Alida Liberman is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Indianapolis specializing in theoretical and applied ethics. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 2015, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rotman Institute at Western University in 2015–2016.
What excites you about philosophy?
I find philosophy exciting on two levels. First, it’s exhilarating—even if occasionally exhausting or exasperating—to grapple with the “big questions” and try to come to grips with deeply important issues of ongoing human concern. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching intro courses is rediscovering the thrill of these big questions through the eyes of students who are encountering strategies for thinking about them for the first time. Second, it amazes me that clear thinking about concepts and arguments can lead to concrete solutions to practical puzzles. I attempt to analyze ideas and practices (e.g., what does promise-making consist in, and why do our promises obligate us?), and use these analyses to generate answers to real questions (e.g., when is it morally okay for politicians to make promises they may not be able to keep?) What could be more exciting than generating knowledge from your armchair?
What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy?
In general, I think that the art and practice of teaching deserves more serious consideration and more sustained collaboration. This isn’t a topic in philosophy exactly, but rather an aspect of our lives as philosophers that tends to be undersupported. We’re in the habit of regularly sharing our work with each other and supporting each other’s research. But many of us are relatively isolated in our teaching lives: we don’t share our strategies and successes with each other, and are instead left to muddle through things alone. This is why organizations like the American Association of Philosophy Teachers—which provides pedagogical training to philosophers through Teaching and Learning Workshops that I have helped to organize and facilitate—are so important.
What is your favorite holiday?
I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. My parents have hosted a big Thanksgiving dinner at their house every year since before I was born, and some of my nicest childhood memories are of joyful and boisterous Thanksgiving dinners with 30 people at a big long table running through the entire living room. I grew up in an interfaith extended family, and Thanksgiving was always special because it belonged to everyone equally. At its best, it’s a holiday about pausing to mindfully reflect on how much we have and what we’re grateful for, and to share our abundance with the people we love.
What do you like to do outside work?
I enjoy cooking—in part because I love eating, but also because the work is finite and concrete with immediate rewards, making it basically the opposite of what we do as researchers. When so much of our work involves slow, sometimes meandering, often hard-to-track progress, it’s important to regularly engage in activities you enjoy that lead to immediate successes.
I also love the theater. I frequently attend plays, and as an undergraduate at The College of New Jersey I was in an improv comedy troupe and was very heavily involved as an actor in my school’s student-run theatre program. After a long hiatus, I returned to the stage during my postdoc year in London, Ontario, playing the lead role in a show called The Catering Queen. It was a blast, and I hope to keep it up in the future.
Which super power would you like to have?
I ask my students this question every semester as an ice breaker. I usually say that I’d like to be able to proficiently read, speak, and write every language, ancient and modern—but without having to put in any work to master these skills. Although I suppose if we wait a few more years, Google will give everyone this superpower!
What would you like your last meal to be?
I’ll go with an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet . . . that I can work through very, very slowly!
Find out more about Alida here!
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