Branden Fitelson is a professor at Northeastern University. Before that, he was a professor at Rutgers (and before that, UC-Berkeley). He teaches and researches epistemology, logic, and philosophy of science. He’s especially interested in both practical and theoretical rationality. He’s currently working on a book entitled Coherence.
What excites you about philosophy?
Let me begin with a little background, if I may. I studied math and physics as an undergraduate. Then, I worked for NASA for awhile. I soon realized that a career in science just wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong — I love science. But, unfortunately, scientists (in today’s profit/money-driven world) are generally forced to commit to some ambitious research project, and then spend a lot of time selling that project to funding agencies, etc. I just wanted to think about (and, with a little luck, better understand) issues that interested me. So, it is the intellectual freedom afforded by being a philosophy professor. That’s what attracted me to it. And, it’s what still excites me about it to this day. I am so fortunate to be able to enjoy that freedom.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
Back in 2003, Sahotra Sarkar convinced me that we ought to start an annual “Formal Epistemology Workshop” (FEW). Sahotra and I organized the first several workshops (at Berkeley and Austin). Then, I took over the organization of it, as it moved around the world over the next several years. It has since blossomed, under the stewardship of Kenny Easwaran, Mike Titelbaum, and many other amazing philosophers now comprising its scientific committee. The community that has grown up around FEW is just wonderful — it’s supportive, collaborative, constructive, and brilliant. What a privilege (and a pleasure) it is to be associated with such an outstanding international collection of scholars!
What are you working on right now?
In the past several years, I’ve been working — along with Kenny Easwaran, David McCarthy, Ted Shear, Julien Dutant, and others — on constructing a general framework for explicating certain conceptions of rationality (both prudential and epistemic). The basic idea behind this framework is that rationality requires (roughly) that agents maximize expected goodness. In the prudential case, “goodness” is (something like) practical utility; and, in the epistemic case, “goodness” involves things like accuracy, evidential support, and knowledge. I’m working on a (co-authored) book entitled Coherence, which will summarize the various lines of thought surrounding this collaborative project.
What do you like to do outside work?
I’m a big music fan (see, also, my answer to the next question). I listen to a lot of music, and I see as much live music as I can. I also love to travel (preferably, with my wife Tina Eliassi-Rad). Traveling not only exposes me to all kinds of new experiences and places — it also allows me to see my many beloved friends around the world. Spending time with friends and loved ones (preferably, in a joyous way) is my favorite thing. As Aristotle once said, “without friends no one would choose to live, despite having all other goods.”
When did you last sing to yourself, or to someone else?
This morning in the shower. And, last night, at karaoke with (and to) some super-fun friends in St. Louis. Generally, I love to sing — especially with friends. I don’t have much of a voice, but I have a high tolerance for embarrassment (which is one of the main secrets of my success).
Which super power would you like to have?
Apart from having some actual musical talent (e.g., perfect pitch, 5 octave range, etc.), I would like to have the superpower of teleportation. The ability to see friends anywhere on the planet at any time — while concurrently working wherever I want, etc. — would be priceless.
Find out more about Branden here!
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