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APA Member Interview: Quayshawn Spencer

Quayshawn Spencer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes on topics that intersect philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of race.

What excites you about philosophy?

Puzzle-solving! Trying to solve a philosophical puzzle that’s both difficult and important outside of philosophy brings me great joy, especially if great minds have tried and failed. I guess Kuhn would be ecstatic with that answer.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?

That would be “A Radical Solution to the Race Problem”. Remember, I like puzzle-solving, and “the race problem” is a wonderful puzzle that needs solving.   In this paper, I tried my best to answer the question of what is the nature and reality of race given the widest use of ‘race’ to classify people in current, ordinary American English. However, due to rereading page 96 in Joshua Glasgow’s book A Theory of Race, I’m now convinced that my “radical solution” is wrong. However, I think it’s wrong because it isn’t radical enough! Stay tuned for a more radical race theory from me in the near future. In any case, I loved writing this paper because it involved just the right mix of philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of race.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

Since I equally value all three aspects of my job as a professor (research, teaching, and service), I can’t just give one answer to this question. So, I’ll give three. With respect to research, I’m most proud of developing “genuine kind theory”. It’s an account of what constitutes a real scientific kind without talking about anything found in traditional natural kind theories, such as mind-independence. It’s a pretty useful theory for those who want to talk about scientifically real kinds without getting tied up in the scientific realism debate. This work first came out in Philosophical Studies in 2012, but I’ve recently restated the theory in Catherine Kendig’s 2016 book Natural Kinds and Classification in Scientific Practice.

With respect to teaching, my proudest moment came just recently. I just found out that one of my former students from a course I taught this past spring just got his midterm paper accepted for publication in Philosophy of Science. I’ll take that over high student evaluations any day.

As for service, my proudest moment came when I helped put together The Society of Young Black Philosophers in 2010, which is a group designed to connect Black philosophy students and junior faculty for the purposes of helping the former gain tenure-track jobs and the latter gain tenure. The idea for the group came from Luvell Anderson and Avery Archer, but I was lucky enough to be involved with the realization of their idea into a professional organization. Lots of good things have come out of that group. We’ve helped our members get into PhD programs, postdocs, tenure track jobs, and APA awards. Also, together with the APA Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers, we’ve completed the only worldwide demographic study of U.S. Blacks in philosophy. The results are in Critical Philosophy of Race and the lead author is Tina Botts.

What is your favorite book of all time? 

I’m just going to give my favorite philosophy book. It’s Fact, Fiction, and Forecast by Nelson Goodman. This book is my favorite in philosophy because it exemplifies how to introduce a philosophical puzzle, and how to solve a philosophical puzzle. In particular, I’m a big fan of Goodman’s solution to Hume’s problem of induction: reflective equilibrium. However, it’s too bad Rawls was the one who gave it a catchy name! I’m also a big fan of Goodman’s new riddle of induction. This was the puzzle that led me to develop genuine kind theory.

What’s your favorite quote?

I have a few favorite quotes, but one of them is, “one man’s reason is another man’s reductio” from David Lewis. It nicely dovetails with Goodman’s idea of reflective equilibrium.

Find out more about Quayshawn here.  


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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