Cathy Legg

APA Member Interview: Catherine Legg

Cathy Legg holds a BA (hons) from University of Melbourne, a MA in Philosophy from Monash University and a PhD from ANU, where her thesis (“Modes of Being”) concerned Charles Peirce’s philosophical categories. After a spell of hands-on ontological engineering she returned to academia and now teaches at Deakin University in Melbourne. Her current research bridges philosophy of language, logic, pragmatism, speculative metaphysics and ‘applied ontology’, with particular recent focus on the Pittsburgh philosophical school. 

What excites you about philosophy?

The heady combination of rational rigor, imaginative boldness and passionate honesty that characterizes our tradition’s best and most enduring work.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

I chose to do my PhD on a topic that was considered ‘off the map’ in my graduate school, where the term ‘loony view’ was used with unnerving frequency. I saw the project to completion, and went on to help start putting the topic ‘on the map’. Later I brought this same topic into a whole new discipline with my crossover work in Computer Science in the field of ‘formal ontology’.

What are your goals and aspirations outside work?

Help to heal our biosphere. I believe one of the best ways to do this is by planting (eco-sourced) trees. I’ve made some efforts in this direction on a property that I own in New Zealand.

Which books have changed your life? In what ways? 

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was where I first glimpsed how rationality, imagination and honesty can come together to create outstanding philosophical work, during a year-long seminar with a dedicated and gifted teacher of Wittgenstein’s philosophy which I was fortunate to attend. Secondly, this is very nerdy, but I fell in love with the 7 volumes of Charles Peirce’s Collected Papers. His philosophical ambition can be daunting, but the depth and richness of his thinking is unbelievable. Though I quail somewhat to say this, to me Peirce’s approach seems more rigorous than much contemporary analytic philosophy, mainly because he thinks so seriously and consciously about his methods, as befits a pragmatist. (Peirce also helped me cast a more critical eye on the later Wittgenstein, in particular a certain anti-naturalism about mind.) More recently, Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives helped get me through a difficult time.

What’s your favorite quote?

Symbols grow.

It comes from a short and exceptionally lucid piece called “What is a Sign” that Charles Peirce wrote in 1894 for a general textbook on logic which he never finished.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?

The cutest philosophical paper I’ve published is my piece “Catnesses”, which inaugurates the new field of ‘cat metaphysics’ via the intellectual adventures of a feline named Bruce. Bruce muses on the merits of Humean Supervenience while sitting on the knee of his owner David, and comes to his own conclusions. The considerations he presented are yet to meet any objections in print, even those that might be considered ‘barking mad’.

What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy? 

Ironically, our own professional ethics. Here, as a pragmatist who is interested in the ‘how’, I would get into the nitty gritty of such matters as resource distribution and reputational advancement, drawing on the premise that our overarching telos is (or should be) producing the best and most groundbreaking work possible in our discipline. I would take a long, hard look at generational fairness, as well as the way we treat minority groups such as women. I agree with Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle in their recent book Socrates Tenured that our current institutional arrangements are “the great unthought of contemporary philosophy”. That whole book is really worth reading, in my opinion.

If you were an ice cream what flavor would you be?

Mango as it is both sweet and tart, and orange (my all-time favorite colour).

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

Life is too short and precious to trudge through dreary philosophy papers allegedly ‘solving’ problems about which you struggle to care. After graduate school (and often even within graduate school – give it a try!) you don’t need the permission of someone powerful to do the work that most inspires you. Truth is a marathon not a sprint, so try to settle in and make yourself comfortable.

Find out more about Cathy here!

 

1 thought on “APA Member Interview: Catherine Legg

  1. This is a fun interview, and the spruiking of Catnesses (a cat that shares my name) has definitely led me – in the actual world – to load it up into my University’s library page (I am currently tutoring ethics at The University of Melbourne whilst submitting my thesis on The Metaphysics of Information at The University of Sydney, so Catnesses will be elevated in the search rankings for both, but neither delivered it, and so I followed Prof. Legg’s link).

    It used to be that my favourite ‘in joke’ for X-genners and baby boomers (and a few with-it millenials) had a lot to do with Australian Aristotelian, guitar playing, sheep dip slinging philosophers called Bruce (and yes – I play guitar too.) Now I will have to revise it to include a Cat – who someone (inspired by British philosopher of the linguistic turn – Python?) clearly deigned would have to be called Bruce.

    I cannot help but agree with the interviewee’s observation that professional ethics within the philosophy community itself could use some serious ‘treatment’ (probably involving a rocket propelled enema). However, for many academics (not me) social experimentation with people’s personal lives, bureaucratic bullying, social sabotage, publishing blackballs, ideological and personal bigotry, and career-torpedoing shunning and other such pastimes are just SO good for relieving the boredom that some of us apparently experience (again, not I) due the dreariness mentioned by the interviewee. These catty quiddities of professional academic philosophy are apparently rooted in a tradition at least as old as pragmatism (Peirce and Newcombe) and Empiricism (Hume and the ‘Right Reverends’). (A possible world where all of the academic ‘philosophers’ are in fact cats and dogs is arguably accessibly close to the actual one).

    One should always look on the bright side of life, lest one become a bore. Commensurately, I offer that, if more philosophers (catademics?) – as an alternative repose from the actual world – forwarded radical theses in defiance of patriarchal, philosophical credibility measures and mind-numbingly Chuckle-headed gossip-driven group sociopathies – like Professor Legg clearly has done – then the actual world of academic philosophy would have better quiddities, and be a generally safer place for both birds and ankles. I think that professor Legg, and Bruce the Cat, and Bruce the Aristotelian philosopher would, however, probably agree that the possible world where this obtains is very inaccessibly-far-away from the actual world indeed. Instead, the world of academic philosophy is largely populated by Chuckle-headed properties (rigid designators?) where begging the question has become the primary thought experimental tool for evaluation of ‘the dogged other’ (Chuckles is Bruce the cat’s ‘favourite’ dog – also probably a rigid designator).

    Since it’s marking season, and in keeping also with my hopefulness for actual theories about how to reform the professional ethics of the philosophy department, I thought I would offer another quotable quote in the spirit of rapport with the interviewee’s own pithy selection (something that would be indirectly of interest to Bruce the cat):

    “It could grip it by the husk…”

    (Try to keep up. Association has been around since Locke, and cats called Bruce do what they like, thank you very much.)

    Further in keeping (in some possible world) with which, I would like to point out that cats with four legs also arguably have the property of having (in their close personal possession) three legs. They just don’t have only three legs. They have three legs, and they have another one, which means they also have four legs, which tends to suggest that they have both three legs and four legs. I think there was a British Philosopher of some description that had a similar theory about the properties of parrots and mortality.

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