Work/Life Balance APA Member Interview: Kate Ritchie

APA Member Interview: Kate Ritchie

Katherine Ritchie is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York, CUNY. Her research is focused in philosophy of language, (social) ontology, and issues at the interface between semantics and ontology.

What excites you about philosophy?

Philosophy involves striving to understand the world and our representations of it. In The Value of Philosophy, which I teach in Intro to Philosophy, Russell states “through the greatness of the universe, which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good”. That is pretty grandiose, but I think Russell is onto something. It also sounds very exciting!

Philosophy also allows one to explore. In addition to reading and thinking about a variety of philosophical issues, doing philosophy has led me to learn about the moons of Jupiter, the Cambridge Five spy ring, ore deposits. I also get (probably unreasonably) excited by linguistic data. Maybe that’s not philosophy per se, but it is data for theories in philosophy of language and it might reveal interesting things about how we think and reason and, more controversially, about the nature of the world.

What are you working on right now? 

I am working on too many projects. I think right now I have about a dozen articles in various stages of completion (when we get to the question about advice below, this might be something I should have gotten advice about).

One project is on the nature of social groups and social structures. If you asked someone to list social groups they might list things as diverse as basketball teams, legislative bodies, racial or gender groups, families, ant colonies, and dolphin pods. I’m developing a social structuralist view of that can account for the similarities and differences between various social groups.

I’m working on several projects on the semantics of expressions that are related to groups (e.g., plurals, groups nouns, slurs). One is a project on the semantics of plural indexicals that considers how best to theorize such expressions given the view that they can refer to different sorts of groups. I’m also working on a project on when generic generalizations might be more accurate than other constructions given the existence of structural oppression.

What would your childhood self say if someone told you that you would grow up to be a philosopher? 

I was really into collecting things as a child and became obsessed with various things—dinosaurs, rocks and minerals, Harry Houdini, state trees, the Cacao tree. I wanted to understand as much as I could. That drive is part of what led me to philosophy, so I’m not sure that my childhood self would be surprised. Honestly, even if someone had told childhood me that I would become a philosopher of language I don’t think I would have been terribly surprised. I remember being on a hike with my siblings and some of my cousins when I was about ten. We, at my behest, started analyzing the difference between the words ‘couple’, ‘few’, and ‘some’. I was thinking through requirements on the cardinality of a set or collection for it to count as truly being “a couple” or “a few” or “some”.

What advice do you wish someone had given you?

After getting a journal rejection with comments, skim the comments, but don’t try to respond to them or start changing the paper for a day or two. I find that upon first reading comments I think they are devastating and that the project needs to be scrapped. After a day or two I can return to them with a clearer perspective and address issues that initially seemed overwhelming.

What three things are on your bucket list that you’ve not yet accomplished?

Befriend an elephant. Become a welder. Get tenure.

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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 to nominate yourself or a friend.

Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.

Skye Clearyhttps://skyecleary.com
Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.

1 COMMENT

  1. I suspect there’s little that any of us can say that would be as important and interesting as befriending an elephant. Seriously, what a great goal, worthy of elevation to a higher priority than a long distant bucket list.

    Having no elephants on hand here, I’ll direct a bit of quibbling to a related matter.

    Russell wrote, “…through the greatness of the universe, which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good”.

    I would argue that the mind can not experience union with reality via philosophy because 1) philosophy is made of thought and 2) thought operates by a process of division. This seems to me an all important subject, and not being well read myself, I would very much appreciate learning about any philosophers who have addressed themselves to it.

    As example of thought’s inherently divisive nature we can observe how thought frames the question. Thought assumes that mind is one thing, reality another, and thus a union between two separate things can be contemplated as a possibility. That is, it is thought itself which has created the illusion of division which it then seeks to escape.

    Another example of this conceptual division process can be seen in the expression “I am thinking”. We experience “I” as one thing, and “some thoughts” as another thing, the illusion of division at the heart of human suffering. We aren’t going to achieve union with reality so long as we are divided so profoundly within ourselves.

    Russell is in effect proposing that one can overcome the illusion of division via thought, that which is causing the illusion. This is only true up to a point. Thought can identify itself as the obstacle to “union with reality” and so disciplined thinking in the form of philosophy can play a useful role, that is indeed true.

    But philosophy can only take us up to the edge of the union experience, it can only consider that experience from a safe distance. To travel over the edge and actually have the experience of unity we have to set that which is causing the illusion of division aside, which means biding a fond farewell to philosophy and thought, if only for a time.

    This union might be achieved for example by observing an elephant so closely in each here and now moment that there is no room left in our mind for thoughts about the elephant. That is, we can push the symbolic aside by directing all of our attention to the reality that the symbols are pointing to.

    And an elephant would be such a fine thing to observe, given that like most wildlife elephants likely mastered this art of observation which is so challenging for we humans a million years ago.

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