What was your dissertation title and topic?

Moral Properties: Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals, chaired by Warren Quinn

What seminar stood out and influenced your thinking?

Actually, seminars by visitors–John McDowell on Virtue Ethics; David Pears on Middle Russell and Early Wittgenstein; David Pears on Aristotle’s Ethics; Colin McGinn on Realism.

Do you have a good story or two about the department?

  • While I liked the professors in the department, I was most stimulated by the continuous stream of amazing visitors: John McDowell, David Pears, Colin McGinn, David Sachs, Aryeh Kosman, Jonathan Lear, Andreas Eshete, Rosalind Hursthouse, Alison Jaggar. I don’t know that that happens so much anymore.
  • We had no philosopher of science in the department for many years, because Carnap had retired and no one could replace him.
  • The department was unable to tenure anyone in political philosophy during my time there, passing on such notables as Bernie Boxill, Greg Kafka, and Jean Hampton.

What, if anything, about the UCLA department’s culture and approach to philosophy has influenced your intellectual approach?

Not to be in a rush to publish. My recent book on Tractatus in Context was begun in my first year of grad school (1976) as An Intellectual-Historical Introduction to Wittgenstein and the Tractatus. It is now published 45 years later.

How have your philosophical interests changed since you were at UCLA?

I was always interested in Wittgenstein, and so enjoyed seminars by Albritton and by Foot. But my dissertation was on Moral Realism, and my first decade of publications were on realism and supervenience. Then after getting tenure I returned to my interest in Wittgenstein and have focused on him for the last 30 some years.

If your current career is inside of academia, what’s your favorite course to teach right now? Do you have a recent publication you’d like to mention?

I love teaching Ancient Greek Philosophy, and I recently developed a course on Ethical Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence.

Recently I have published Wittgenstein’s Artillery: Philosophy as Poetry (MIT Press, 2021), and Tractatus in Context: The Essential Background for Appreciating Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Routledge, 2022).

Any all-time favorite philosophical articles or books you would recommend? Any new discoveries?

  • Bertrand Russell, Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918): This inspired me to major in philosophy as an undergrad, and I have taught it over a dozen times.
  • Simon Blackburn, “Moral Realism” (1971): This inspired my dissertation.
  • John McDowell, “Virtue and Reason” (1979): I first heard this in his course at UCLA that I took in 1977.
  • Martha Nussbaum, “The Speech of Alcibiades: A Reading of the Symposium” (1986) (a chapter from her book The Fragility of Goodness): This deeply influenced my teaching and understanding of Plato.