John Corvino is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His work has focused mainly on LGBT rights; most recently, he is the author (with counterpoint by Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis) of Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination (Oxford University Press, forthcoming Spring 2017).
What excites you about philosophy?
I get to spend time thinking about, writing about, and conversing with others about big ideas—and people actually pay me to do this. That’s pretty cool. A privilege, really. At the same time, the work we do as professional philosophers isn’t merely a luxury—it’s a morally urgent necessity, in a world hungry for thoughtful engagement. So I think of philosophy as simultaneously luxurious and essential.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?
It’s a lecture, actually: “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” I first delivered it in 1992, nearly a quarter-century ago, and I spent years honing it and delivering it to audiences around the country. A 2007 professional recording of it is now available on YouTube, and I get messages from around the world in response to that. (Corvino recently received a grant from the APA to develop a series of short YouTube videos on philosophy; he expects those to appear in 2017.)
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I’ve tried to promote thoughtful dialogue on controversial issues, particularly in my work on same-sex marriage and the culture wars. It hasn’t always been easy, personally or professionally. In some ways it’s getting harder: When people are poised to pounce on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wherever, there’s less room to screw up, as we inevitably sometimes do. It’s not a very forgiving atmosphere for the messy work of grappling with hard questions. But I feel like I’ve been able to contribute something useful, and I’m grateful for that.
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
In my daily routine, morning. But if I’m really absorbed in a project, I can work on it anytime, anyplace—at my desk, in the shower, driving to and from work, wherever. I’ve gotten pretty adept at dictating things into the “Notes” app on my phone so that I can remember ideas I come up with, even if it’s not an opportune time for writing.
What are your goals and aspirations outside work?
Most important: Being a good husband, brother, uncle, son, friend. More important than anything on my CV.
What’s your favorite quote?
David Hume’s “Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” There’s some dispute over what Hume intended by the passage, but on its face it nicely captures the kind of down-to-earth attitude my Italian-American family instilled in me.
If you were an ice cream what flavor would you be?
This is one of those trick questions that metaphysicians like to set up for folks like me, right? To see if I know that I could not possibly be ice cream, much less an ice cream flavor? Metaphysicians ruin everything.
In all seriousness: As much as I work in “applied” areas of philosophy, I feel very strongly about protecting a space for people to work on abstruse philosophy with no obvious practical relevance. Even the identity conditions for ice cream.
Find out more about John here. Photo © Brandy Joe Plambeck.
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