Paul Redding is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney in Australia. The larger part of his teaching and research career has been concerned either with figures from the German idealist tradition, particularly Hegel, or with more contemporary philosophical themes that he sees as continuous with those explored by the idealists.
What excites you about philosophy?
I think it is simply the activity of thinking in the sense of exploring the conceptual connections surrounding any particular belief, and so of resisting having one’s beliefs “fixed”, as Peirce put it, by considerations extraneous to thought (including by what one wants to believe). I’m pretty sure that anyone who has been fortunate enough to have been introduced to this by teachers good at it will have found it exciting and addictive. I don’t think I ever got the sense of what thinking amounted to from my schooling, and only really encountered it at university. Of course philosophy has no monopoly here. I came to philosophy relatively late, and my first experiences of particular teachers actually thinking through issues—in the lectures and in real time—were in courses in other areas. But perhaps because philosophers are less likely to get bogged down in a whole lot of detailed content, this type of free thinking can shine through there.
Who is your favorite philosopher and why?
Like everyone I have favorites in the sense of those I enjoy reading and by whom I get inspired. However, they tend to be a rather heterogeneous bunch, and I think I hold them in favor for very different reasons. Rorty, Gadamer and Cavell in particular all made a big impression on me when I was starting out. In terms of who I hold in high regard as consistently committing themselves to the sort of freedom of thought alluded to above, I think Immanuel Kant would be towards the top of the list. And the bonus with him is his being so explicit about the relation of thinking to freedom more generally.
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
The couple of hours between morning coffee and lunch are those in which I think my mind is a little more flexible and open than at other times—that is, a little less likely to get stuck in the grooves of habit that are unavoidable but very frustrating.
What are you working on right now?
I’m interested in how particular changes that have occurred in analytic philosophy since its early days might warrant a reassessment of the German idealist tradition, which otherwise was held in fairly negative regard by the early analytic thinkers. On the other side of the coin, I’m working on how developments in analytic philosophy might provide some tools for helping to get clearer about what the idealists were sometimes struggling to say.
What are you reading right now? Would you recommend it?
At the moment I’m reading a book that was written, originally as a PhD in the early 1930s by a now largely forgotten philosopher— John N. Findlay’s Meinong’s Theory of Objects (he later updated it for a second edition with a slight name change in the 1960s). It is a marvelous book that for me sheds a lot of light on how one might approach the sorts of conundrums about modal issues, like how to think about possibility, that became pressing in the second half of last century. It would be difficult to recommend it generally: in the normal course of events it’s not a book that anyone without an interest in either Meinong or Findlay himself would be likely to seek out. But regardless of topic, some books, like this one, are just a joy and inspiration to read.
Who do you think is the most underrated philosopher?
I’m not a great fan of the star system, and the proportion of philosophers who, having exerted important influences in their own context, go on to “rate” at all must be very small. More particularly, there are some who seem to have more general and lasting influence but still remain under the radar. Here one might think of Findlay, whom I mentioned earlier, as an example. Partly, this influence was via his role in making Meinong’s work known in the English-speaking world, and partly via the influence he had on a student of his, Arthur Prior, who was important figure in the revival of modal logic in the second half of last century. While Prior’s logical innovations were his own, his way of thinking about the metaphysical issues surrounding modality, I think, owed a lot to Findlay. Moreover, Findlay was also responsible for getting Hegel back onto the page of Anglophone philosophy from about the same time. But in all of these areas there is a dimension that reflected a philosophical dimension that was distinctly his own. There must, however, be many individuals from the discipline about whom something similar could be said and I’d like to think of Findlay as standing in as proxy for those unacknowledged non-rated philosophers.
Find out more about Paul here.
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