Antonio Capuano was born and raised in Italy. While finishing his Ph.D. at Universita’ di Bologna he spent an academic year at UCLA where he went back for his post-doc. He taught at UC Riverside before moving to Auburn University.
What excites you about philosophy?
The fact that philosophy asks very basic and natural questions. Part of what makes it interesting to me is that once you start trying to answer such basic questions that seem to have simple answers, it turns out that the answers are not so simple after all. To regain the simplicity that the questions seems to require, one must do a lot of work. Many people think that philosophy is abstract and removed from real life problems. It could be that philosophy does not help in solving practical life problems but, contrary to what many people think, I find it extremely concrete. I work in philosophy of language, which may appear quite abstract. Upon reflection, however, one realizes that the phenomenon of ordinary speakers using language and talking about individuals and objects is a very concrete and everyday phenomenon.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on some papers on the topic of reference. My aim is twofold: on the one hand, I aim at understanding what it means to refer to something by using a linguistic expression such as a proper name. On the other hand, I’d also like to give a unified account of reference in which simple expressions — such as proper names and indexicals, and some complex ones, such as definite descriptions — simply refer. Once you start looking seriously at these topics it turns out to be harder than it may seem to explain what it is to refer to something and how to give such a unified account.
What is your favorite film of all time? Why?
It’s “Once upon a time in America”. It’s the masterpiece of one of my favorite film directors, Sergio Leone. It’s a movie about memories and friendship. At the end of the day, Noodles, the main character, is a loser. But he does not betray what he believed in when he was young. The last dialogue is between Noodles and Max, the friend who betrayed him by stealing his money and, in a sense, his life. Noodles pretends not to recognize this, which is a beautiful homage to Noodles’ ways of seeing things and to the value he attaches to friendship. I try to watch the movie at least once a year.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
I would say, Baruch Spinoza. I have learned about him in a series of seminars and classes at UCLA. I find his naturalism extremely attractive and his attempt of fitting everything in Nature, human beings, mathematics, space and time, and God, extremely fascinating. I am not sure that he succeeded in his attempt. To be sure, however, he was a daring philosopher.
Who is your favorite philosopher and why?
Since I mentioned a historical figure in the previous answer, I will mention a contemporary philosopher, Saul Kripke. I have a great admiration for his work. Despite the fact that many of his views generated a lot of controversies, I find most of his philosophical views quite intuitive and commonsensical. No matter whether one finds his ideas convincing or not, his ability to clarify what, in a philosophical dispute, is at the heart of the matter is extraordinary. Nowadays, we are used to making certain distinctions between metaphysical and epistemological issues. However, one should not forget that before Kripke’s work, such distinctions were not that clear and obvious.
Find out more about Antonio here.
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