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APA Member Interview: Sam Cowling

Sam Cowling is an assistant professor of philosophy at Denison University. He earned his BA from the University of Victoria, an MA from the University of Manitoba, and a PhD from UMass-Amherst. He works primarily in metaphysics and the philosophy of science.

What excites you about philosophy?

Something like the intellectual disorientation of new and strange ideas. Like a lot of folks, my first experiences with philosophy felt pretty mind-blowing and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. Over time, though, I’m most excited by the chance to talk about philosophy and see what other folks are working on. Perhaps most importantly, I find philosophy makes my time spent alone and with others more interesting and rewarding. So much of what’s worth thinking about falls within philosophy and so much of what’s fun to talk about is bound up with philosophical questions.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?

The second paper I published, “The Limits of Modality,” defends the peculiar view that some truths are neither necessary nor contingent. I’m not sure anyone else has ever read it, but I still really like that paper and I think the view probably deserves a better hearing. I’ve also got a book on abstract entities coming out next year, which I think has some useful and interesting chapters.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

It’s odd to take pride in something that hinges greatly on luck, but, given how terrible the job market is, I spend a lot of time being immensely grateful for having a tenure-track job. Apart from that, I’m especially pleased about contributing to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and joining the editorial board of the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. I’m also really proud of the Junior Metaphysics Workshop, which I’ve been a part of for the last few years. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to meet some terrific philosophers and learn a heck of a lot. This year I’m organizing a conference on teaching logic in the liberal arts, which I’m also pretty excited about.

Who do you think is the most underrated philosopher?

Along with metaphysics, I’ve been reading a lot of history of science and medieval philosophy in the past couple of years. Any encounter with Pierre Duhem leaves me in awe of the scope and depth of his knowledge and insight. In addition to The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Roger Ariew’s translation of some of the great portions of Le Systèm du Monde is an invaluable resource. In that vein, I’ve also gotten a lot out of reading John Buridan, Nicolaus Cusanus, and other neat stuff in medieval physics and cosmology. The work of David Lindberg and Edward Grant has been hugely helpful in navigating that philosophical terrain.

What advice do you wish someone had given you?

Luckily enough, someone did give me this piece of advice early on: You might be tempted to read and cite only the leading lights in your discipline. Resist that urge. Read and cite widely; not just the same cadre of preeminent figures in your field.

Are there five favourite articles you would recommend to get a sense of your philosophical interests?

Sure, I think these five probably warrant more attention than they’ve received so far:

I also just read two really great dissertations: Ghislain Guigon’s The Metaphysics of Resemblance and James Davies’ How to Refer to Abstract Objects.

What are your top five favorite films? Why?

The Stuff, The Thing, The Fly, Tremors, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Mostly because I’m big on monsters and short on good taste.

Find out more about Sam here

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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.

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