Department of Philosophy
University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill 919.962.3317 (office)
Campus Box #3125
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
I am a Professor in the Philosophy Department and Director of the Parr Center for Ethics at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Before that, my family and I spent thirteen beautiful years in Madison, WI, where I worked in the Philosophy department at UW-Madison, the last five years as its chair. After much agonizing, we decided to take a leap and trade in brutal winters for brutal summers. Wish us luck!
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 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 annual Metaethics Workshop, held for eleven years in Madison and now hosted by the Parr Center at UNC. 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.