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APA Member Interview: Nick Byrd

Nick Byrd works in the Moral and Social Reasoning Lab and in the Philosophy Department at Florida State University where he studies reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. He says that his past work found, first, that philosophers reasoned more reflectively than others and, second, that less reflective philosophers tended towards certain views, such as theism and deontological (as opposed to utilitarian) responses on the trolley problem. 

What excites you about philosophy? 

I get pretty excited about effective communication and reasoning. And philosophy provides some of the best technology for communicating and reasoning.

What are you working on right now? 

  1. I’m reanalyzing data about the relationship between philosophers’ reasoning styles, views, and personality.
  2. I’m preparing a study that uses new methods to clarify hitherto poorly understood relationships between moral reasoning and reasoning styles.
  3. I’m working on a paper that clarifies the ways in which reasoning might prevent our implicitly biased behavior.
  4. I’m working on my dissertation. The working title is “Reflective Reasoning for Real People”.
  5. I’m trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of working papers.

What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy? 

In my experience? Maybe relativism. As far as I can tell, relativism is taboo in philosophy. For example, the first priority of every ethics-ish course (that I know of) seems to be an anti-relativism campaign. But I wonder if these campaigns are careful enough. Perhaps they only succeed in eliminating oversimplified or false construals of moral relativism. And maybe they overlook relevant distinctions, such as the distinctions between moral relativism, moral anti-realism, and moral non-objectivism. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. After all, I have witnessed multiple philosophers audibly scoff at the mere mention of ‘relativism’—before they even hear what the relata are supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. Some philosophers are more careful in their approach to relativism. I appreciate that and I look forward to finding more of it.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new talent, what would you most like it to be?

A good sense of humor.

What is your favorite sound in the world?

The sound of a breeze blowing through trees.

What’s your personal philosophy? 

That philosophy cannot be well understood until our reasoning is well understood.

If you could be anyone else for a day, who would that be and why?

Someone whose views are maximally different from my own views and who can articulate those views clearly, cogently, and concisely.

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

  • Understand those worldviews that I find inconceivable.
  • Become like the people who make the world better.
  • Build and/or live in a passive home.

Name a trait, skill or characteristic that you have that others may not know about.

I once considered a career in acting and related performing arts. I got as far as open auditions for 20th Century FOX shows before I changed my mind. It started by performing in high school productions. Then it grew into community theatre productions and national competitions. Some of my favorite roles were Ren (Footloose), Nick (Fame), and Charlie (Flowers for Algernon).

What do you like to do outside work?

Whatever helps me unwind, relax, and take myself less seriously: exercise, outdoor activity, make things with my hands, blog, and listen to podcasts.

What are your favorite books?  Why?

In the past few years, my favorites have been The Fragmentation of Reason (1990) and The Good Life (2015). My reasons are selfish. First, these books articulate my most salient complaints about their field (more clearly and cogently than I do, of course). And then they pave the way for the kind of research that I prefer.

What is your favorite film of all time?  Why? 

I really liked Captain Fantastic. It explores the ways in which our intellectual ideals can and can’t be achieved in contemporary, somewhat anti-intellectual societies like ours.

When did you last sing to yourself, or to someone else?

I sing along to music (in my head) whenever I am running. I’ve got a playlist of “power songs” for this very purpose. Some favorites have been Alltta’s “Alltta”, Common & John Legend’s “Glory”, and Nathan Lanier’s “Torn”. On yesterday’s run, I was singing along to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”.

Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled and why?

CERN. That or all of the National Parks in the Colorado Plateau Province.

If you could only use one condiment for the rest of your life, which condiment would you pick and why?

Hummus. Obviously.

Where would you go in a time machine?

If progress is inevitable, then I’d go to the future. Otherwise, I have no idea.

What cause or charity do you care about most?  

Science. […] Oh. That kind of cause? Probably Givewell.

What technology do you wish the human race could discover right now? 

The Common Good. Or at least Pluralism.

What advice do you wish someone had given you?

  1. Doing good research is often not enough. Sometimes the research must also be marketed in a certain way to certain people.
  2. Philosophy’s rankings aren’t that useful. Or worse: they are part of the problem.
  3. Caffeine can cause about as many problems as it solves.

What would you like to ask other APA members?

How do you organize all of your working papers? For example, how do you store them? How do you manage revisions/versions? How have software/websites/tools been helpful?

Find out more about Nick 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 to nominate yourself or a friend.

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