What was your dissertation title and topic?

Borderline Cases: a Problem in Predicating

What seminar stood out and influenced your thinking?

Oddly enough, it was the seminar on Heidegger’s Being and Time, even though I never really understood that book. It led me to recognize the possibility that truth might be a degreed notion.

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

My dissertation defense was conducted before the dissertation was finished, because Furth (my committee chair) was going to go on leave to Harvard. So, the defense was quite real and, as Furth said, “anything can happen”. David Kaplan and David Lewis were the other philosophers on the committee, and the discussion was spirited–and lengthy. Finally, Furth sent me out into the hall, so the committee could decide what to do. After maybe twenty minutes, Furth emerged to tell me that a) he would give me his comments and I could do with them whatever I wanted, b) Lewis was satisfied with the dissertation, and c) Kaplan was not yet satisfied, so my defense would need to continue at Kaplan’s house in the next week or so. In about a week, I went to Kaplan’s home in the evening to continue the discussion of my work. After a couple of hours, we ended up at the kitchen table, where we continued to talk. While walking me to the door, he ended my defense and thus my career as a grad student at UCLA by telling me my dissertation was a good one.

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

The faculty was always interested in exploring and promoting a search for the most reasonable position on any philosophical topic. I never sensed that there were warring ideological factions.

The UCLA approach to philosophy at that time was largely hard-nosed logical empiricism–which is why I applied to UCLA’s Ph.D. program. ( I had a background in mathematics and physics, but I was personally opposed to logical empiricism and I wanted to understand that outlook deeply,) I certainly learned to argue carefully.

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

I don’t think my interests have changed, but my understanding of my interests has become much clearer to me. I now realize that I have always been interested in the interplay between natural science, philosophy, and traditional fundamental notions used to understand life and the world, such as those found in ethics and religion. I saw my dissertation as being a work in the philosophy of language; I now see it as being about how we use various conceptual schemes to understand our world and our place in it. One way, though, in which I have changed: I no longer find philosophical argument interesting unless it deals with issues that seem fundamental or significant.

If your current career is outside of academia, have you found your philosophical training useful and if so, in what way?

I am currently working part-time within academia, but not in philosophy. For about ten years, I have been supported by NSF, doing educational research in STEM-C fields. Unfortunately, that has detracted from my work in philosophy, even though I think my NSF work is socially important.

Currently, I am teaching a course for the Technology Department on social issues in technology, for school teachers who are seeking to become computer science teachers. I am struck by how much of the literature on the topic is philosophically naive, despite the value of that literature; its value would have increased if the authors were more philosophically aware.

My current publications are all in educational research. My philosophical training has been crucial in presenting my arguments within those publications for which I am first author; being keenly aware of possible objections and constantly paying attention to logical structure makes a big difference.

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?

The publication I’d really like to mention is the one that does not yet exist because I haven’t finished it! (I’m working on a paper that argues it is a mistake to think that progress in the natural sciences suggests that all our choices are causally determined by our pasts, and so the contemporary free will vs. determinism debate is based on a mistake. There are serious problems about what we can sensibly be thought to be responsible for, but those problems do not come from the natural sciences. One need not subscribe to substance dualism in order to see that the choices for which we are responsible cannot be subject to the laws of nature. )

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

Kant’s first critique. Terribly written, very hard to follow, probably wrong in most details, but nevertheless brilliant in its main point — the world we experience is the result of our own conceptualizing schemes.