What excites you about philosophy?
I’m excited by philosophers who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty by using their skills in the service of making the world a better place. I’m especially heartened by how public philosophy has taken off over the last few years. Unfortunately, there are still members of the profession who regard public philosophy as a third-rate enterprise that sullies the purity of our discipline. My response to them is: “Three cheers for impure philosophy!”
What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?
It’s really hard to choose. Can I list more than one? I’m quite fond of my paper “Paradoxes of Dehumanization,” which expands the theory of dehumanization that I developed in previous publications. I also especially like my paper “Aping the Human Essence: Simianization as Dehumanization” (co-authored with my former student Ioana Panaitiu), which examines white people’s representations of black people as apes and monkeys.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I was profoundly honored to receive the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for my book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. The Anisfield-Wolf award, which is also nicknamed the Black Pulitzer Prize, was founded in 1935 to recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. Many of my intellectual, moral, and literary heroes have received the award, including Martin Luther King, Ralph Ellison, David Brion Davis, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (to name just a few). It’s still hard for me to believe that this really happened! In fact, I began my acceptance speech with the sentence “There must be some mistake….”
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on two projects. One is a book entitled Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization that will be published by Harvard University Press in 2018. It updates, corrects, and expands the account of dehumanization presented in Less Than Human. The other is a paper called The Dilemma of Ideology, which explains how ideological beliefs can have the purpose of promoting oppression without this being anyone’s purpose in adopting these beliefs. I’m super-jacked about both of them!
What topic do you think is underexplored in philosophy?
Although philosophers have paid a lot of attention to ethics, they’ve not paid much attention to the ethics of the practice of philosophy. For example, philosophers have not spent much time thinking about the question of what (if anything) makes a philosophical project worthwhile and the question of what (if anything) philosophers qua philosophers owe to the wider human community.
Name a trait, skill or characteristic that you have that others may not know about.
After failing high school twice, I dropped out of community college, so I don’t have an undergraduate degree. And despite having earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of London (Kings College), I have never ever been a student in a philosophy class. This must sound very weird to the readers of this blog.
What is your favorite film of all time?
Little Big Man because I identify so strongly with the protagonist. Like him, I’ve travelled an unconventional path, have never really felt that I fit in anywhere, and have reinvented myself several times over.
Find out more about David here.
This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here.