Department of Philosophy

Academic profiles

The Department of Philosophy has almost 30 members of academic staff and researchers. We put some probing questions to a selection of our staff here to help you get to know them and how they found their way to studying Philosophy. Read their answers below. To get an idea of our breadth of research specialisms for supervising undergraduate dissertations and postgraduate research, visit our Find an expert page. 

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Disclaimer: The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislative changes. The modules mentioned on this page are examples of typical modules that we offer but not guaranteed to be available in any particular year.

Neil Sinclair

If you could invite a philosopher to dinner who would it be and what would you discuss?

Probably Bertrand Russell, both because of his extensive knowledge of nearly all of Western Philosophy (his book A History of Western Philosophy is a must-read) and because of his social and political activism. I would ask him whether he thinks philosophy has progressed in the last 100 years or so, and how he thinks it can progress in the future.

Philippa Foot and Charles Stevenson could make up the rest of the dinner party – both excellent philosophers who understood that philosophy is not just something done in ivory towers, and that philosophical understanding is just one branch of a wider curiosity about the world.

 
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Who is the world's most significant philosopher and why? 

Plato for starting the whole thing off. (Whitehead was right.)

Why is philosophy so hard?

Because it is abstract and technical. There’s a brilliant moment in one of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time programmes, where they are discussing Logical Positivism. In his naïve way Melvyn asks one of the speakers for an example to help bring things down to Earth! The example starts: “Well, consider the set of all sets that are not sets of themselves”. The fact is that for most philosophers they can think about such things as easily as one thinks of everyday objects. But that doesn’t come naturally, it takes years of hard work and training to get a working familiarity with such ideas.

These features are also, of course, why philosophy is the most interesting subject. It asks questions at a level of abstraction and generality which no other subject does, and when it provides answers, the answers are correspondingly deeper and more satisfying. 

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

Subjectivism and Relativism in Ethics (PHIL3020) because it is the subject of most of my research. This makes it easier to go into long detailed digressions to explain particular topics which students are interested in. It also helps my own research. At least one of my published papers has come out of discussions I’ve had with students in seminars.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

The prospect of being the teacher of (or at least having the chance to talk to) the next great philosopher, a Russell or a Foot.

What is the meaning of life?

I think Monty Python cleared that one up. 

 
Lina Jansson

Why is philosophy so hard? 

I think that philosophy often forces us to slow our thinking down much more than we are used to doing in our everyday lives.  That can be hard, but I also think that this is part of successful work in many academic disciplines as well as in other pursuits. While philosophy might be hard, I do not think that it is so hard in the sense of being more difficult than many other disciplines. 

 
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What is your favourite module to teach and why? 

I love to teach special topics in the philosophy of science.  It is a fully research driven module and it is very exciting to be able to introduce students to topics directly relevant to my own research.  I enjoy the excitement of involving students in the research process.  There is a thrill in coming away from a discussion knowing that the ideas debated in the classroom that day are not ones that are likely to have been discussed anywhere else. 

What inspired you to teach your subject?

It was not obvious to me that I would become an academic philosopher.  I mostly just wanted to know how things worked and why.  I thought about becoming an engineer, but I am not particularly practically minded.  I then thought about doing a physics degree, but I found out that the questions that I am most interested in come from the philosophy of physics.  When I found out that I could do a joint physics and philosophy degree things fell into place and I haven’t looked back.

 
 
Katie Monk

What kind of philosophy do you do?

I have worked on abstract questions in philosophy of language, like 'how do words pick out things in the world' and 'what does a name mean'? I am now interested in philosophy of language's application to social structures - especially in trying to figure out the meaning of words like 'gender', 'sex' and 'disability', and how the meanings of these words might affect our political commitments. I take an explicitly feminist and antiracist approach to these questions; centring voices and experiences which are typically underrepresented in academia. I am most attracted to philosophy which is relevant to political struggle. In particular, I think that often the first step to liberation can be in precisely describing what the problem is. I am currently interested in philosophy which can help us do that.

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What do you like about teaching?

I really love teaching. I tend to teach topics which are very connected to current political issues, and many students have a lot to say about how these have touched their lives. I’ve felt hugely privileged to be able to hear and learn from students experiences.

What advice do you have for students?

I think when I was an undergraduate student there were lots of things I felt really angry about, but I doubted myself. I worried that I was just being "emotional" and "difficult". What I would say to current undergraduates is that if there is something you feel strongly about then listen to that feeling and consider sharing your ideas with others. You might find that lots of people share your thoughts, and perhaps together you can think about working to change things. 

 
Ian Kidd

What inspired you to teach your subject?

I really dislike bad thinking – jumping to conclusions, overlooking objections, glossing over complications, and so on. Philosophy can help us identify these kinds of bad thinking. It’s not just correcting bad thinking, though. With training, philosophy is a source of good thinking about important topics. If you can think well, you’ll do better.

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Why is philosophy so hard?

Philosophy requires discipline, focus, concentration, and other virtues. In that sense, it’s more like physical fitness or learning a musical instrument. It’s more than ‘just thinking’. Those virtues are hard work, and you really have to want to develop them. The things we work on are also complicated and, often, very contentious.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

‘Topics in Asian Philosophy’ is very fun to teach. East Asian philosophies have a very different vision of human life. Their concerns and interests are often very different to ours. In Chinese philosophy, there’s lots on etiquette, ritual, and the family, as well as more familiar things, like virtue, justice, and the good life. The classes are based around close reading of the texts, rather than straight lectures, and there is no fixed syllabus. This means more work for the students and the lecturer, but a deeper and more challenging experience for everyone.

 
 

 

Department of Philosophy

University of Nottingham
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