The Philosophy Department is very pleased to welcome three new energetic visiting assistant professors this Fall: Chad Vance, Jonah Goldwater, and Tucker McKinney. We plan to introduce our new faculty in a series of three interviews. This, the first, features Professor Chad Vance, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also taught prior to his arrival at William & Mary. Professor Vance is teaching Symbolic Logic and Introduction to Philosophy in the fall semester. His spring courses are Metaphysics and Contemporary Moral Issues. The Department's other new professors will be featured in coming installments.
Could you describe your research interests in layman’s terms? With what projects are you currently engaged?
I specialize in what is called ‘metaphysics’, or the study of the whole of reality. It’s very narrow. Okay, it’s not narrow at all. Metaphysics actually includes some of the broadest and most fundamental questions that can possibly be asked; including things like, ‘How do objects continue to exist over time?’, ‘What IS time, anyway?’, ‘Do I have free will?’, & ‘Where is my mind, and what is it made of?’.
Lately, I’ve been wondering: ‘What sorts of things are possible, and what sorts of things are not?’ It seems possible, for instance, that you could have been going for a walk right now, but it doesn’t seem possible that 2+2 could have equaled 5. Part of my answer to this first question involves answering a second one: ‘If there are true claims about what things are possible and impossible, then what is it in the world that *makes* such claims true?’ In short, I am fascinated by the intersection of what they call modality (i.e., the study of possibility and necessity) and truthmaker theory (or, the study of what “makes” truths true).
But, my interests extend beyond metaphysics. For example, my most recent philosophical endeavor has been to provide an account of the causal difference between doing something and merely allowing it to happen, in an effort to explain why killing is often morally worse than letting die.
What is your favorite course to teach and how do you approach it?
My favorite courses to teach are philosophy courses – honestly, I love them all! But, the truly magical moments are those when I see, igniting in my students, this one very particular sense of awe and respect for how stunningly remarkable the universe is. It’s that same sensation that I myself would have whenever, as a young student, I was discovering and exploring a philosophical question for the first time. I call them “Denny’s moments” because, for me, most of these moments occurred inside of a Denny’s, late at night after a lot of coffee. It’s almost immobilizing. Something just “clicks” in your mind and you suddenly see the entire world differently than you did just a moment ago, and there’s no going back. I guess that sounds kind of terrifying now that I’m describing it in words, but I find it thrilling; and, I think, so do my students. When my course goes as planned, we proceed as a group of “thrill-seekers,” so to speak, together acquiring a true thirst for the asking of amazing and difficult questions, as well as the fruit that such asking bears: namely, a deeper understanding of the world around us, and how to live rightly in it.
The uniqueness of my approach toward achieving this goal is primarily in the way that I deliver the material. On the best days, I don’t teach so much as tell stories. If I can paint a vivid enough picture to encapsulate the question at hand, then it becomes real and relevant to each student. And once a philosophical question has become truly real for someone, the magic of philosophy typically steps in and carries them the rest of the way.
Do you have any avocations or hobbies?
In my spare time, I like to write children's poetry. I originally pursued the PhD because I assumed that I would need one if I was going to be the next Dr. Seuss – but I fell in love with philosophy somewhere along the way. I play a lot of nerdy board games in my free time too (I add 'nerdy' to indicate games like Dominion, Puerto Rico, and Runebound rather than Monopoly and Candy Land). I also like books, music, exploring, and trying to understand wine.
Would you like to say anything about family or significant others in your life?
My fiancé, Meghan, and I just celebrated our 3-year anniversary. We plan to elope to a Hobbit House in the remote woods of Montana next summer. Or maybe Hawaii.
How does Williamsburg compare (so far) to the place where you've just moved from?
I moved here from Boulder, Colorado – a sort of theme park for hikers, and a spectacular place to live. I wasn't sure just what to expect from Williamsburg, but I was excited to explore a new part of the country. I am very happy to be able to say that so far I am enjoying Williamsburg even *more* than Boulder. It is a sort of theme park in its own rite – but of a very different sort. And I like that. There’s just so much to DO here. Colonial Williamsburg is just a short bike ride away for me; it is so rich with history, and so many tours that it will take me years to go on them all. I’ve been to Jamestown Settlement and Busch Gardens, and plan to go back many more times. I’ve eaten delicious meals at a dozen restaurants, and there are still dozens more on my list to try out. I have a wonderful apartment in a bustling area where I sit out on the porch in the evenings and listen to live music coming from the taverns nearby. The landscape is lush and green, the people are so incredibly friendly, and William and Mary is a wonderful school with a beautiful campus. On top of all of that, Williamsburg is perfectly situated, just a short drive from the ocean AND the mountains – AND exciting cities like Richmond, Norfolk, and Washington DC. Simply put, I love it here.
Is there anything you'd like the W&M community to know about you (beyond the above)?
Thank you to everyone I’ve interacted with so far for being so kind and helpful. I am thrilled to be here. Stop by my office some time if you’re curious about philosophy and we’ll talk – or, if you’re a student, I encourage you to take a course with me!