Robin Zheng received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Michigan (2015). She is currently a Visiting Junior Research Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, and will begin as Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College, Singapore, this summer. She works primarily on ethics, moral psychology, and feminist and social philosophy.
What excites you about philosophy?
Philosophy appealed to me as a student because I was able to study problems I’d previously only encountered in literature and the arts, but with the rigor and systematicity that I appreciated in math and science. Now, when I teach philosophy, I start by saying two things. First, “This is for real.” Whenever we construct, challenge, and defend arguments to one another, we’re doing real philosophy just as it’s always been done. Moreover, in doing philosophy we talk about things that really matter. Second, I say, “We’re in this together.” What I love about philosophy is that everyone (in or outside the academy) already is a philosopher, albeit, perhaps, untrained. It’s an activity that calls for treating everyone—regardless of, indeed because of differences in culture, background, identity, and experience—as equal participants with equal potential to bring insights to the table.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
Although I really like my written work (who doesn’t enjoy reading a text that says all and exactly things she believes to be true?), it’s such a private satisfaction that I wouldn’t say I take pride in it. Rather, I am proud of the many collective endeavors I’ve been involved in, working alongside dedicated and thoughtful people, to improve my corner of the world in ways based on local and immediate experience. This includes things I’ve done with my graduate student labor union (GEO), the APA Task Forces on Diversity and Inclusion and on a Best Practices Scheme, the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) network, and the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl.
What do you like to do outside work?
I like to travel, rock-climb, read novels, pet cats, and catch up with old friends.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any historical figure, who would you pick, and what topic would you choose?
Ella Baker. If you haven’t heard of her—despite her crucial roles in the NAACP, SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee)—it’s because she had a radical vision of bottom-up leadership and political transformation, marvelously detailed in Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement. I would ask her for practical strategies and principles for cultivating and maintaining solidarity between oppressed groups who are all too commonly and tragically divided.
Which super power would you like to have?
I’m not sure this is even conceptually coherent (philosophers of mind, help!), but I always wanted to be able to experience the world fully and completely as another person does, while still retaining my own perspective on their experience of it.
If you were a brick in the wall, which brick would you be?
I would like to be this book in the wall.
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