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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