A conversation with Professor of Philosophy, Eric Schwitzgebel—
Hey Eclectic Spacewalkers!
Just before the COVID-19-associated lockdowns in spring 2020, I sat down with Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, Eric Schwitzgebel. His research areas of interest are philosophy of psychology, philosophy of mind, moral psychology, classical Chinese philosophy, epistemology, meta-philosophy, metaphysics, and science fiction.
Along with teaching, Eric is a prolific writer who since 2006 has written over 1000 posts about numerous subjects on his blog “The Splintered Mind.” His most recent book: A Theory of Jerks and other Philosophical Misadventures is a collection of 68 of Eric’s favorites.
“Have you ever wondered why some people are jerks? Asked whether your driver-less car should kill you so that others may live? Found a robot adorable? Considered the ethics of professional ethicists? Reflected on the philosophy of hair? In this engaging, entertaining, and enlightening book, Eric Schwitzgebel turns a philosopher's eye on these and other burning questions. In a series of quirky and accessible short pieces that cover a mind-boggling variety of philosophical topics, Schwitzgebel offers incisive takes on matters both small (the consciousness of garden snails) and large (time, space, and causation).
A common theme might be the ragged edge of the human intellect, where moral or philosophical reflection begins to turn against itself, lost among doubts and improbable conclusions. The history of philosophy is humbling when we see how badly wrong previous thinkers have been, despite their intellectual skills and confidence. (See, for example, “Kant on Killing Bastards, Masturbation, Organ Donation, Homosexuality, Tyrants, Wives, and Servants.”) Some of the texts resist thematic categorization—thoughts on the philosophical implications of dreidels, the diminishing offensiveness of the most profane profanity, and fatherly optimism—but are no less interesting.”
Our conversation was as wide-ranging as his resume and research. We talked about his personal history toward an academic career in philosophy, being influenced as a grad student under John Searle of “The Chinese Room” thought experiment fame. Eric’s dad had a similar trajectory as he worked under Timothy Leary for the famous Harvard LSD studies.
We discussed the utility of philosophy, moral psychology, and went deep into many of the questions pertaining to consciousness. Our discussion featured his past research on the ethics of ethics professors, complex mating dances of garden snails, and ancient Chinese philosophy. We also touched on the reconnection of psychology and philosophy in the last 20 years and teaching evil earlier in the semester to his students.
I thank Eric for his time, research, and eclectic mind. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Eric’s dad was a grad student in the famous Harvard (Timothy Leary & Ram Das) LSD Studies and invented the ankle monitoring system for arrestees (00:04:28)
What exactly is consciousness? (00:17:35)
Can collectives, societies, companies, ideas, or countries like the United States be conscious? (00:21:00)
Eric’s thoughts on Object-Oriented Ontology and speculative realism (00:25:52)
Kant meets cyberpunk (00:29:38)
Philosophical outlook on altered states of consciousness (00:43:17)
Moral psychology, business ethics, and how much can someone gain from thinking philosophically? (00:53:08)
Making experiments to test philosophical and moral inquiries (00:58:17)
Science fiction as a philosophy & ethics of technology (01:01:37)
The love of writing, running a blog called “The Splintered Mind,” and everyone is really a philosopher and interested in the deepest mysteries of existence (01:22:55)
Eric’s new book: “A Theory of Jerks and other Philosophical Misadventures" (01:29:36)
The re-connection of psychology and philosophy (01:36:53)
How has teaching philosophy changed you? Different teaching methods starting with moral questions first. (01:42:38)
How have your influences changed over time? (01:49:01)
What can we gain philosophically from the idea of the “The Overview Effect?” (01:54:49)
Watch on YouTube:
More on Eric Schwitzgebel:
Eric’s Website: https://faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/
Eric’s blog “The Splintered Mind”: https://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/
Eric’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/eschwitz?lang=en