Philosophical Profiles is a series of interviews with distinguished and influential philosophers working on a range of issues of interdisciplinary interest, from Political Philosophy, the rights and status of children, Bioethics, Sex and Gender, the nature of free will, personhood, right through to the physical structure of the universe. Each philosopher discusses his or her particular area of focus and how he or she became interested in that area in a way that should be accessible to a general audience.
Pamela Hieronymi is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has written about forgiveness, blame, belief, reasons, agency, responsibility, free will and ethics. She has one book forthcoming (Freedom, Resentment, and the Metaphysics of Morals, Princeton) on perhaps the most influential article of the second half of the twentieth century, and another one under revision (Minds That Matter) that brings together most of the threads in her work so far. She believes humans almost unavoidably do wrong, but that that doesn’t excuse them from blame for so doing. However, the good news is that blame on her conception is not a form of punishment—it is not to be confused with “guilt tripping.” She also defends a version of the moral contractualism of T.M. Scanlon (whose What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard, 1998) she is acknowledged within, and which she is responsible for featuring prominently in the sitcom The Good Place) whereby morality is a matter of rules that reasonable people would agree to be constrained by if others did likewise. This is a “minimal” view of morality which has been criticized as giving too weak a reason against torturing babies for fun, a charge Hieronymi rejects. When she is not taking on consensus on the big questions in normative philosophy, or giving TV producers crash courses in philosophy, she spends time with her cat, despite her view that dogs are more likely capable of morality.
Elizabeth Barnes is Professor of Philosophy in the Corcoran Department of Philosophy at the University of Virginia. She is author of The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability (Oxford University Press, 2016) and editor of Current Controversies in Metaphysics (Routledge, 2016). As those titles might reveal, Professor Barnes is interested both in the traditional, core analytic tradition of metaphysics and in social theory, and is particularly interested in areas of intersection between them. In this interview, we focus exclusively on The Minority Body wherein she defends the concept of disability against the charge that it is empty while at the same time arguing that one should not think of impairment and disability as distinct notions. She opens herself up to criticism on both sides, asserting both that disability is a socially constructed notion and that there is something essentially physical about being disabled. She also asserts both that disability in itself is neutral (neither bad nor good) and that it can be bad for individuals. In her spare time, Professor Barnes is enjoying being a crone and the company of neurotic rescue dogs, and is admirably tolerant of her running-obsessed sister.
Ben Bradley is the Allan and Anita Sutton Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University. Besides articles too numerous to list, and chapters in such volumes as The Oxford Handbook of Virtue and The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism, Ben has written the books Well Being and Death (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009) and Well-Being (Polity Press, 2015), and co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death (Oxford University Press, 2012). As might be apparent, Ben is morbidly obsessed with death, although I doubt he would phrase it quite that way, and he seems remarkably cheerful, despite arguing that one’s death does indeed harm one. His other major interest, which overlaps, is in the nature of value, where he defends the old-fashioned and unpopular view of hedonism, that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the only intrinsically bad thing is pain. Ben is an admitted bullet-biter: he is used to incredulous stares (most notably for his view that dead people and possibly even never-existing potential people, have a well-being level) and is unfazed by them. He will defend his commitment to simple theories to suspiciously arcane lengths. I suspect that Ben’s obsession with death and his fondness for baseball are related.
Robert Kane is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. Along with too many articles to mention, Bob is the author of a number of books, among them The Significance of Free Will (Oxford, 1998), A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford, 2005) and Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom (Cambridge, 2010), and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (2002) and Free Will (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003). As might be obvious, he has a particular interest in the philosophical debate over free will, to which he has contributed his own distinctive conception, which takes elements from both compatibilism and libertarianism. Regarding the latter, he made it his mission to avoid “panicky metaphysics” while staying true to the rash claim he made as a graduate student that he could make sense of libertarian intuitions in a scientific context. He attributes his committed pluralism to his childhood in Maynard, MA. Not one to shy away from challenges, having solved the puzzle of free will, he has turned more recently to reviving the ancient view of wisdom as uniting metaphysics and ethics. And all this because he read A.J. Ayer as a twelve-year-old but refused to be put off Philosophy as a career. However, it has to be said that he did not have a hand in the creation of Batman.
Susan Wolf is Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She first burst on the scene in the early eighties with a trio of truly seminal papers: "Asymmetrical Freedom," "The Importance of Free Will" and "Moral Saints." Since then she has published prolifically primarily in two areas: free will and responsibility, and moral and non-moral values, her papers on the latter of which have just been collected in The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning & Love (Oxford, 2015). A second volume of her papers on responsibility will follow soon, or her long-suffering editor will want to know why not. Professor Wolf is a big fan of crusty British Philosophers Peter Strawson and Bernard Williams and, what's worse, actually reads Henry James novels for pleasure. But she will allow that it may be possible to have a meaningful life even if you don't.
Philosophy has brought Eric Olson from the deserts of Eastern Washington State to Cambridge, and thence to the home of Stainless Steel and The Full Monty, where he is Professor of Philosophy at Sheffield University. He is known for his rejection of the orthodox view of personal identity associated with everyone from John Locke to Derek Parfit and his stubborn insistence that we are animals, a view which he has defended in numerous articles and his two books, The Human Animal (1997) and What Are We? (2007, both Oxford University Press). He enjoys running and currently his thoughts are turning to the topic of death, although the two are unrelated.
David Shoemaker is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Murphy Institute of Tulane University. His areas of interest lie predominantly in the topics of personal identity and moral responsibility. He runs the biennial New Orleans Workshop on Agency and Responsibility, out of which come the Oxford University Press series Studies in Agency and Responsibility, for which he is the editor. He has written a bewildering profusion of articles for leading journals, and three books, the most recent of which is Responsibility from the Margins, hot off the presses from Oxford. No library is complete without a copy. He is the co-founder and co-editor of PEA Soup. David will fight anybody who questions the notion that Peter Strawson's article "Freedom and Resentment" is the greatest article in the last 60 or so years. Don't get him started on psychopaths.
Marya Schechtman is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is also a member of the Laboratory of Integrated Neuroscience. She got her Ph.D. in Philosophy at Harvard, and her dissertation on personal identity became her first book, The Constitution of Selves (Cornell, 1996). In this work she argues that the dominant view of personal identity most famously defended by Sidney Shoemaker and modified by Derek Parfit, which takes the work of John Locke as inspiration, misses out a vital element of Locke's view. She defends what she calls The Narrative Self-Constitution View. This view became influential, and therefore a target for criticism, from the burgeoning animalist movement in the philosophy of personal identity on one side, and from what the philosopher Galen Strawson calls "episodics" on the other. In her new book, Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns, and the Unity of Life (Oxford, 2014), she responds to the critiques and advances the Person Life View, which takes persons as essentially situated within cultures.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is many things and does many more. Besides being Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, he is also a faculty member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Sciences and a Partner Investigator at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, and Research Scientist with The Mind Research Network in New Mexico. He has been invited to prestigious institutions the world over, from Taiwan to Australia, from Oxford to Harvard and Princeton. His interests range from the straightforwardly analytic to the full-on empirical. Areas he has worked in straddle the normative, legal and scientific and most recently include neuroprediction of crime, neural detection of consciousness in brain-damaged patients, psychopaths, free will and moral responsibility, and the neural basis of moral judgments. He has also taken the atheist side in debates with Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and has strong opinions about online teaching.
Elizabeth Anderson, besides being a 2013 Guggenheim fellow and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan, recently transitioned from being the John Rawls Collegiate Professor to the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies. She has written on a wide range of normative issues, including surrogacy, dependent care, animal rights, affirmative action and the theories of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant. In her 1999 article, "What is the Point of Equality?," she coined the term "luck egalitarianism" for the then dominant view of egalitarianism in political philosophy, even though her intent was just to have a name for the obituary. Her article "If God is Dead, is Everything Permitted?" was included in Christopher Hitchens' anthology The Portable Atheist. Her most recent book, The Imperative of Integration was winner of the 2011 Joseph B. Gittler Award from the American Philosophical Association. She is currently writing a history of egalitarian movements.
Allen Buchanan wears many hats. In the Fall, he is the James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. In the Spring, he jets off to Tucson, where he is a Research Professor at the Freedom Center at the University of Arizona. Finally, in May and June he is to be found in London, at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King's College, where he is Professor of Philosophy of International Law. His teaching and research focus on political philosophy, philosophy of international law, social/moral epistemology, and bioethics. His most recent books include: Justice and Health Care: Selected Essays, Human Rights, Legitimacy, and the Use of Force: Selected Essays, Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. We interviewed him on the day he moved into a new flat for his time in London.
Advisory Board Member
Center for Cognition and Neuroethics
University of Michigan-Flint
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