Interview with Laura Purdy

This is the next in my series of interviews with my favorite women in philosophy, and a few others that have been recommended to me (see the intro to my interview with Susan Haack for why I am running this series and how you can help me, and the intro to my interview with Elizabeth Anderson for a bit more on that). This was composed two weeks ago but has been awaiting a time slot to go up on my blog.

Today I’m speaking with Laura Purdy, who was until just recently (she is now retired) Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Wells College, NY (see her brief bio at IHEU). She is best known for her books In Their Best Interest? The Case against Equal Rights for Children (Cornell 1992), which is one of the only fully-articulated defenses there are of the principle (which we normally take for granted) that children do not (and should not) have the same rights as adults; and Reproducing Persons: Issues in Feminist Bioethics (Cornell 1996), which is now one of the classical texts in the area of abortion and reproductive rights [for more see her cv].

Purdy’s work in feminism and bioethics has influenced me (especially on abortion, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the right to die), but I confess was not on my radar when developing this series (she was just one among many philosophers I consulted and benefited from before reaching my own conclusions on these issues; although my conclusions usually did end up very near to hers), until someone suggested I interview her. I thought, quite so! She is not only a significant philosopher but also an unabashed atheist.

 

Interview with Laura Purdy

R.C.: Thank you so much for taking the time and agreeing to this interview for FreethoughtBlogs. As a philosopher myself, I often encounter the attitude that philosophers are useless to society, not important, they don’t even do anything except dress up opinions in academic language, that philosophy is a career dead-end or a waste of potential (“Why didn’t you become a doctor or a physicist or at least a lawyer something?”). I have my own way of responding to that. But I’m curious about yours. There’s a lot of pain and labor and sacrifice and expense to get all the way to completing a Ph.D., so we have to be really driven by something! So why did you pursue a career in philosophy? And I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy, not just teaching it.

L.P.: My first philosophy course was such fun! It was the first course I encountered in college where you were free to [Read more…]

Interview with Elizabeth Anderson

This is the next in my series of interviews with my favorite women in philosophy (see the intro to my interview with Susan Haack for why I am running this series and how you can help me). Some won’t appear…my favorite female philosopher of all time is Philippa Foot, who is sadly deceased (and thus unavailable for interview), and a close second is Martha Nussbaum, who as a practicing Jew does not count herself an atheist and so declined to be interviewed for this project.

Today I’m speaking with Elizabeth Anderson, who is the John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is best known for her book Value in Ethics and Economics (Harvard 1993), which challenges the notion that all goods can be commodified (i.e. regarded as fungibly equivalent to money) and sees what follows when we abandon that notion; and most recently for her strong defense of reasonable affirmative action policies in The Imperative of Integration (Princeton 2010) [for more see her cv].

I agree a bit less with Anderson than with Haack, at least on some issues (I do agree with her on a lot of things, too, and in this interview, I agree with nearly everything), but her work has been important in making the best non-straw-man case for views different from my own, and has actually changed and improved my own views in result. In this respect she reminds me of A.J. Ayer, who helped me structure much of my thought, and it was precisely in answering (or improving on) him that led me to my current views (in his case, regarding epistemology and semantics; in Anderson’s case, with regard to ethics, value theory, and politics). I am thus not a logical positivist, but I’m a much better philosopher for having taken the best of them seriously. So, too, Anderson.

 

Interview with Elizabeth Anderson

R.C.: Thank you so much for taking the time and agreeing to this interview for FreethoughtBlogs. As a philosopher myself, I often encounter the attitude that philosophers are useless to society, not important, they don’t even do anything except dress up opinions in academic language, that philosophy is a career dead-end or a waste of potential (“Why didn’t you become a doctor or a physicist or at least a lawyer something?”). I have my own way of responding to that. But I’m curious about yours. There’s a lot of pain and labor and sacrifice and expense to get all the way to completing a Ph.D., so we have to be really driven by something! So why did you pursue a career in philosophy? And I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy, not just teaching it.

[Read more…]

Interview with Susan Haack

I’ve been interested in getting a female philosopher onto Freethought Blogs, someone who actively blogs the subject and is keen to join us as an atheist activist. The general reception to my idea has been “there aren’t any of those.” There are women who are philosophers (full on, with Ph.D.s and publications and the whole nine yards), but none who actively blog on philosophy and identify openly as atheists or even new atheists (meaning: willing to openly take on religion, fervently and without quarter).

By all means, if you know anyone like that, tell me about them at once. In the meantime, I decided I’d go exploring, starting by collecting interviews with my favorite women in philosophy today. So at least women in philosophy can have a voice here and you can learn about them and their work. Of course I’ll be asking if any of them might be interested in blogging with us, but I don’t expect that. But I am also asking them if they know any women who might fit our bill, especially up and coming women in philosophy who are opinionated and outspoken and don’t care who they piss off.

In the meantime, here is the first in the series, my interview with Susan Haack, one of my favorite epistemologists and philosophers of science. Currently a professor of philosophy and law at U. Miami, Dr. Haack is best known for such works as Evidence and Inquiry and Defending Science—Within Reason (for more see her official cv). I will be asking many of the same questions of others in future months. And in this case as in every, we don’t agree on everything, but we agree on a lot!


Interview with Susan Haack

R.C.: Why did you choose a career in philosophy?—and I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy? [Read more…]