I recently had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Sharon Street at a colloquium held by my department. I have long been a fan of Sharon’s; when first introduced to her work as an undergrad I was blown away by the bold ambition and clarity in her writing. In fact, I often used her papers as models for writing my own.
At her talk, however, I was blown away for a different reason: the way she so seamlessly managed to intertwine our very raw, honest human experiences with the objective, theoretical rigor I have grown so used to in analytic philosophy.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the rigorous, logically-driven approach to answering philosophical questions, but sometimes – especially in ethics – I think there is a danger of being too theoretical, and thus ceasing to be of any use or relevance to us at all. Indeed, these are the sorts of considerations that have really driven my current interests in ethics. In other words, ethical puzzles or problems which arise from hyper-theoretical approaches of analysis can potentially be addressed by bringing theorizing “down” to a more “personal” level, and it is here where I want to begin my research.
Of course, there is the opposite danger of becoming too personal and leaving the sphere of rigorous exploration altogether, and this is precisely why I was so impressed with Sharon: she has managed to fully address the concerns at both ends of the spectrum without falling prey to either of the problems associated with each end. That is, she has managed to give a rigorous moral analysis of very personal, human experiences.
And, as in undergrad, this is again something I will try to model in my own work.
[For those curious, the paper Sharon presented on is titled “Finite Valuers and the Problem of Vulnerability to Unmitigated Loss”. She has asked us not to quote or distribute it, but it is part of a larger book project still in the works.]