What was your dissertation title and topic?
Title: “Parts of Perception”, Topic: I looked, with reference to perceptual psychology, at how our perceptual states are made up of component parts.
What seminar stood out and influenced your thinking?
Almost every seminar had a big influence on me and reinforced the UCLA style of deep, careful analysis done with a sense of humor. Maybe the most important seminars for me were the first-year series, and especially Seana Shiffrin’s seminar on value theory, in which she rigorously trained us not just in the subject matter, but in how to present and be fruitful interlocutors.
What, if anything, about the UCLA department’s culture and approach to philosophy has influenced your intellectual approach?
UCLA reinforced the value of diligent, careful, honest analysis, done with a sense of humor and without bluster. I always felt the attitude at UCLA was that philosophy is very, very hard. If at any point it feels easy, then you probably aren’t paying close enough attention or aren’t being honest with yourself. If it feels overwhelmingly hard, it need not be because you are confused or aren’t up to the task, but more likely it is because you are on to something important, subtle and difficult. Talks and conversations shouldn’t be treated as forums for performing or doing battle, but provide opportunities to think together with someone on hard questions and to press each other to think more deeply. A related lesson reinforced at UCLA, both as a researcher and as a teacher, is always to keep in mind how technical terms, distinctions, and models that we create to better understand some subject matter connect to the heart of that subject matter.
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 recently published a chapter of my dissertation, “The Perspectival Character of Perception,” in the Journal of Philosophy.
Any all-time favorite philosophical articles or books you would recommend? Any new discoveries?
In Prof. Hieronymi’s introductory ethics course (Phil. 22W), for which I was a TA, we taught John Taurek’s paper “Should the Numbers Count?” In the paper, Taurek argues that one is not, all things considered, obligated to save the many over the few (even if it is a choice of saving one million over saving one). The paper exemplifies what I love about philosophy. First, it challenges a seemingly obvious principle (all things equal, save the many over the few) by calling into question some key assumptions. Whether one accepts Taurek’s arguments or not, his discussion provides new, rich resources for evaluating and thinking about the principle in question. Second, the paper does not just engage in a standard argument-response-counter-response dialectic; it grounds these moves in a broad and important context–in this case, the value of empathy and concern for individual persons.
In my own areas of research (mind and language), I find that Elisabeth Camp’s work (for example “Thinking with Maps” and “The Generality Constraint and Categorial Restrictions”) often exemplifies these same characteristics. For similar reasons, many of my favorite work has been done by UCLA faculty members, including Barbara Herman (e.g. “Integrity and Impartiality”), David Kaplan (e.g. “Demonstratives”), Seana Shiffrin (e.g. “Inducing Moral Deliberation: On the Virtues of Fog”), Tyler Burge (e.g. “Origins of Objectivity”), and former faculty member Angela Davis (e.g. “Women, Race, & Class”).