps or cabbages.

My work engages questions regarding the lived experience of race and how it is an embodied phenomenon that is enacted at the socially complex quotidian level of our experiences. My approach engages how the “raced body” is linked to discursive and affective sedimentation, and how the “reality” of race, while socially constituted, functions as a powerful political, social, juridical, and existential vector, one that has a lived status that impacts bodies differentially as raced. More recently, my work has focused on whiteness, its structural invisibility, its embodied normativity, its spatial motility, the opacity of white psychic life, and the embedded nature of whiteness, which raises questions of white complicity and white racism.

My current work provides a vocabulary for rethinking whiteness as a possible site of unsuturing, which I theorize as an experience of profound risk and mourning the abandonment of veils that white people are afraid to live without. Suturing, then, has deep epistemological and phenomenological implications for living a life of bad faith and ontological closure. Unsuturing is a practice that implies a radical vulnerability that has deep implications for questions about how we fail or succeed at dwelling within shared spaces.

I see my work in the above areas as linked to African American philosophy. Here, I work on issues related to the nature of philosophy and standpoint epistemology, Black Erlebnis, early African American philosophers, questions of African American resistance, and ways of theorizing African American modes of knowledge production and world-making.

Finally, I have a deep passion, which manifests for me in the form of a specific mood of suffering, for understanding the meaning of death, the existence or nonexistence of God, and the meaning of why we are here at all.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of July 2017: Natalia Washington

Natalia Washington

McDonnell Postdoctoral FellowWashington University in Saint Louis


AOS: Bioethics/Medical Ethics, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Psychology

My research is situated within the scope of empirically informed philosophy of mind, psychology, and cognitive science. This growing trend and its interdisciplinary aspirations are vital to my central project: Using the conceptual and critical tools of philosophy, I seek to understand how human minds are both shaped by and integrated with our physical and social environments. Ultimately, I believe that appreciation of these perspectives—what are sometimes called ‘externalist’ or ‘ecological’ viewpoints—and their normative implications can inform and improve human lives.

As an ecologically-minded philosopher, I have had the opportunity to pursue work on implicit racial biases and social cognition, and work in the philosophy of psychiatry. In a paper published with Daniel Kelly, “Who’s Responsible for This?” I investigate how the shape of our epistemic environment mediates blame and responsibility for bias, and in another with Nicolae Morar, “Implicit Cognition and Gifts” these issues are brought into the practical arena of the interaction between doctors and the medical industry. More recently, I have been investigating the theoretic and conceptual foundations of psychiatry as a science and as an evaluative system, and recent attempts to negotiate the tricky philosophical territory where the normative and descriptive meet. Two examples: First, in “Culturally Unbound”, published last year in Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology (PPP), I take up the question of so-called culturally bound syndromes, and argue that reliance on conceptions of ‘normal’ or ‘universal’ human nature hinders the taxonomization of mental disorders. Second, in “Contexualism as a Solution to Paternalism in Psychiatric Practice”, also forthcoming from PPP, I argue that what it means to be mentally ill or mentally healthy must be grounded in the concerns and interests individual patients. I am presently developing these critiques into a more general worry about how theorists and researchers in many domains rely on ‘naturalized norms’–explanations which depend on statistical typicality as a scientifically grounded source of normativity.

In the future I plan to extend my research in philosophy of psychiatry in an attempt to build a rigorous understanding of the concept of mental health—one that makes room for individual differences in values, and in what is in our best interest when it comes to the quality of our mental lives. This is exciting to me not only because of its theoretical connections to concepts of the good life, but because I hope my project will help shape future discussions of mental illness in clinical and practical arenas as well.

 

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of June 2017: Carlos Alberto Sánchez

Carlos Alberto Sánchez

Professor of PhilosophySan Jose State University


AOS: Comparative Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Existentialism, Phenomenology, Philosophy of the Americas, Social and Political Philosophy

I read, study, and write about 20th century Mexican philosophy and 20th century Mexican philosophers. I’m particularly interested in the manner in which Mexico itself—as a historical, cultural, and spiritual difference—influences the articulation of the philosophical and the manner in which it shapes the philosophical approach to certain philosophical problems. Ultimately, I defend the idea of a “Mexican” philosophy (an idea that goes beyond merely affirming the empirical fact of a philosophy in Mexico), one in which philosophical considerations of identity, authenticity, history, death, etc., are marked by a Mexican difference that makes these considerations contributions to and not merely repetitions of the Western philosophical tradition. This sort of work requires hermeneutical, historiographical, and analytic interventions into those texts in which this difference most resoundingly shows itself.

Recently, I’ve found myself defending the controversial thesis of historicism, what in several places I call “circumstantialism,” following the work of the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Historicism, or the idea that philosophizing itself is circumscribed by historical, cultural, and otherwise worldly constraints, is often misrepresented as historical or cultural relativism. What I try to show, especially in my analyses and interpretations of the work of the Mexican philosophical group Hiperión, is that historicism is not relativism, but rather, and simply, a complex, rich, and nuanced philosophical perspective grounded on a view of history as the constant, stable foundation upon which all accident, change, and consistency rests. Historicist philosophical explanations and descriptions aim to account not only for the particular spirit of a people, but also for its relations, interrelations, internal and external to itself that justify its philosophical truths and propositions. Mexican philosophers thus find in historicism a means to contribute to the human philosophical conversation a perspective, that although necessarily worldly and pluralistic due to the historical relation, is nonetheless Mexican in its articulations and emphases.

By necessity, my work requires translation. In my book, The Suspension of Seriousness: On the Phenomenology of Jorge Portilla (SUNY Press 2012), an analysis and interpretation of Portilla’s La fenomenología del relajo, I also include the translation of that text as an Appendix. A current project with Oxford University Press (co-edited with Robert Elí Sanchez) the goal is to translate and anthologize significant texts representative of Mexican philosophy in the 20th century, addressing a serious lack in available resources. My other work is related directly or indirectly to this primary preoccupation. Directly, my latest book, Contingency and Commitment: Mexican Existentialism and the Place of Philosophy (SUNY Press 2016) continues the work of situating Mexican philosophy within a broader tradition of existentialism in the 20th century. Indirectly, I’ve published papers on the phenomenology of immigration, the philosophy of Mexican Narco-Culture, and am currently working on issues in Mexican American Philosophy.

I am the Editor of the APA Newsletter on Latino/Hispanic Issues in Philosophy, co-creator (with Robert Elí Sanchez) of the website/blog mexicanphilosophy.com, and founding member of the Society for Mexican American Philosophy.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of May 2017: Jennifer M. Morton

Jennifer M. Morton

Assistant ProfessorCity College-CUNY


AOS: Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Action, Philosophy of Education, Social and Political Philosophy

Most of my recent work has been in philosophy of education and action. These areas might seem unrelated, but it’s only recently that I’ve realized that there is a theme that unifies my work. In essence, I’m interested in thinking about how our messy non-ideal world collides with the pristine, sharp, and idealized tools of philosophical thinking. I’m currently working on two projects that fit under that rubric.

The first is a critique of theories of rationality that take the principles of practical reasoning to be universal principles that can be derived a priori. This work really started with my dissertation at Stanford under Michael Bratman, but I have continued to pursue it in light of recent social science that concerns the decision making of people who live in poverty. I argue that when decision makers are facing severe resources scarcity it does not make sense for them to engage in the kind of long-term practical thinking that is often held as the mark of rational agency by philosophers. The practical thinking of those who are in extreme poverty, I suggest, will look quite different than that of middle-class philosophy professors who have the time and resources to think about their long-term decisions. Both, I suggest, are rational given their different contexts. One consequence of my argument is that it urges philosophers to cultivate humility when they make judgments about the rationality of distant others who are in quite different conditions.

The second project concerns the ethics of upward mobility. For a few years now, I have been interested in the value conflicts that those on the path of upward mobility face, in particular, when they are trying to maintain one foot in their community back home while trying to adapt to a new community at school or at work. My interest in this topic really crystallized into a research area while teaching at City College. CUNY is an engine of upward mobility for a large number of first-generation college students in the New York area. I’m in awe of my students. They work so hard to balance their commitments to their families and communities with their commitment to their education. These conflicts are the result of unjust background conditions that do not affect all students equally. But to understand how these conflicts are embedded in social and economic conditions, we need to turn to the social science literature on inequality. For the book I’m currently writing on this topic, I also conducted interviews with people who were themselves first-generation college students. These conversations gave me such a rich insight into the topic that I could not have gained by just reading philosophy or even sociology. So recently I have been thinking more and more about how conversations with non-philosophers should be a part of philosophy more often, in particular, when the topic concerns groups that are not as well-represented in our profession.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of April 2017: Monique Wonderly

Monique Wonderly

Post-Doc, Princeton University


Monique_sm2AOS: Applied Ethics, Bioethics/Medical Ethics, Ethics, Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Love and Sex

Broadly speaking, I am interested in puzzles at the intersection of ethics and the emotions. Exploring such puzzles often leads my research in an interdisciplinary direction – much of my work incorporates insights from other fields, including: neuroscience, psychology, the technological sciences, and education. I am especially concerned to investigate how the emotional ties that bind us to other persons and objects help to shape ethical norms and guide moral deliberation. I have published in the areas of ethics, philosophy of emotion, and history of philosophy.

In June 2015, I defended my dissertation on emotional attachment. I identified what I call “security-based attachment” as a philosophically neglected, yet rich and ubiquitous phenomenon, and I developed an account of its nature and value. Roughly, this type of attachment is marked by a felt need of its object and an integral connection between engagement with that object and the attached agent’s sense of security. After articulating its key marks and distinguishing it from related phenomena (e.g., caring), I showed that security-based attachment has important implications for understanding emotion and agency. Specifically, I argued that this attitude illuminates both the specific types of relationship that undergird warranted grief and the particular brands of affect and agential impairment characteristic of grief’s phenomenology. I also argued that contra strong disinterested concern views of love, security-based attachment represents a type of self-interestedness that is not only permissible in, but essential to, some kinds of love.

My research at Princeton will focus on questions concerning moral agency and ethical treatment that arise when considering certain attachment-related pathologies, including psychopathy and (some forms of) addiction. For examples: How might psychopaths’ emotional deficits impact their moral responsibility and/or rights of autonomy? If a “cure” were discovered, could we be justified in forcing a psychopath to undergo treatment against his or her will? How might a theory of emotional attachment inform our understanding of the structure of agency in addiction? What implications would such a theory have for treating addicted agents and holding them accountable for moral and legal infractions?

In the near future, I anticipate making further contributions to the literatures on the metaphysics of emotion (especially, on topics related to trust, forgiveness, and hope) and the normativity of special relationships. Finally, I would also like to do more work in the history of philosophy, where my interests include: Nietzsche – and in particular, his views on morality and the emotions, the 18th century British moralists, Asian philosophy, and Ancient philosophy.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of March 2017: Tina Rulli

Tina Rulli

Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis


10527692_10153091261912571_1045188497882742526_nAOS: Applied Ethics, Bioethics/Medical Ethics, Child, Family, Parenting, and Reproduction Ethics, Ethics, Normative Ethics

My dissertation was the launch pad for my diverse research agenda. I argued for a duty of prospective parents to adopt children rather than create them. We ought to provide critical benefits to existing people rather than create new people to give those benefits to instead. My research touches on the following issues: population ethics and the value of creation; the scope and force of the duty to rescue; limits to the demands of morality and the possibility for moral options to do less than the best; and the moral significance of genetic relatedness.

I’m working on a population ethics question that arises in the adoption/procreation choice, but is also relevant to immigration and population policy. Why should we spend resources on creating new lives and benefiting those lives when there are so many existing people in critical need of those same resources? Or rather, how should we decide in cases of conflict between saving lives or creating lives? I argue that we ought to prioritize benefits to those in critical need over the creation of new people, even on the assumption that creation can be a benefit. The challenge for this argument is to avoid the pitfalls of moral actualism—the view that only actual people matter morally.

I am also writing on what I call “conditional obligations.” Conditional obligations arise when although some action A is merely optional, if an agent chooses A, she is required to do optimal B rather than some other beneficial action C, where C is better than not doing A at all. An example: it may be optional for a company to open a factory in a developing country. But if they do so, they must open a factory that meets labor standards rather than open a sweatshop. This is the case even though opening the sweatshop on the whole would bring about more good than not opening a factory at all. I examine a range of such cases and argue that this obligation structure is not incoherent and should be expected in moral theories that embrace moral permissions to do less than the best.

My past research in bioethics focused on applications of the duty to rescue in clinical research and medical contexts. Recently, I’ve been writing on the ethics of mitochondrial replacement techniques—novel in vitro fertilization methods that allow women with mitochondrial disease to have genetically-related children by using a donor egg and mitochondria in the creation of their children. I argue that proponents of the technology misleadingly claim that the technology is life-saving and mistakenly assume that the preference for genetic relatedness is significantly valuable enough to justify public investment in the technology.

Many philosophers may think that practical ethics is derivative—that we figure out the normative theoretical work and then apply it to concrete issues. My research experience has proven to me that ethics can work in the other direction: reflection on practical ethics can provide fruitful insight on the theoretical issues.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of February 2017: Ronald Robles Sundstrom

Ronald Robles Sundstrom

Professor and Philosophy Department ChairUniversity of San Francisco


AOS: Philosophy of Race, African American Philosophy, and Social and Political Philosophy

The intersections within and between social identifications, including their mixing and conflict, is subject to formation and utilization by political power. This occurs within social contexts, thick with their own histories. Those forces form ethical and racial identifications, and how individuals and groups, who are ascribed with those identifications, are conceived and conceive of themselves. Those same forces also frame how societies imagine, and work toward or against, social justice. 

This set of ideas about racialization has influenced my teaching, research, and serivce of my academic commitments. Most of my writing has been concerned with the ethics, politics, and ontology of racial and ethnic identities. I  specifically focused on Black, mixed race, and Asian American identities in my articles on race. The position I took on their ontological status was that they were both socially constructed and real, and the normative stance I took, especially in regards to the controversies around mixed-race (biracial, multiracial, or mixed) identities was that they too were real and that they were ethically possible identities.

In addition to that line in my research, I wrote about prominent figures in the history of African American political theory, such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, and W.E.B. DuBois. I gave particular attention to Douglass’ intellectual legacy, especially his arguments for abolition, his anti-slavery reading of the U.S. Constitution, as well as his conceptions of Black resistance, and assimilation and amalgamation. Douglass is an icon in Black political theory, but his ideas were equally important contributions to the history of political theory in general, and specifically to civic republicanism, liberalism, and egalitarianism. His views of social justice, national belonging, and integration, along with those of Du Bois and Cooper, shapes my examinations and wary promotion of those, and related social and political, ideas as is evident in my book, The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice.

These currents flow through my on-going work on the idea and ideal of integration and its place egalitarian liberal theories of justice. I consider different conceptions of integration, and how it relates to desegregation and its purported opposite, segregation. 

The sort of integration I discuss is primarily residential and is centered on the history of segregation, desegregation, and integration, along with the continuing controversies over fair and affordable housing in Oakland and San Francisco. This analysis opens up questions about how integration is also related to other fraught ideas (colorblindness, post-racialism, assimilation, and multiculturalism) and to ongoing social crises (residential and education segregation, housing inequality, and gentrification). And this leads ultimately to the question of whether, and to what degree, integration is a worthy or legitimate normative ideal and practical social and political goal in a just, well-ordered democratic society.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of January 2017: Susanna Siegel

Susanna Siegel

Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University


 AOS: Epistemology, Phenomenology, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Psychology, Social and Political Philosophy

My work focuses on the nature of perception and its roles in reasoning and action. My first book, The Contents of Visual Experience, was about that nature of conscious visual perception. It investigated what this form of perception can inform (or misinform) us about reality. I argued that visual experiences can represent (and misrepresent) complex properties such as kind properties, causal properties, and personal identity. In subsequent work I’ve investigated how the psychological precursors of perceptual experiences, such as fears, beliefs, desires, and prejudice, can influence perception.

My second book The Rationality of Perception argues that perceptual experiences themselves, along with the routes by which we come to have them, can be appraised as epistemically better or worse. I came to this view by considering possible cases lumped under the broad category of ‘cognitive penetration’ – a label that is used so widely that it encompasses many different phenomena. For instance, suppose a person’s racist outlook (whether implicit or explicit) leads them to perceive a threatening man with a gun, when in fact what they’re seeing is a boy playing in a playground. If the racist outlook comes to be baked in to the perceptual experience, can the perceiver end up with a reasonable belief about what he sees, just by believing his eyes? I think the answer is No.

But if in this case it isn’t reasonable to believe one’s eyes, why not? Many answers to this question could be given. My answer is that it’s not reasonable because the perceptual experience itself is as unreasonable as the racist outlook it. This position has a lot of explaining to do. Does anything in the nature of experience preclude its being epistemically appraisable? How can perception ever play the role of allowing us to check our beliefs against reality? What distinguishes between the psychological influences on perception that are epistemically good and the ones that are epistemically bad? I address these questions in The Rationality of Perception, published in 2017 by Oxford University Press. 

In addition to research in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, I have taught courses in political philosophy for the program in the General Education.  In the summer of 2016, I directed a 4-week summer institute with Nico Silins on Presupposition and Perception: Reasoning, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics. I’m also committed to fostering analytic philosophy in Spanish, and together with Diana Acosta, Laura Pérez, and Patricia Marechal, I’ve hosted a series of philosophy workshops in Spanish at Harvard in recent years.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of December 2016: Tommie Shelby

Tommie Shelby

Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African & African American Studies and of Philosophy, Harvard University


AOS: African American Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of Race, Social and Political Philosophy

My primary research interests are in social, political, and legal philosophy. Most of my work has centered on questions of social justice with a particular focus on race and class. I give close attention to the history, socio-cultural life, and plight of peoples of African descent in the United States. My writings tend to be interdisciplinary, rooted in the concerns of philosophy but reaching out to and drawing on history, sociology, political science, and literary and cultural studies.

My first book, “We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity,” examines the conceptual presuppositions and normative underpinnings of African American political unity and collective action. I interrogate and explain the relationship between the ideas of race, social identity, and group solidarity within the practice of African American politics from slavery to the present. Drawing on insights from the black radical tradition, I provide a defense of the continuing relevance of black solidarity in the post-civil rights era.

In various essays, I’ve explored how we should think about racism and what makes it wrong or morally troubling, with a view toward understanding the normative foundations of antiracist thought and activism. I’ve also developed and defended Marx’s ideas about ideology and exploitation and shown their relevance for contemporary debates in political philosophy.

I have strong research and teaching interests in the history of African American political thought. I have written articles and book chapters about such canonical figures as David Walker, Martin Delany, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Martin Luther King Jr. I’m particularly interested in how some black thinkers have drawn on the traditions of liberalism, Marxism, and black nationalism to develop a distinctive and powerful response to a world shaped by the practice of white supremacy.

In my most recent book, “Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform,” I examine the thorny questions of political morality raised by poor black neighborhoods in the United States. Should government foster integrated neighborhoods? If a “culture of poverty” exists, what interventions (if any) are justified? Should single parenthood among the black poor be avoided or deterred? Is voluntary non-work or street crime an acceptable mode of dissent? How should a criminal justice system respond to the law breaking of the oppressed? This book offers philosophical, empirically informed, practical answers, framed in terms of what justice requires of both a government and its citizens. It tries to show the value of careful philosophical reflection for social-scientific research and public policy.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of November 2016: Linda Martín Alcoff

Linda Martín Alcoff

Professor, City University of New York: Hunter College and the Graduate Center


2016-03-18 18.54.56AOS: 19th & 20th Century Philosophy, African American Philosophy, Contemporary Continental Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Critical Theory, Epistemology, European Philosophy, Existentialism, Feminist Philosophy, Hermeneutics, Indigenous Philosophy, Metaphysics, Phenomenology, Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Intersectionality, Philosophy of Gender, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of the Americas, Post-Structuralism, Social and Political Philosophy

My recent scholarly work has concerned questions of social identities, such as race, ethnicity and gender, in terms of their status as social kinds and their epistemic and political relevance. I argue for a post-positivist realist approach to identities in general, and have looked extensively at the specific issues concerning gender identity, the concept of race, the formation of white identity, mixed race identities, and pan-Latino or Hispanic identity. I argue against eliminativism in regard to each of these, and address the idea that white identity should be abolished, and the differences between race and gender. The theory of social identity I develop includes both hermeneutic and phenomenological components, and argues that identities are organic, historically emergent formations in constant flux, incorrectly understood as created wholly by language or as ‘markers’ with little purchase on lived experience that can be transcended or repudiated. Some of the main philosophers that inform my work on identity are Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Marx, and Gadamer. My work on identity overlaps with my recent concerns in feminist and social epistemology, including the epistemology of ignorance. I also work on the issue of sexual violence and questions concerning how to understand the experience of sexual violence given the social constitution of experience, the question of sexual norms and the limitations of consent, and also how best to foment effective collective resistance to sexual violence. This work has been an engagement with Foucault, both making use of his ideas as well as arguing against some aspects of his approach. I teach and write in the area of Latin American philosophy, particularly on the work on Enrique Dussel, Walter Mignolo, and José Carlos Mariátegui. This interest overlaps with general work I have been doing in decolonial philosophy, with a focus on what it would mean to decolonize epistemology and philosophy in general. The decolonial turn has helped to bring the category of race and colonialism into the center of our understanding of class formation and the emergence of capitalism as well as modern social philosophy. This requires a more intensive intersectional and contextual approach to ideas of all sorts to assess their genealogy, meanings, and effects. More information about my publications, including forthcoming ones, can be found on my website, as well as a number of my papers.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of October 2016: Christine Marion Korsgaard

Christine Marion Korsgaard

Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy

Harvard University


Korsgaard.taglessAOS: Ancient Greek and Roman, Ethics, Meta-Ethics, Metaphysics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Philosophy of Action, Practical Reason, Social and Political Philosophy

I work on moral philosophy and its history, practical rationality, the nature of agency, personal identity, related issues in the philosophy of mind, and the ethics of our treatment of animals. In all of these areas, I draw on the ideas of Kant, Plato, and Aristotle: philosophers whose work I admire for its depth and systematicity. I am the author of four books. Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge, 1996) is a collection of papers on Kant’s moral philosophy and Kantian approaches to contemporary problems in moral philosophy. The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge, 1996) is an exploration of the development of modern views about the basis of obligation, culminating in a defense of the Kantian view. The Constitution of Agency (Oxford, 2008) is a collection of papers on practical reason and moral psychology. Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford, 2009), is an account of practical reason and morality grounded in the nature of human agency. I am currently working on two books: Fellow Creatures, a book about the moral and legal standing of non-human animals, and The Natural History of the Good, a book about the place of value in nature.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of September 2016: Naomi Zack

Naomi Zack

Professor, University of Oregon


garden-4-nov-14AOS: African American Philosophy, Applied Ethics, Early Modern Philosophy, Existentialism, Feminist Philosophy, History of Philosophy, Pragmatism, Social and Political Philosophy

Naomi Zack received her PhD in Philosophy from Columbia University and has been Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon since 2001. Zack’s newest book is The Theory of Applicative Justice: An Empirical Pragmatic Approach to Correcting Racial Injustice (2016). Related recent books are: White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of US Police Racial Profiling and Homicide (2015) and The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality after the History of Philosophy (2011, 2015). Additional monographs include: Ethics for Disaster (2009, 2010), Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality (2005), the short textbook, Thinking About Race, 1998, 2006); Bachelors of Science: 17th Century Identity Then and Now (1996); Philosophy of Science and Race (2002); Race and Mixed Race (1993). In production is a 51-contributor Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race (2017).

Zack has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses at the University at Albany, SUNY and the University of Oregon, including ethics, existentialism, newly designed courses on disaster and homelessness, as well as seminars on race, early modern philosophers, the history of political and moral philosophy, and twentieth century analytic philosophy. Zack generally considers herself a common-sense philosopher, able to engage both abstract and real world problems with methods from a plurality of traditions. Her early work on race focused on the biological emptiness of human racial categories and the conundrum of mixed-race identities (especially black and white mixed race). But since 2010, Zack’s work on race has been more broadly concerned with concrete injustice and abstract theories of injustice that extend beyond race. Zack’s treatment of disaster emphasizes the ethical dimensions of obligatory preparation and her emerging scholarly work on home and homelessness proceeds from a class-based, contemporary cosmopolitan perspective, as does her treatment of feminist issues. Zack has organized the project on home and homelessness for the University of Oregon Philosophy Department, and maintains the multimedia website: http://homelessness.philosophy.uoregon.edu/.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of August 2016: Manuel Vargas

Manuel Vargas

Professor of Philosophy

University of California, San Diego (starting in Fall 2017)


USF-Law_Ries©2015_3220AOS: Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Action, Philosophy of the Americas

Most of my philosophical work is about the overlap of moral, psychological, and legal issues concerning human agency and freedom. I try to understand how the kinds of creatures we are does or does not ground a wide range of our social practices—especially those that appeal to ideas like culpability, freedom, capacities, moral credit and blame.

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that, despite the many riches of traditional work on these issues, there is an under-appreciated set of puzzles about the significance of our sociality, the content of social norms, and the structural and institutional context of action, as they pertain to and structure our agency. That is, many important forms of agency are structured from the outside in. However, a range of moral, legal, and political practices (and attendant theories) tend to presume that our agency is best understood as a roughly atomistic thing, best characterized in a way abstracted from context. This leaves us with some rich and interesting philosophical puzzles, the general form of which is this: to what extent should our existing practices, built on broadly atomistic presumptions about agency, be abandoned, retained, or transformed once we relinquish an atomistic picture of our agency?

In the face of these kinds of questions, philosophers and scientists of a certain predilection have leapt to headline-grabbing eliminativist conclusions about, for example, free will, moral responsibility, desert, and punishment. Much of my work has tried to urge that this is too quick. There is plausibly a middle ground on at least some of these things: i.e., we might have good reasons to retain various moral, political, and legal practices even if we lack the sorts of agency that are oftentimes taken to have figured in standard justifications of these practices. How such a story goes for moral responsibility (and one notion of free will) is the subject of my book Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility.

Beyond my work on agency, moral psychology, and philosophical issues in the law, I have a deep affection for various strands of philosophy produced in Latin America. I’m particularly interested in the history of Mexican philosophy, especially from the late 19th century to the middle parts of the 20th century. I’ve also found it instructive to reflect on the history of philosophical work on race in Latin America, where there is a very old tradition of seriously engaging with questions about identity and putative human kinds.

I’m inclined to think that everyone doing contemporary philosophy benefits from having a foot placed deeply in something outside of contemporary philosophy—whether it is in some part of the historical tradition, some counter-canonical body of work, or a different field. Besides being good for one’s intellectual biome, as it were, it also helps remind one of the contingency of the social relations that structure contemporary philosophical attention.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of July 2016: Sally Haslanger

Sally Haslanger

Ford Professor of Philosophy & Women’s and Gender Studies

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


MIT-Philsopher-Sally-Haslanger-2-2013AOS: Child, Family, Parenting, and Reproduction Ethics, Critical Theory, Epistemology, Feminist Philosophy, GRIDS+, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Disability, Philosophy of Intersectionality, Philosophy of Gender, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of Social Science, Pragmatism, Social and Political Philosophy

My philosophical interests are broad. I began my philosophical life specializing in analytic metaphysics and epistemology, and in ancient philosophy (especially Aristotle’s metaphysics). Over time I shifted to work more in social and political philosophy, feminist theory and critical race theory. I have published on the problem of persistence through change, pragmatic paradox, and Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of substance. In feminist theory I have written on the objectivity and objectification, and Catharine MacKinnon’s theory of gender. For many years I was devoted to making metaphysical sense of the notion of social construction. My book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford 2012), collects papers published over the course of twenty years that link work in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language with social and political issues concerning gender, race, and the family.

More recently I have been working on social practices, social structure, structural explanation, and ideology. Mainstream philosophy has, to my mind, systematically ignored the social domain, focusing its normative attention on individuals and states. This is a problem because the social domain structures our day to day lives and is a site of substantial and durable injustice. Attention to the social domain is hampered by misunderstandings about social ontology and commitments to methodological individualism. So there is much work to be done, not only on normative issues, but also issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. For example, what is a social structure and how can reference to social structures be explanatory? How and why do agents enact social structures, and to what extent, under what conditions, and by what methods are we justified in destabilizing them? What is the epistemology of consciousness raising, of ignorance? What is social meaning, and how is it learned, reproduced, modified? How is social meaning related to social justice? To answer these questions I believe philosophers can benefit from a broad background social science (not just cognitive science!) and the other humanities.

Although I am trained in the analytic tradition, I draw on resources, authors, and methods that cross traditional divides. I am very interested in Frankfurt School Critical Theory, Foucault, Bourdieu, the materialist feminism of Christine Delphy, and many others. Another theme in my work is how to preserve a kind of (Marxian) materialism in thinking about the social world, without endorsing a crude economic determinism. In this I am most influenced by Iris Young (esp. “Socialist Feminism and the Limits of Dual Systems Theory.”) The basic idea, put nicely by Jennifer Einspahr, is:

…if inequality is ‘structural’, that is, linked to the distribution of goods and resources and embedded in everyday rules and interactions, but is also continually reactivated through agency, then neither ‘structural’ changes nor changes in ‘consciousness’ will on their own disrupt the mutually reinforcing facets of domination: We can neither ‘think ourselves’ out of oppression nor will freedom result automatically from a redistribution of goods and resources, although both are important contributors to freedom. (Einspahr 2010,17)

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of June 2016: Ruth Chang

Ruth Chang

Professor of Philosophy

Rutgers University


hsafmovingshotchangAOS: Ethics, Meta-Ethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Philosophy of Action, Philosophy of Law, Practical Reason

My current philosophical interests center on the nature of value, practical reasons, normativity and agency. One of my main concerns has been to understand the structure of practical normativity. Take, for instance, value. It is commonly assumed that every value can normatively relate two items in only one of three ways, by one being better than, worse than, or as good as the other. I have argued that this assumption, which underwrites normative work in ethics, rational and social choice theory, politics, law, health care and business studies, and so on, should be rejected. Items can be normatively related not only by being better than, worse than, or as good as one another but also by being on a par. I suggest that thinkers have overlooked parity because they have unreflectively assimilate the normative to the nonnormative: lengths and weights are non-normatively related by ‘more’, ‘less’, and ‘equal’, which are the analogoues of ‘better’, ‘worse’, and ‘equal’. But we shouldn’t assume that value and reasons have the same structure as non-normative considerations like length and weight.

The structure of practical normativity is important because it opens up a novel way of thinking about practical agency. The slogan, ‘recognize and respond to reasons,’ as summarizing the job description of a rational agent, is too impoverished to allow agency itself – that is you, yourself, sometimes called your ‘will’ – to play any significant role in determining what it is rational for you to do. My current work explores alternative views both about the structure of normativity – practical and theoretical – and about what it is to be a rational agent that take seriously the possibility that the normative is fundamentally different in structure from the nonnormative and that we, ourselves, our very agency per se, can play a direct role in determining what we should do.

Other current projects include work on issues in population ethics, the nature of indeterminacy, both semantic and metaphysical, and the philosophy of law, in particular, how the law evolves through legal adjudication. I’ve also worked on issues concerning value pluralism, the incommensurability of values, the nature of practical reasons, social choice, and some issues in metaethics.

UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of May 2016: Tina Botts

Tina Botts

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

California State University, Fresno


profile4AOS: Philosophy of Law, Applied Ethics, Hermeneutics, Philosophy of Race, Feminist Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy

I have a law degree from Rutgers University Law School, Camden and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Memphis.

The general theme of my research is to philosophically interrogate existing legal, moral, and socio-political paradigms, and their underlying metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, to determine the extent to which these paradigms facilitate positive outcomes for the marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated.  Where a given paradigm is found lacking, I advocate alternative approaches or paradigm shifts designed to more fully protect these populations.

My publications include an edited anthology, Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience,  Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; a philosophy journal article, “Legal Hermeneutics,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015;  three book chapters: (1) “Women of Color Feminisms,” written with Rosemarie Tong in the 4th edition of Feminist Thought, Westview Press, 2013, (2) “Hermeneutics, Race, and Gender,” in The Routledge Companion to Hermeneutics,  Jeff Malpas, editor, 2014, and (3) “Multiracial Americans and Racial Discrimination,” in Race Policy and Multiracial Americans, Kathleen Korgen, editor, Polity Press, 2016; a law review article, “Antidiscrimination Law and the Multiracial Experience,” Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal,  Summer 2013; and two book reviews:  on Albert Atkin’s The Philosophy of Race, Acumen Publishing, 2012, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2013; and on Goswami and O’Donovan’s Why Race and Gender Still Matter, Pickering and Chatto, 2014, Hypatia Online Reviews, 2015.

I am currently at work on a monograph on the role of Aristotelian equality in equal protection law, The Concept of Race, Aristotle’s Proportional Equality, and Equal Protection Law, under contract with Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield; a textbook on feminist philosophy with Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought, 5th edition, for Westview Press; a book chapter, “The Concept of Intersectionality” for The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy, Ann Garry, et al., editors; and three philosophy journal articles:  (1) “Boylan’s Agency Justification for Natural Human Rights and Group Rights,”  for The Journal of Applied Ethics and Philosophy, (2) “Natural Law Theory or Legal Interpretivism: The Mature Frederick Douglass’s Method of Constitutional Interpretation,” for Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, and (3) “The Myth of Content of Neutrality: Hate Speech and Social Harm” for Ratio Juris.