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APA Member Interview: Andrei A. Buckareff

Andrei A. Buckareff is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Cognitive Science Program at Marist College in Poughkeepsie in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 2005. Andrei’s research focuses primarily on metaphysical problems in philosophy of action and philosophy of religion.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

Perhaps because I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, I should be most proud of having made it this far in the profession. I earned my Ph.D. I landed a tenure-track job in a tight job market in a part of the country I love. I got tenure. And twenty-five years ago I feared I wouldn’t finish college! But while I recognize that my own efforts were a causal factor in my professional success, I can’t help but think that much of it (especially getting a job in academia) was largely due to luck. But while I sometimes feel pride over having enjoyed some success with respect to my goals, I can’t help but feel at times like I am really just a survivor from Battle Royale.

What may seem strange to some is that my proudest moments are the rare times I learn that a student has enjoyed one of my courses and tells others that they learned a lot in my class. I am especially thrilled when the student is neither a philosophy major or minor nor a minor in cognitive science. News like this is probably the most exciting and something I feel proud of since I often fear that I am a complete failure as an instructor. (Of course, that a student liked the course may be no less the result of luck and have less to do with my brilliant performance in the classroom.)

What are you working on right now? 

I am working on two big projects right now. My work on both involves applying a neo-Aristotelian ontology of causal powers to some metaphysical problems in the philosophy of action and the philosophy of religion. I see this work as a piece of a larger project that others are engaged in as well. Specifically, I know that some are developing and defending a powers metaphysic that is an alternative to the neo-Humean metaphysic that is uncritically accepted by many analytic philosophers today.

The project in the philosophy of action includes a couple of articles I have authored. But the heart of the project is a book I am co-authoring with Jesús H. Aguilar (Rochester Institute of Technology). The focus of the project is on revising the causal theory of action by doing two things. First, we urge revisiting the ontological commitments of the theory and argue that we should build a causal theory of action up from a broadly neo-Aristotelian ontological foundation and dispense with the neo-Humean orthodoxies that have dominated so much of contemporary metaphysics, including the metaphysics of mind and action. Second, we argue in our work that in order to successfully deal with challenges to the causal theory of action, we should distinguish between a causal theory of intentional agency and a causal theory of action. We take the former to imply the latter. Hence, most of our effort is spent on articulating a causal theory of intentional agency. We show how it relates to a causal theory of action, and consider how the framework we develop can aid in responding to numerous challenges faced by causalism in the literature, such as the problems of causal deviance, the absent agent, and intentional omissions. While work on the project is empirically informed, one of the primary motivations for the project was to try to infuse a little more ontological seriousness into work on the metaphysics of agency and examine how a powers metaphysics can be expanded. My hope is that some of this work will help shed light on related issues in the philosophy of mind (such as mental causation) as well as debates in the metaphysics of free will on ability.

The second project is very different. When I tell many philosophers that I also work in the philosophy of religion, judging from their reactions, they appear to assume that I am an apologist who sees himself as either defending the faith or defending reason from faith. (I often get the “ohhhh…” response followed by silence.) While I do not believe that working on philosophical problems that are of particular concern to people in different faith traditions is without value, I do think it is unfortunate that the concerns of orthodox Christians and their interlocutors seem to drive much, if not most, of what passes for analytic philosophy of religion today (I cannot speak for philosophy of religion done outside of the analytic tradition). I think that progress in analytic philosophy of religion requires broadening the scope of investigation among analytic philosophers of religion beyond the concerns that spring from the provincialism that so quickly comes to mind when the term “philosophy of religion” is uttered in a conversation.

I have been involved in two John Templeton Foundation-funded projects with Yujin Nagasawa (University of Birmingham) that are, at least in part, motivated by an interest in seeing the boundaries of analytic philosophy of religion expand. The first project was from 2011-2013 and was on “Exploring Alternative Concepts of God.” (Some of the results of that project can be found in the book, Alternative Concepts of God: Essays on the Metaphysics of the Divine (Oxford University Press, 2016), edited by Yujin and me.) The second project is currently underway and has a narrower focus but it is a bigger project in terms of the amount of funding and the project goals. This project, “The Pantheism and Panentheism Project,” runs from 2017-2019 and includes both workshops in the United States and the U.K. and competitive summer stipends in the amount of £1000 for researchers (both graduate students, early career scholars, and established scholars) working on different problems related to either pantheistic or panentheistic conceptions of divinity. Recipients of stipends do not have to be sympathetic to pantheism or panentheism and there is no residency requirement. Our hope is that the cumulative effect of both of these projects will be an expansion of interest amongst analytical philosophers of religion in examining alternatives to the traditional theistic conception of deity we get from orthodox variants of the Abrahamic religions. An upshot of such work, we hope, will be more work on global philosophy of religion, including examining conceptions of ultimate reality we find in non-theistic religions.

My own research to date that is related to the aforementioned projects in the philosophy of religion has borrowed less liberally from the ontological framework mentioned earlier, but it is still there, informing much of what I’ve done thus far and plan on accomplishing as I begin to work on projects in which I develop a pantheistic conception of God. I am particularly interested in how one might go about building a model of how the universe could display the sort of unity required to truthfully describe it as a mind that we can regard as divine in some sense. I am presently working on a survey article on unity and divinity for Philosophy Compass as part of the Pantheism and Panentheism Project that will be part of a free virtual issue of Philosophy Compass on pantheism and panentheism. In the paper, I survey some accounts of unity and divinity and gesture towards how an ontology of causal powers might aid us in thinking about what sort of unity must be exhibited for the universe to be a mental system that we can describe as the divine mind. I wind up contending that a powers metaphysic commits one to panprotopsychism and the way forward in thinking about unity and divinity for a pantheistic conception of God may require accepting cosmopsychism.

What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy? 

This is tough. There are many of them. Rather than focus on neglected problems in my areas of research specialization, I want to go “big” and stick my neck out a bit. I think philosophers should pay more attention to the myriad philosophical problems associated with thinking about race, ethnicity, and gender. Such work, if done well, has important societal implications that go well beyond the philosophy seminar room. Much of this work, if it is to be worthwhile, should not only display the rigor we expect of good armchair philosophy, but it must be empirically informed. The recent rise in interest in both implicit bias and racial cognition among philosophers working in moral psychology is a trend that I hope persists. I would like to see more of this work extend to questions about ethnic identity that are separable from racial identity as well as more work on gender identity. While I do not expect such research to bear much fruit immediately in the ongoing debates in the public square given today’s political climate, there is important work to be done here. This strikes me as one area, in particular, that is ripe for interdisciplinary work, particularly in collaboration with psychologists working on social cognition.

Who do you think is the most overrated or underrated philosopher? 

My initial impulse was not to indicate whom I think is overrated since such an evaluation would no doubt be tendentious. But with a little thought, I came to a worthy candidate: Martin Heidegger. He was without a doubt a brilliant philosopher whose work—especially Being in Time—deserves the attention of philosophers (philosophers more patient than I). I think he is overrated for one simple reason: he was an anti-Semite. Sadly, many may not regard it as a good reason. Unfortunately, the history of philosophy has seen more than its share of racists and ethnocentric xenophobes. But Heidegger is special, in my book, on account of his membership in the Nazi party from 1933 until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945. Anyone who is a philosopher and devoted to being guided by reason should have avoided being taken in by the vile nonsense propagated by Hitler and his ilk. Again, none of this is to say that Heidegger’s work is unimportant or that one cannot learn from him. But those skeptical about the connections between his Nazism and how he conceived of his philosophical work should consult his Black Notebooks.

As for underrated philosophers, they are legion. But I will laud the work of someone whose thinking has had a significant impact on my own work in recent years but whose output is still largely unknown to most working in philosophy today, namely, Charles Burton “C. B.” Martin (1924-2008). My own introduction to Martin’s work was when I was a member of John Heil’s 2009 NEH Seminar on Metaphysics and Mind. I found Martin difficult to read, difficult to refute, and mostly right about foundational ontology and its applications.

Martin’s work is perhaps best known to philosophers who work in the metaphysics of science, especially among those working on dispositions. His essay, “Dispositions and Conditionals,” which was penned in the 1950s but published in The Philosophical Quarterly in 1994, is perhaps his best-known work. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that it is similar in importance to Edmund Gettier’s “Is Knowledge Justified True Belief?” and Harry Frankfurt’s “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.” Just as those two essays spawned a literature discussing “Gettier cases” and “Frankfurt cases,” Martin’s essay spawned a body of literature on dispositions in which the authors discuss finkish dispositions and whether or not conditional analyses of dispositions can be salvaged.

Martin’s output went well beyond what I have represented thus far. He was a systematic metaphysician in the best sense of the term. He defended a two-category ontology of substances and properties. Properties on his view are particular modes of objects, they are the relata in causal processes, and they are best understood as powerful qualities. He made the case for his foundational ontology and explored the connections between it and the metaphysics of mind in his excellent book, The Mind in Nature (Oxford University Press, 2008).  My own work these days is, in many respects, an attempt at extending his project (not without some minor amendments) to work on intentional agency and a pantheistic conception of deity.

Finally, I should also add that Martin was never a Nazi.

What do you like to do outside work?

These days I really enjoy simply hanging out with my spouse, Lara, and our five-month old son, Soren. Otherwise, to decompress and clear my mind when not doing something philosophy related, I enjoy listening to music (lots of genres, but I’m especially fond of post-punk, post-rock, post-metal, and experimental hip-hop), skateboarding, snowboarding, hiking, vegan cooking, brewing beer, and reading fiction (including some rather “pulpy” stuff that I am not embarrassed of enjoying).

 What’s your poison? 

I’m a beer nerd/snob. I’ve been told that I can be annoying about my enthusiasm for good beer and beer trivia. While I like most varieties, I’m especially fond of hazy, juicy New England IPAs and Pale Ales, Farmhouse Ales, Sours, and Lambics/Wild Ales. Also, I will almost never decline a Coffee-Infused Imperial Stout on a cold day or a well-done Pilsner on a hot day.

What is your least favorite type of fruit and why?

Cantaloupe: I associate it with breakfast buffets in hotels. Also, any fruit from which I can get salmonella poisoning does not strike me as prudent to consume.

Find out more about Andrei here.

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