Chad Kidd

APA Member Interview: Chad Kidd

Chad Kidd is assistant professor of philosophy at the City College of New York. He lives in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. Before that he taught at Auburn University. He grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in Texas and earned a PhD in philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He works on phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and has deep interests in ancient philosophy.

What are you working on right now? 

To give an overview in very broad brushstrokes, right now my research has two aspects. One focuses on Edmund Husserl’s development of phenomenology. The other is a theoretical research project on cognitive phenomenology or the “what it’s like” to think, believe, judge, doubt, infer. There are many interesting points of connection between these two that I explore. But, in my view, the most important (and, hence, the one that I tend to emphasize in my writing at present) concerns normativity. Normativity is especially important in phenomenology because the normative is intimately connected with consciousness in a variety of ways. For example, there is the compelling Kantian intuition that if a paradigmatic rational subject ought to act in a certain way, then she is or, at least, can in some way become aware of this fact. As Kant says,

Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational being has the capacity to act in accordance with the representation of law.

A lot of attention in analytic philosophy has been paid to the constitutive connection between consciousness and normativity asserted here. But my focus is on what I take to be a neighboring concern: the experience of normativity.

Focus on this is characteristic of the approach taken by many in the phenomenological tradition. It begins with the question What is it like to live in a way governed by norms? What’s its “phenomenal character”? And this, of course, is caught up in a raft of other questions, such as: Is there a general phenomenal character associated with normativity? Is the normativity associated with logical laws the same as that associated with morals? What methods of phenomenological investigation are appropriate for it?

Despite the historical precedent, these kinds of questions have been largely ignored in both the literature on Husserl (although Steven Crowell’s work on Husserl is an exception) and the current literature on cognitive phenomenology. Attempting to fill these gaps in these two bodies of literature has been an extraordinarily fruitful endeavor for me so far.

If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?

If I could have more than one hour—maybe a lifetime—it would definitely be Plato. But the philosopher from whom I think I could extract something really helpful for my research in a hurry is Merleau-Ponty (and that’s not meant to imply that his work is shallow—only that he’s no tease like Plato is). I would want to ask some “big picture” questions such as: How does your phenomenology bear on the issue of skepticism (a topic that exercised Husserl throughout his career under the guises of psychologism and relativism)? How does this inform your understanding of perception? And, if there was still time left, I’d hope also to ask how all that connects up with political issues in his own day—the fear of the evils of communism and totalitarianism (which are still present with us today).

Who is your favorite philosopher and why?

This is a hard question. So let’s simplify it by taking it as asking who is my favorite philosopher to read. That would, without a doubt, be J.L. Austin. His writing is incredibly elegant, rich, and funny. It’s not that I agree with everything he says. Indeed, I’m more often puzzled by it than not—and that’s not to say that his writing is not “clear”. But I find in Austin’s work a rich source of insight and inspiration that transfers easily to other areas of philosophy. Just talking about him makes me feel like a better writer of philosophy. If I could write just one essay that’s as good as one of Austin’s, I think I would feel as if I had done something really great.

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

Yesterday! I was walking down the sidewalk listening to Kendrik Lamar’s new album. It’s a beautiful and devastating artistic blow. How could one not sing along?

And, yes, when I first moved to New York City, I thought it was weird for people to sing along with what’s playing on their headphones in public—often loudly and wildly out of tune. (My kids call it the NYC street opera.) But now I am occasionally one of those people; however, I sing much quieter.

What are your goals and aspirations outside work?

I have many. And I do not see them as completely divorced from those in my “work”. First and foremost in my life, I am a husband and a father. This aspect of my life, of course, connects up with my immediate community, my University, and, ultimately, state and local politics. I see philosophy as involved in each of these. But, long term, I hope to do three things:

  1. To start a philosophy summer camp for middle and high school aged students in NYC that’s cheap for participants—a very difficult combo to achieve in NYC. (Here I’m inspired by the great work that Claire Katz is doing at Texas A&M.)
  2. To get involved in NYC public school politics. There is so much potential for public schools in the city. But the problems and challenges are many. There are many ways to get involved. I’m still working at posts within my kids’ school—new family welcoming committee, field-trip volunteer, etc.—to get a feel for things (and not to overwhelm myself). But I hope to run for some more high-level positions soon.
  3. To die knowing that I had a loving and amazingly mutually fulfilling life-long relationship with my wife and children.

What time of day are you most productive and creative?

Basically from early in the morning to about 5PM. I wish that I could say “in the evenings”. I envy those that are like this because I love to sleep in. However, my wife and I had our first child during my first year in graduate school. So it became necessary for me early on in my career to begin working early in the morning and to try to compress my workday into a nine-to-five mold. As difficult and unpleasant as this can be sometimes, I’ve found that it actually gave me a leg up in my professional life. For where others have to struggle with the freedom to take an extra hour at lunch, to stop work early to head to the bar, or just chat the day away in the office, I do not. Professional responsibility was imposed on me from the outside.

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

It’s interesting that you say “discover” instead of “create” or “invent”—I’m reminded of Heidegger’s notion of nature as standing reserve. Following up on this, and answering the question that I know you intend, I wish that there were a kind of “technology” that would bypass the impasse that is often encountered when technological innovation meets the capitalist markets that dominate our world today. It seems that almost every week, I run across a report about some new technology that will do astoundingly helpful things—establish hydroponic farming in urban areas, convert carbon dioxide into water, make batteries that last for days and re-charge in minutes, not to mention more mundane things like deliver food and medicine to starving and sick people. Yet these are almost all held up by market forces and political powers. Furthermore, there’s the problem of coping with the cool new technology that we already have. As Louis C.K. said,

Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.

We need something to help technologies get over that hump between development and distribution and to help us learn to live fulfilling lives with them. But maybe this is not a “technology” at all—although perhaps Bruno Latour would be comfortable calling it that. Maybe it’s just wisdom.

Find out more about Chad here.

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