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Liberal Studies

for the 21st Century

E-Series Faculty Profile: Dr. John Schwenkler

John is a Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy. His research interests include Philosophy of mind (perception, action, self-consciousness), epistemology (self-knowledge, agent's knowledge, testimony, disagreement), philosophy and cognitive science.

E-Series Course:

  • IDS2113: Know Thyself: A Philosophical Investigation of Self-Knowledge

1. Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in northern New Jersey, attended college in Washington, DC, and then went to graduate school at Notre Dame and UC Berkeley (where I got my PhD). I taught for a few years at a small Catholic college in Maryland, and moved to FSU in 2013. As of the fall of 2017 I'm an Associate Professor (with tenure) in the Philosophy Department.

2. Tell us about your research interests and why you are passionate about this topic.
I have research interests across all areas of philosophy, especially in questions that have to do with human nature. For example: What is conscious perception? What is it to act? What is the self? What makes a human life good or flourishing? I approach these questions primarily through philosophical reflection (including on the works of great past philosophers), but also by looking for relevant experimental research, especially in psychology and neuroscience.

3. What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
I think philosophy is important because it's inescapable -- everyone has underlying philosophical commitments about what it is to be a person, how we can live well individually and together, and so on. But usually these commitments are unstated and unexplored, and received passively from society instead of being critically engaged. The practice of philosophy gives us tools for thinking more carefully and critically about these matters.

4. Who has influenced you the most in life?
That's really hard for me to say! (And, sorry, this is the kind of question I'm terrible at answering.) I suppose a more revealing answer than "my parents" would be: Brian Shanley, a Dominican priest who was my first philosophy professor. I was hooked from the first day, and the rest is history. Fr. Shanley is now the president of Providence College in Rhode Island.

5. What is your favorite part of your job?
I just love talking philosophy -- with my faculty colleagues, and with smart and interested students.

6. What E-Series course do you teach and what is it about?
I teach a course on self-knowledge. The official title is "Know Thyself", but as students are sometimes disappointed to learn, the point of the course isn't really to know ourselves better, but to know better what it is to know ourselves -- that is, to understand what self-knowledge is, why it is important, and how we can come to possess it. In my course we explore these questions primarily through works of literature, though in future semesters I hope to use more film and TV.

7. How do you like to spend your free time?
I run a lot, and completed my first marathon in February 2017. I also have five children!

8. What did we naively not ask you that we should’ve, and your answer to it?
Oh that's a good one! The answer is that yes, I'd be very happy with a pay raise. Thanks for arranging it.

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