Russ Shafer-Landau



Dept. of Philosophy                          608.263.3727 (ph)

University of Wisconsin                    608.265.3701 (fax)

600 N. Park Street                            Email me

Madison, WI 53706

I am a Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and now serve as chair the department, so check back in a few years and see whether I haven't gone completely gray. I have an allergy to 21st century technology and am not even sure what HTML is, so the page you see before you may contain some glitches. You'd think my kids would help an old guy out, but apparently they've got better things to do. My wife has a cell phone, and can navigate a TV clicker, but that about covers our shared technical expertise.

I got interested in philosophy when I was 15, working as a prep cook in a hotel in the Berkshire mountains. The chef at the hotel was a philosophy grad student at Columbia, and he turned me on to Camus, Sartre and Nietzsche. I went to college thinking that I wanted to study philosophy, and found out that the stuff taught in classes there was completely different from the books I had been reading--and, at age 18, far less interesting. I've changed my mind about what's worth reading and what isn't, but I had to flounder around for a couple of years, and take time away from college, before re-enrolling and getting back on the philosophy track. Luckily, I was able to devote most of my last two years taking courses from Martha Nussbaum and Roderick Chisholm--two world-class philosophers and incredibly inspiring teachers.

I went to grad school a year at a time; each year I told myself it would be my last, and that I'd soon have enough philosophy under my belt that I could do it on my own, in my spare time, while I went off and pursued some other career--something more tangible, and liable to do more good. That other career never materialized, and that's allowed me to continue to spend some time (not enough) trying to understand what philosophers are saying, and also spend some time (even less) trying to figure out my own views on things.

Most of my work over the past dozen years has been in metaethics, which is that area of philosophy that focuses on questions about the status (rather than the content) of morality. Such questions include:

  • Is morality created by human beings, or is it in some way objective?
  • How do we gain moral knowledge?
  • Is there always excellent reason to obey moral requirements? Are immoral people necessarily irrational?
  • How can moral values exist in a world governed by scientific laws?

My interest in the field led me to inaugurate the Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop, held here in Madison each year. I also edit a book series on these topics, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, whose contents are based largely on papers given at each workshop. (See link below.) Because one can never get enough metaethics, I also administer the annual Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics for Younger Scholars.

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Susan Shafer-Landau,
Feb 12, 2014, 11:23 AM