With this interview, the Philosophy Department is happy to introduce Jonah Goldwater, one of three new visiting assistant professors who joined it this Fall. Professor Goldwater received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate Center. He moved to the College of William & Mary after having taught at the University of South Florida in Tampa and at the University of Missouri at Columbia. This Fall Professor Goldwater is teaching Ethics classes and a Freshman Seminar on "Freedom." In Spring, he will be teaching Intro to Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and an Advanced Metaphysics Seminar. Jonah was gracious enough to give us some insight into his academic and personal interests.
What are your research interests and on what projects are you now engaged?
My main research interests are in metaphysics; I have always been captivated by big questions about the nature and structure of the universe. More specifically, much of my current work concerns existence, ontological commitment, and categorization- that is, what systems of categories or classifications are best for understanding the world we live in, and how that (should) frame the way we think about what does (and doesn’t) exist. (And yes, it’s a full-time job).
I also think a lot about meta-metaphysics; given the track record of metaphysics throughout history, recent developments in science and technology, as well as the changing landscape of higher education, one might wonder what metaphysics in the 21st century should look like. In some current (and developing) papers, I argue it can look pretty cool.
What is your favorite course to teach and how do you approach it?
Although it is not my main area of research, I love to teach ethics--for a couple reasons. In some way shape or form, everybody has beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. So students come to the table with opinions- many of which are quite important to them. Yet many ethical beliefs (or at least their basis) are formed in early childhood, before one has had the opportunity to carefully scrutinize or analyze them. So they are the perfect fodder for philosophical discussion- to be looked at and examined and dissected until we find the beliefs about right and wrong that make the most sense- or, dare I say, are most likely to be true. And that’s where the action is.
Of course I also love to teach metaphysics (my main area of research). Few things can really shake up one’s core beliefs more vigorously than a solid metaphysical argument- which, among other things, may (purport to) show that objects like tables or chairs don’t really exist, or that free will is an illusion, or that the you of today is simply not the same person as the you of yesterday, let alone 30 years in the future. Metaphysics makes us look at the big picture – at just about the biggest picture there is to look at – yet at the same time, it is a discipline that demands… well, discipline; arguments are tight, logical, subtle, rigorous and sometimes downright confusing. So you really have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, so to speak, to reach solid conclusions. Working finely on all the little gears, pulleys, nuts and bolts of arguments in order to produce a big, smoothly running systematic view of the universe as a whole; what’s more fun that that?
Do you have any avocations or hobbies?
I have been a huge baseball fan since I was 7 years old, growing up just outside of Boston- and I can still rattle off the names of the Red Sox’s 1986 starting rotation without a moment’s notice. (Future students: be forewarned that any philosophical issue I’m talking about may well be illustrated with a baseball analogy).
I even played baseball competitively until a couple years ago (when I hurt my pitching arm). Since then, I’ve gotten into other athletic activities- especially yoga, running, and martial arts (though in these areas, my knowledge of trivia – not to be confused with trivial knowledge – does not begin to rival baseball’s).
Last but certainly not least: I absolutely love to watch cat videos on the internet. (Future students: be forewarned that any philosophical issue I’m talking about may well be illustrated with cat pictures.)
Would you like to say anything about family or significant others in your life?
Everyone else in my immediate family is some kind of psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist. They are all very bright, warm, and not at all crazy. (Sometimes... J)
How does Williamsburg compare (so far) to where you previously lived?
Is there anything you'd like the W&M community to know about you (beyond the above)?
I could not be more excited to be here, and I’m eager to become a part of this vibrant community!