Michael Brent is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver, after having been a Bradley Postdoctoral Fellow at Carthage College. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Toronto and his PhD is from Columbia University. While in New York, he co-founded the Bruce High Quality Foundation University and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, non-profit organizations providing community-based education and scholarship.
What are you working on right now? What topic do you think is under-explored in philosophy?
I’m working on two related topics that, I believe, are worthy of increased attention from philosophers. The first topic is effort. I don’t know about you, but I think life is tough. No matter how fortunate my own has been, I’m acutely aware that for a majority of people, both nowadays and historically, life is a near-constant struggle. Whether to find food and water, a decent place to live, clothing, shelter, or gainful employment, living a successful human life is not easy. One way human beings resist the unrelenting influx of shittiness is by exerting effort. Effort is a ubiquitous feature of our lives, one that is valued and rewarded, precisely because it enables us to push back against the world, however slightly. Surprisingly, the topic of effort has received relatively little attention. I’m trying my best to change that. In a forthcoming paper, I defend the idea that you perform overt intentional bodily actions by way of exerting effort. If I’m right, exerting effort is a necessary feature of the process by which you are causing the movements of your body, even when you face little resistance in doing so. One potentially interesting upshot is that, if I’m correct, the typical, reductive way of explaining intentional bodily action is not tenable.
The second topic I’m working on is mental action. Like exerting effort, mental action is pervasive even though the topic enjoys rather limited attention from philosophers, which is alarming given that we devote our lives to thinking about difficult problems, and a great deal of thinking is the performance of mental actions. For instance, when deliberating about whether a proposition is true, considering possible worlds, creating fictional examples, or remembering that there are no free lunches, we are bringing content to mind, and we do so intentionally, thereby performing mental actions. I believe the recognition of mental action has deep implications for the metaphysics of mind. With Matt Soteriou, I’m organizing a conference on mental action, generously hosted by the Institute of Philosophy. The goal is to explore new ways of understanding mental action and its place within the ontology of mind more generally.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
Although each involved a tremendous amount of support and luck, so far I’m most proud of finishing the PhD, winning an award for teaching, landing a postdoctoral fellowship, and getting a tenure-track job. I’m also proud to be a first-generation college graduate, from a family whose roots are decidedly working-class. I think my background contributes positively to how I think about scholarship, teaching, and service, and the relations among them.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Would it be rational to like that which you do not have?
Name a trait, skill, or characteristic that you have that others may not know about.
I fundamentally and absolutely hate driving in traffic, perhaps especially in a place like Denver, where it can be difficult to tell whether other drivers are high as a kite, texting on their phone, or both.
If you could only use one condiment for the rest of your life, which condiment would you pick and why?
Beer is a condiment, right? Because I use plenty of that.
What advice do you wish someone had given you?
Get out while you can. Fresh air is good for you.
Find out more about Michael here.
Photo credit: Wayne Armstrong.
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