Brian Weatherson

APA Member Interview: Brian Weatherson

Brian Weatherson is the Marshall M. Weinberg professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He got his PhD from Monash University in 1998. He is currently working on a number of projects in epistemology, especially where epistemology intersects with ethics, or game theory, or pressing political problems (of the late 18th century).

What are you working on right now? 

Finishing a book defending that answer.

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

Finishing that book. Finishing the next book. Engaging in more atelic activities.

What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy? 

Game theory.

If you could be anyone else for a day, who would that be and why?

Donald Trump. I’d commute a bunch of Federal sentences, publish my tax returns, turn over a lot of documents to prosecutors, then resign.

What’s your favorite quote?

This line that Shakespeare gives to Polonius:

This above all else: To thine own self be true.

Nothing does a better job of succinctly summing up a set of false philosophical views.

What book are you currently reading? Would you recommend it?

R. R. Palmer’s book on the Committee of Public Safety, Twelve Who Ruled. It’s a little too Robespierrist for my taste. He makes Danton sounds like someone from the New South Wales Labor party; like that’s a bad thing. But ultimately it’s well worth reading. Part of why I keep reading about the French Revolution is that it’s an incredible ensemble drama. So many interesting people are put in so many interesting situations. And usually those situations are just the ones that bring out some important figure’s worst flaws or vices. It’s like having every Shakesperean tragedy on stage at once. Palmer is great on some figures who don’t always get a lot of attention in the big histories, especially Collot and Couthon, and that makes him worth reading. And the epilogue on the post-Revolutionary careers of the (survivors of) the Twelve is amazing. To bring this all back to philosophy, Palmer’s description of Saint-Just is my new go-to case study for why motivation by moral attributes is A Bad Thing.

What books are currently on your ‘to read’ list?

Unbelievable by Katy Thur, Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (and I guess its sequels if it’s any good), The Dry by Jane Harper, David Papineau’s Knowing the Score,The Minority Body by Elizabeth Barnes (I say guiltily, since I should have read it already), Karen Racine’s Francisco de Miranda: A Transatlantic Life.  I’m particularly looking forward to the Miranda biography. He might have been the most interesting person who ever lived. He makes that guy from the Dos Equis commercials look like an old drunk.

Where would you go in a time machine?

If I could change the past, then I’d try to bring medicine and gunpowder to the Americas before Columbus got there, to see if I could prevent several genocides. If I couldn’t change the past, then just about anywhere and when Miranda was (until his final imprisonment in Cadiz). Probably the best of these would be Paris in the early 1790s, though I suspect I’d end up in the Conciergerie along with him.

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

It would be great for philosophy if more philosophical papers were written in a way that was appealing to scholars from across the academy. Many philosophers nowadays are trying to write pieces that are accessible to non-academics, and that’s great. But it would also be great to have more scholarly writing that was appealing to historians, and psychologists, and economists, and all our other colleagues in colleges and universities. This was something the great figures of Continental philosophy did very well, but Analytic philosophers who get read across the academy are the exception not the rule. And if more academic hiring moves from the departmental level to the collegiate level (as is starting to happen at Michigan), it will be prudent for individual philosophers to write their academic work in a way that is intelligible to, and even appealing to, their fellow academics.

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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 to nominate yourself or a friend.

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