Photo of Colleen Murphy

APA Member Interview: Colleen Murphy

Colleen Murphy is a Professor (promotion effective in August) with a joint appointment in Law and Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also serves as Director of the Women & Gender in Global Perspectives Program. Her research is in legal and political philosophy; she focuses specifically on political reconciliation and transitional justice as well as on risk ethics.

What excites you about philosophy?

Using philosophical tools to contribute to public discussion and to the understanding of pressing societal issues by clarifying and articulating the moral values at stake.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?

My forthcoming book The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice (Cambridge University Press). It is in my view the best piece of writing I have produced, both in terms of the substantive content and in terms of the writing itself. In many ways, this book also completes the project begun in my first book on political reconciliation. In his review of my first book, Dan Philpott from Notre Dame pressed me to clarify the relationship between reconciliation and justice. I am so grateful he did. It led me to write my book on transitional justice. I argue that transitional justice is a distinctive form of justice. Its concern is the just pursuit of societal transformation, and such transformation is at its core the relational repair entailed by political reconciliation.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

My first book, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation (Cambridge University Press, 2010). I am proud because the book takes up a question that matters both theoretically and practically. The question is: “what is required to repair political relationships among human beings who live in the same society and who have suffered and/or inflicted suffering in a systematic and widespread manner, and why is such repair morally valuable?” This question dominated my thinking for fifteen years. I am also proud because I am still satisfied with my account in that book. 

If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?

Aristotle. Anything related to political philosophy.

What time of day are you most productive and creative?

The very early morning (5:00 AM specifically). My mind is most alert and writing is easiest.

What do you like to do outside work?

Spend time with my family and travel. When possible, I try to do these together. I prefer the kind of travel that allows me to spend an extended period of time in one place, so I can observe the rhythm of daily life there.

What three things are on your bucket list that you’ve not yet accomplished?


  1. Travel to every continent. (I have yet to visit Australia and Antarctica.)
  2. Watch my children graduate from college (They are 2 and 5, so this will take some time.)
  3. Attain written fluency in Italian. 

What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?

For those working in value theory: Stay grounded in and aware of the concerns of ordinary people in their daily lives. Philosophy is at its best when it engages with actual problems facing real individuals. This is true both in research and in teaching.

Find out more about Colleen here or follow her on Twitter.  

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This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here