Photo of Manuel Vargas | © Barbara Ries 2015

APA Member Interview: Manuel Vargas

Manuel Vargas is an incoming Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego and an outgoing Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of San Francisco. He works on the overlap of issues in morality, psychology, and the law. He also has interests in Latin American and Latinx philosophy.

What excites you about philosophy?

We philosophers get paid to think about super interesting things, talk to other people similarly interested in those things, and we get to help students see how much more complicated and weird the world is than it seems at first blush. What’s not to like, apart from all the deplorable stuff?

What are your top three favorite books of all time?

  1. Anna Karenina. It really is as good as its reputation. I’m half tempted to also include War and Peace, but the story is more of a slog, and my assessment is clouded by my affection for the book’s concern for the nature of free will and agency in history.
  2. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Technically, this is multiple books, however, the whole thing hangs together as a single extended narrative that is rich, beautiful, and layered.
  3. Morris the Moose by B. Wiseman. This is one of the all-time most subtle philosophical texts ever, at least on a per-word basis.  It’s just fantastic.  It covers debates about natural kinds, concept change, and reference. Even better, most first graders can read it.
  4. A bonus fourth pick: Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality.  It’s very good but not as pithy as Morris the Moose.

What’s your favorite quote?

I’m particularly fond of a passage from Kierkegaard:

Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?

But the following passage makes me laugh, given its original context:

Possibility is the destruction of contentment.

It’s from Anscombe’s “You Can Have Sex Without Children.”

That said, maybe my favorite quote is a bit of Nietzsche (from The Gay Science §335):

The maxim ‘know thyself!’ addressed to human beings by a god, is almost malicious.

I’m not sure why he says almost.

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



  1. Raising my three kids.
  2. Being a happy grandparent.
  3. Leaving the world better than I found it.

Which super power would you like to have?

Bracketing answers that are clearly cheats (such as the power to have all powers, or alternately, the power to control the fabric of reality, à la Molecule Man or Dr. Manhattan), I’m torn between the power to effectively stop time—or to move fast enough to achieve the same effect—or to teleport. The former would have obvious benefits, given the reality of deadlines and the all-too-familiar problem of never having enough time. However, the latter would mean no commuting, no airports and no airplanes and no hotels.  I’m not a fan of any of these.  Conferencing would, in general, be a much easier thing to pull off. My head says “stop time” but my heart says “teleportation.”

What is your favorite holiday and why? 


Hanukkah. Given the eight nights aspect, it seems that there is some flexibility about when to get together with the extended family. That’s a plus. Also, it involves candles, and it is usually at a time of year when there is reasonable vacation availability for lots of people. Finally, latkes are objectively a near ideal foodstuff. Christmas is pretty good, too. Although I’m less crazy about the food aspect.

What is your least favorite type of fruit and why?

Mango. I refuse to talk about it.

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

Pay your dues.

Find out more about Manuel here.  Photo © Barbara Ries 2015

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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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