What It’s Like to Be Josh Knobe

A new interview is up at What Is It Like To Be a Philosopher?, this time with Joshua Knobe (Yale). Interviewer Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) asks Knobe a range of questions about his life and ideas.

Some interesting excerpts:

On the job market:

I lived pretty far from campus and hardly ever came in. As a result, I was woefully ignorant about just about every aspect of the profession. The people I spent time with were mostly people I met through my wife, which meant that they weren’t so much academics as people in indie rock bands. It might seem odd, but the truth is that I hardly ever thought about the job market. Maybe it was a function of the people I was spending time with. People in bands tend not to have any real expectation that they can turn the things they’re doing into a successful career; they just want to make some music. In a similar way, I had this sense that I should be writing philosophy all the time, but I had no real view either way about whether doing that could help me get a job.

On good dissertation advising:

I feel like Harman’s whole approach to advising came out most clearly in a conversation we once had about some technical question in the philosophy of mind. I was trying my best to defend a particular view, and Harman was going after it with objection after objection. At some point, it was becoming clear that my attempts to defend the view against these objections were completely falling apart, and at that point, I said, ‘But Gil, this view I’m trying to defend — it is actually your own view! It is the view that you yourself have defended in a whole series of articles.’ Harman looked at me quizzically and then brushed aside this point, saying ‘That’s just some other guy.’

What he meant was that the right way to think of it was that there were these two different people who just happened to have the same name and to look a lot alike. One was the philosopher Gil Harman, this monumental figure who had defended various views in his published work. The other was my advisor Gil Harman, who was not committed to any specific views and was just trying to teach me how to be a better philosopher.

Basically, Harman did everything he could to make you feel like you weren’t really the student of that monumental figure, that the monumental figure was just ‘some other guy’ whose papers you could read if you wanted to but who had nothing to do with what you should be doing in your work as his grad student.

On diversity in the profession:

Judging just from my own personal experience, though, it seems like one thing that makes a real difference is kindness. Philosophy tends to be a strangely combative and adversarial discipline, with even graduate students trying to score points by proving other people wrong. I wonder if our discipline would be seen as more welcoming if we tried a little harder to be nice to each other. (Of course, the only way to know whether a hypothesis like this one is correct is to conduct serious empirical research.)

On the future of philosophy:

I’m very optimistic about the future of philosophy. Back when I went to graduate school, philosophy was dominated by a relatively small number of figures working on a relatively limited of questions. That has all changed. Now we have a real profusion of different ideas and approaches. More and more, I see students coming up with new questions of their own, rather than working within a dialectic set up by more established figures. It’s an exciting time to be in the field.

The rest is here.



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