Cathy Legg holds a BA (hons) from University of Melbourne, a MA in Philosophy from Monash University and a PhD from ANU, where her thesis (“Modes of Being”) concerned Charles Peirce’s philosophical categories. After a spell of hands-on ontological engineering she returned to academia and now teaches at Deakin University in Melbourne. Her current research bridges philosophy of language, logic, pragmatism, speculative metaphysics and ‘applied ontology’, with particular recent focus on the Pittsburgh philosophical school.
What excites you about philosophy?
The heady combination of rational rigor, imaginative boldness and passionate honesty that characterizes our tradition’s best and most enduring work.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I chose to do my PhD on a topic that was considered ‘off the map’ in my graduate school, where the term ‘loony view’ was used with unnerving frequency. I saw the project to completion, and went on to help start putting the topic ‘on the map’. Later I brought this same topic into a whole new discipline with my crossover work in Computer Science in the field of ‘formal ontology’.
What are your goals and aspirations outside work?
Help to heal our biosphere. I believe one of the best ways to do this is by planting (eco-sourced) trees. I’ve made some efforts in this direction on a property that I own in New Zealand.
Which books have changed your life? In what ways?
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was where I first glimpsed how rationality, imagination and honesty can come together to create outstanding philosophical work, during a year-long seminar with a dedicated and gifted teacher of Wittgenstein’s philosophy which I was fortunate to attend. Secondly, this is very nerdy, but I fell in love with the 7 volumes of Charles Peirce’s Collected Papers. His philosophical ambition can be daunting, but the depth and richness of his thinking is unbelievable. Though I quail somewhat to say this, to me Peirce’s approach seems more rigorous than much contemporary analytic philosophy, mainly because he thinks so seriously and consciously about his methods, as befits a pragmatist. (Peirce also helped me cast a more critical eye on the later Wittgenstein, in particular a certain anti-naturalism about mind.) More recently, Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives helped get me through a difficult time.
What’s your favorite quote?
It comes from a short and exceptionally lucid piece called “What is a Sign” that Charles Peirce wrote in 1894 for a general textbook on logic which he never finished.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?
The cutest philosophical paper I’ve published is my piece “Catnesses”, which inaugurates the new field of ‘cat metaphysics’ via the intellectual adventures of a feline named Bruce. Bruce muses on the merits of Humean Supervenience while sitting on the knee of his owner David, and comes to his own conclusions. The considerations he presented are yet to meet any objections in print, even those that might be considered ‘barking mad’.
What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy?
Ironically, our own professional ethics. Here, as a pragmatist who is interested in the ‘how’, I would get into the nitty gritty of such matters as resource distribution and reputational advancement, drawing on the premise that our overarching telos is (or should be) producing the best and most groundbreaking work possible in our discipline. I would take a long, hard look at generational fairness, as well as the way we treat minority groups such as women. I agree with Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle in their recent book Socrates Tenured that our current institutional arrangements are “the great unthought of contemporary philosophy”. That whole book is really worth reading, in my opinion.
If you were an ice cream what flavor would you be?
Mango as it is both sweet and tart, and orange (my all-time favorite colour).
What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?
Life is too short and precious to trudge through dreary philosophy papers allegedly ‘solving’ problems about which you struggle to care. After graduate school (and often even within graduate school – give it a try!) you don’t need the permission of someone powerful to do the work that most inspires you. Truth is a marathon not a sprint, so try to settle in and make yourself comfortable.
Find out more about Cathy here!