In September 2022, Eloise Hickey, James Cafferky, and Mark Rothery sat down for a conversation with Greg Restall for UPJA’s Conversations from the Region, an ongoing series of discussions with philosophers from, or working in, Australasia. The segment explores how people become philosophers and how philosophers work.
Eloise: Could you start by introducing yourself? What are your philosophical interests and what are you working on at the moment?
My name’s Greg. I have recently moved from the University of Melbourne to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I have just been here since July 2022. I am a Professor in philosophy, and I’m interested in logic and language and a whole bunch of other areas in philosophy that are connected to those topics.
What am I working on at the moment? A couple of things. I’m writing a big book on connections between the notion of proof and issues in meaning, epistemology and related issues. That’s been a project that I’ve been working on for altogether too long and I’m keen to get it finished, but other things get in the way… I’m currently, with some colleagues here at St. Andrew’s, making a new module on philosophy of religion, doing that has been taking up a fair bit of my time. And I’m working on supervising graduate students.
Eloise: What first drew you to philosophy?
I mean, there’s the cliché answer of, you know, I always asked questions… but honestly, I didn’t know of the existence of the discipline of philosophy until I went to the University of Queensland as an undergraduate. I came from a very working class background in Queensland, and I was the first from my family to go to university so, when I got to university, I discovered there was a Department of Philosophy, although I was doing an undergraduate degree in mathematics, in a Bachelor of Science, which was my first academic interest. I soon started hanging around the Philosophy Department and thought, oh, this is really cool. They were having the kinds of conversations that I liked having and, yeah, I’ve stuck around ever since!
Mark: That’s an interesting transition to make! What was your understanding of philosophy from the outside, as a science undergraduate?
It was a two-phase transition, and from two different directions. One thing that propelled me towards philosophy was actually internal to mathematics. It was the areas of maths that I was most interested in and most competent in—the ones which tended to not actually involve too many numbers, and tended not to include complicated analysis and differentiation and all of that kind of stuff, which I found difficult. It was the parts of algebra shading off into logic that I was actually good at and enjoyed the most. So I asked around in the maths department: where can I learn more about that? They pointed me to the Philosophy department where there was a logician.
The other phase… Well, I was a young person who was interested in, you know, finding out about the world and finding out what I thought about things. I was kind of that nerdy kid who liked hanging around libraries and looking at books. This wasn’t officially before the internet, but I certainly didn’t have a web browser or anything (this was the second half of the 1980s). So one way that you found out about things was by looking in the library. There was a section of the library that seemed really, really interesting and that section had all of the philosophy books. And then I realized that the stuff in that section was what the philosophy department was talking about, the relationship between the mind and the brain or, you know, what are the different ways that you can try to understand what it is that’s good, or whether God exists and whether it makes sense to argue about whether God exists. I started hanging around the Philosophy Department as well as the Maths Department. That doesn’t really tell you much about my understanding of what philosophy was, but that was about the level at which I was operating, philosophically, at the time.
Mark: Did you have any particularly memorable classes or teachers at the University of Queensland?
Yeah, a lot! I went straight from doing an honors degree in mathematics to doing a PhD in philosophy. And then when I was doing the PhD, I did some other undergraduate subjects, just to learn more philosophy because I did very little actual formal philosophy in my undergraduate degree.
But one module I did really early on was taught by Dr. Ian Hinckfuss who has passed away now. He did this wonderful critical thinking class. Often, when you do critical thinking subjects, they’re, you know, fallacy detectors. We will give you a list of terrible fallacies that people commit when they’re reasoning and tell you about what modus ponens is and other things like that. We’ll read a lot of arguments and we’ll try and sort them out into the good ones and the bad ones. Hinck’s class was taught nothing like this. It was actually a way of helping us to pay attention to what’s going on when people are reasoning together. And now I can see that he was teaching us some elementary speech act theory, helping us understand what the difference was between an assertion and an imperative and other kinds of speech acts. It was also teaching a kind of way of understanding discourse. When people are having a conversation, you know, who’s got the ball? How has the common ground been formed? It helped me understand in a very naive kind of way more about what is actually going on when people are talking, and when people are reasoning. The material about what we are doing when we are reasoning, talking, and arguing I found quite profound and quite influential, and it had effects on me that I could only recognize decades later. There’s a paper that I’m writing now where I’m actually revisiting something that I first learned in that critical thinking subject back in 1987.
Mark: Do you think much has changed for philosophy students since you were studying?
Yeah. For me, there was one woman teacher in the Philosophy Department by the time I was there full-time as a PhD student in 1990. Most Departments are more diverse than that now, which is a good thing. And the philosophy profession has diversified a bit—not enough, but it’s a start.
Another significant change is actually in the material conditions of life as a student. You know, when I was a student, I was lucky. I was still living at home when I was an undergraduate, so I didn’t need to pay for rent, except a token amount. I could study and I was able to keep body and soul together. The average student now is working, at least in the Australian context, more than 15 hours a week, while doing full-time study. So, significantly more students tend to spend less time on campus. Student life is much more atomised. There’s much less of a sense of community on campus. The campus of the early 21st century is very, very different from the campus of the late 20th century. People were around more. People were just hanging around talking about stuff. I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen at all anymore, but the kind of economic pressures that are on students changes the ways that they can engage with their work. And that’s really significant, you know, that pressure on students now.
Mark: Do you have any advice for undergraduate philosophy students now?
Yeah, try and keep it all together. No, I mean, make the best of what you have. Philosophy is an amazing thing in the contemporary university setting where everything is so directed towards career outcomes. Spending your time in a discipline learning about the creative and the critical, and developing your reading and reasoning skills, is wonderful and applicable in any kind of workplace. But, hey, that’s not just propaganda, there is something wonderful about having three or however many years of your life that you can spend thinking about important issues.
Thinking together with other people who also think that these are really important things to think about—enjoy that and express yourself and make friends and learn from other people in a context where it’s kind of clear that you are not just on the sausage-machine thing where the income is a bunch of creative, bright-eyed young students and the outcome is workers for the contemporary economy. I mean, if you want to do that, there’s plenty of other majors in the university that are much better suited than Philosophy.
Mark: I really love the sausage metaphor. Can you elaborate on that a little more?
Yeah! Philosophy is a very special thing, not every University teaches philosophy, for a reason. It’s an exotic kind of beast. And it’s not economically viable if you’re thinking about it as a means for producing a worker for the 21st-century economy. You do philosophy for its own sake and that’s what it is! And that’s to be celebrated and kind of protected as well as looking after yourself so that you can still find ways of keeping body and soul together. There is something very special about finding a place for being able to do that. And it’s an amazing privilege to be able to do that with students too.
James: What do you think the defining features are, if there are any, of Australasian philosophy, or the philosophical culture in Australasia, as opposed to the rest of the world? For instance, is logical pluralism especially popular in Australia?
I’ve been around the scene in philosophy in Australia enough to know that I can’t answer this question. There’s no one thing that’s unique to philosophy, in the broad sense, over there. It’s so varied in many, many interesting and different ways, and it’s really hard to find a kind of unifying theme. But—in my little bit that I worked in, you know, hanging around the logic people—there is logical pluralism, which has risen out of a significant tradition in logic in Australia, at least since the 1970s.
There have been some developments in logic coming out of Australia which are unique in various ways. Kind of like how it has always been biologically divergent. This also goes for New Zealand, which is connected to the Australian scene. We’ve been cut off from, you know, the rest of the world. Some weird things can thrive, like your platypus and your kangaroos—things that, frankly speaking, probably would not have evolved in the same way if they’d had to compete with the critters of the Eurasian land mass or wherever.
And so there’s a certain amount of isolation in Australasia from the rest of the global logic scene, and there certain weird things can thrive. Like in Graham Priest’s work of working through ways of understanding what it might be for contradictions to be true, or the “relevant logic” that took root in Canberra in the work of Bob Meyer and Richard Routley. These ideas in logic have thrived in Australasia in a way that they wouldn’t have in the United States, for example, where work in relevant logic started.
So, isolation combined with characters and/or central figures, who are creative and interesting and intellectually serious, like Graham Priest and Richard Routley (back then Sylvan)—people who clearly had some stuff to work with, but were not demagogues… That is, they never sought after a collection of acolytes. The generation of philosophical logicians who came in their wake were all working on the same level. There was never a sense that we are all following the work of the Master. And so, culturally speaking, you can see why a kind of pluralistic ethos arose, you know, in a context like Australasia, where most of the popular work in logic, at least around the areas that I was interested in, was coming out of Philosophy Departments, but then it was never collected together into a grand scheme with a figurehead.
So any kind of general schematic story that might be told must incorporate this variety of perspectives. The book that I wrote with Jc [Beall] (Logical Pluralism, Oxford University Press, 2006) took this up and defended this kind of pluralism about logic. We weren’t writing a sociology or history of logic, but we argued that the kind of plurality of approaches that we learned in logic from our Australian teachers actually reflects something that’s very, very important—the kind of norms we’re interested in are actually, themselves, plural. It’s not just that different people are giving different rival answers to one clear-cut question. They’re actually locking onto different kinds of phenomena. So Australasia is a pretty interesting setting which has encouraged a variety of approaches in logic but not allowed them, or not forced them, to coalesce into following particular leaders. I think there’s really something quite special about that.
Eloise: Speaking of dialetheism—in recent years it has become a more popular and respected view in philosophy, but has remained immensely controversial. What do you think are its main implications for philosophy, and how do you personally feel about it?
I mean, I love this question—especially the little bit at the end about how I feel about it—because Graham was my PhD supervisor and I started off doing my PhD as a committed dialetheist. I was loving it, it was a really great radical view. But then at the time, there was the mathematician side of me not really being able to prove the results that I wanted to, inside that framework, and then the growing philosopher side of me, trying to make sense of it, trying to figure out if this could work. And then I found myself by the end doing the classic Oedipal thing of arguing against my PhD supervisor in my thesis… which was great! I mean, it was a huge challenge because Graham Priest is a very, very intelligent philosopher, and trying to argue that your PhD supervisor is wrong is already a challenging thing to do. But he was up for it, and it was really, really helpful to have him as a critical partner. Of course, I wasn’t arguing that he was making elementary errors or anything. I was just saying, I think another approach is better. So it’s not that I thought it was mistaken for Graham to take that point of view, but that—as far as I could see—fundamentally, it ends up running aground.
There are reasons one might be dialetheist and think that some contradictions are true, and then there are some niggling responses that people make, like, ‘I don’t really know what anything would mean if contradictions turned out to be true because that’s just a core belief that I have and, if I had to change it, I’m changing everything because I don’t know what else would stay fixed’. I think those sorts of responses that people have are indicative of really important issues, which are about fundamental things like how it is that our concepts function and where our starting points in knowledge might be.
So it’s hard to wrap all of that up into an easy-to-articulate position, but dialetheism raises a number of really interesting problems. For me, it also raises a bit of respect and curiosity for the niggling responses or revulsions that people might articulate and feel when hearing about it, because I think there’s something there too.
James: Philosophy can change the way students view the world and issues of importance, prompting ethical dilemmas and improving clarity of thought. Do you think a tertiary understanding of logic, specifically, changes the way your students engage with the world? If so, how?
Oh, good question. The logic classes that I teach vary from level to level and I think some of the most significant changes that happen in my upper-level logic classes are that it brings together people who work in the humanities and people who work in other areas. Because my upper-level classes tend to have maths and philosophy students, and people who are just really wanting to get to grips with technical results about Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and other high-level results. But only a small number of students take those classes. My last advanced logic class had about 30 students, which isn’t too many compared to my introductory reasoning modules where I teach about 300 students. But I think one of the most profound effects that we could have—which I think is shared with other kinds of philosophy we teach—is to give people practice in having productive conversations about important issues that are unclear to us and that we disagree about (for which, at least in some cases, the stakes are pretty high). We have discussions, try to reason together about things where the issues are not settled beforehand and we care about the answers. For example, a lot of people care about the relationship between the mind and the body, how we are to live together, or whether or not God exists. In many of those discussions the personal and social stakes are high, we disagree about the answers and we don’t even know what the rules of the game are.
Having an intellectual discipline where we can do that, and not only do that but practise… I think that’s a very profound and special thing to be able to learn… and something the world needs more of! I know I sound preachy… but that’s why I teach philosophy. We just practice doing this, and hopefully we learn how to do it better and better, and we can learn the merits of understanding what’s getting said when somebody gives a reason for something. And what I try and get my logic students to do is to understand the different ways you can clarify things by understanding the difference between: (i) ‘I disagree with you just because I think the conclusion that you’ve said is wrong’ (aka ‘I just want to reflect on the fact without really knowing what to say about the path that you’ve taken to get to your conclusion’) and (ii) ‘I actually agree with you about your conclusion but I don’t think there is a really good reason for it, and here’s why’. Being able to change the way we work together and think together is meaningful. When we do that well, does it change the way we view the world? Hopefully, yes.
Eloise: You mainly work on logic, but I believe you’re also interested in ontology and the philosophy of religion. How does logic relate to these other areas of philosophy?
Yeah, logic relates to a number of different areas of philosophy. The caricature of the view is that logicians are going to come in and they’re going to look at all of the arguments and give you either ‘yeah this passes’ or ‘no that’s a crap argument’. Maybe there is an element of that, you know, logicians are good at spotting equivocations or saying, no I don’t think that conclusion follows from these premises for these reasons, you know, all of that kind of thing.
But fundamentally for me, I’m really, really interested in the connection between logic, inference, argumentation, and the things that we are doing when we are saying things—that is, how communication works. I’m really interested in the kinds of patterns that are there in our thinking, and I’m most interested in paying attention to these patterns, to our ways of representing things, to the ways of thinking that people have had through the ages. And so you can see examples of this in the contemporary work in the notion of a possible world, in the connections between the concepts of necessity and possibility. When you look back at things that other people have said about what’s necessary and what’s possible, it gives you another way of thinking about something and might give you a new way of seeing patterns (in what people have been doing beforehand). There’s no creative end to trying to figure out what it is for an argument to be valid. The notion of proof is highly connected to what we do, how we do things, and how we infer and manage our speech acts. Even just the reflex of being able to take one concept and say, well, I could look at this in terms of what kinds of things it’s talking about, or, I could look at this concept in terms of what we do with it—there we have two quite different angles on the one phenomenon.
That pattern can also be a way of looking at fundamental issues in existence and ultimate reality. In traditional arguments in the philosophy of religion, it can seem like a certain kind of theist will line up on one side of the fence, and a certain kind of atheist will be on the other side of the fence, and they each just blast away with arguments no one changes their minds on anything. In light of that, who knows what philosophy of religion can aim to accomplish because it’s unlikely that you’re going to use sophisticated arguments to sway people either way. In one sense it’s not surprising at all that people with one view are going to line up behind one way of reading the evidence, and people with another view, go another way. But it does tell you something about the limitations of this mode of argumentation… People are pretty divided! I suppose where logic comes in (in relation to philosophy of religion), is providing a set of tools and techniques to be able to represent possibilities or positions so that we can see more clearly how divided ideas can be connected to one another. I just think that’s useful, even if it’s not going to force any kind of agreement. It can help better as providing a kind of cartography of the field of play.
I had a student once who came to me after the first philosophy of religion tutorial and said, ‘uh, you’re a Christian and you are teaching this philosophy of religion subject, could you tell me where you stand on the Heidegger v Carnap debate?’ which I thought was a really interesting of question to ask, because I did not talk about Heidegger nor Carnap in that class. Because there’s a way of reading the split between analytic and continental philosophy that says that the analytic philosophy people (for many of whom Carnap is a father figure) are just people with really high standards of intellectual hygiene. And if no one is meeting those sorts of standards, we’re going to say that their work is rubbish (as Carnap did of Heidegger). And I really don’t think that’s a fruitful way of doing things. I think that the kind of tools, techniques, and reflexes that we have in logic are best used when they bring to mind some creative possibilities, or when they bring to mind a way of noticing patterns in what it is that we are doing. I find that stuff way more interesting than a reaction like, ‘oh my goodness! I can’t translate what you are doing into my vocabulary, so what you are doing doesn’t make sense’. After all, that’s a non sequitur.
Mark: What do you think are the most exciting current developments in logic, and in philosophy more broadly?
I think one of the most exciting developments in philosophy more broadly, and this is sort of connected to logic, is some of the contemporary work of actually paying attention to the social context. The recognition that our words and our concepts arise out of a social context. Paying attention to these social origins makes a difference to theory, whether this is ethics or whether this is philosophy of language or whatever else. The kind of work that I’ve been really interested in is the kind that is socially engaged, for example, work in speech act theory which looks at the social networks and social arrangements around which our attempts to communicate all take place. Because after all, the kind of things that we’re doing when we’re reasoning are things that, you know, you and I as human beings are doing. We’ve only got particular concepts because they are bequeathed to us from our community.
A lovely recent book on this is by my colleague and friend, Catarina Dutilh Novaes called The Dialogical Roots of Deduction: Historical, Cognitive, and Philosophical Perspectives on Reasoning. It’s a really great book on the connection between the dialogical and discursive practices of us talking to each other, on the one hand, and the contingent historical grounds of our reasoning practices, on the other.
Mark: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about philosophers?
Yeah, I’ll find that question really hard to answer. I don’t know. I don’t hang around “people” enough. I mean, maybe they think of bearded, white, privileged men. As far as I can tell you, that is a misconception, generally, but ironically I am a bearded white privileged man. I’m serious: I’m cis, straight, white, male. I won the lottery of doing life on easy mode. And historically speaking, philosophy has been the centre of that tradition as we currently identify it in western academia, but it’s not that and doesn’t have to be that. And I think it’s slowly becoming not that, at least in part.
Actually, I think any answer to this question is performative rather than descriptive. So let me do a little bit more performance. I think the biggest misconception that people have about philosophers, or at least as I would like philosophers to be, is that we are the kind of people who are sitting back and evaluating and criticising everything rather than engaging in conceptual creativity for themselves and for others. I think that the most interesting critical work in philosophy is critical in order to open up space for creation of new possibilities and understanding. And that’s where the fun, the life, and the interest lie, in opening up forms of possibility and understanding for people.
Eloise: You mentioned that you come from a working-class family, and that it’s pretty hard, financially, to be a student right now. How do you think we could improve diversity in philosophy, including getting more working-class kids into the discipline?
It would be really, really great if it didn’t cost so much money to go to university; if society structured itself in such a way as to value investing in students’ lives, that such a thing was recognised as an investment and not a cost. But that’s going to require massive social changes in terms of the social and political context in which the modern university finds itself. The social and political context is, first, going to have to deal with its diversity issues.
Our philosophy is fundamentally white and, western. In the Australian context it’s a colonial phenomenon. I think paying attention to indigenous people, widening the circle of conversation, to include people who are not from the dominant European colonial white culture would make a difference.
There are certainly more women (more non-men) in the profession than there used to be, but that’s not yet 50:50. It’s certainly nowhere near a just arrangement of things at the higher levels. So there’s a number of things to be done. But I wouldn’t ask me—a privileged white male—to be the one to come up with the best ideas about this, because, why would you trust someone in my position? So what I would recommend for people in my position to do, is make space and step aside for other people and attempt to foster the kinds of communities where other voices can be heard. And that requires, not only, agitation and work in terms of the broader culture, being able to find a safe space for universities and Arts faculties and Humanities disciplines and Philosophy to continue to exist. It’s also a question of valorising and paying attention to voices that are from outside the mainstream. And then, also, listening and paying attention to those who say difficult things. Try and co-opt that for your own purposes. That would be great. But, you know, people who are like us find that difficult… we need practice!
Eloise: What are your hopes for the future of philosophy?
Oh, my hope for the future of philosophy is that it will continue to diversify. But in another sense, when I think about the future I think, it would be really, really great if the planet was still habitable in fifty years, a hundred years, and that we’ve got some time to be still and think philosophical thoughts—we should be trying to make sure that we can grow enough food to sustain each other and look after each other. I’m not particularly cheery when it comes to the life that my son is going to be leading when he is older. I do think that climate change—and the social disruption that is going to ensue from that—is really, really serious. But, I do think that we are going to keep on thinking philosophical thoughts. We’re going to keep on asking these difficult questions, and keep attempting to (hopefully) have productive conversations about unclear issues where the stakes are high, and do that well and learn how to do that better. So I hope we keep on asking those questions and that there will be both a continuity with the great traditions that have come down to us as well as a flowering of possibility from them. New sorts of challenges are going to be facing us in the years ahead. When you think of how 2020 is very different from 1920 or from 1970, you know, 2070 will be very different from 2020, and I do think that the kind of philosophical skills and abilities is an important part of a flourishing life.
But I do hope that the little impact that we, academic philosophers, are able to have together on our communities plays a positive role in getting life forward. Sorry, that took a dark turn, but I have to be honest!
Eloise: Can you tell us about a book or paper that had a particularly profound effect on your intellectual development?
Yeah! I mean, there are a lot of different things that I could say. The book from Catarina that I mentioned before (The Dialogical Roots of Deduction), I thought was really significant, affecting the way I think about things. Aside from that, let’s pick at random (well not random it’s just something from this year because I do try and keep up with things), I read this book by a young philosopher of religion and philosopher of logic. It’s a book by Simon Hewitt called Negative Theology and Philosophical Analysis: Only the Splendour of Light. When I read it last year I thought, oh, it would be really great to teach some of this stuff in the philosophy of religion advanced class that I’m teaching this semester. It blew my mind when reading it because he comes from a tradition which is very different from mine, a Catholic philosophical tradition. So he’s sort of helping me understand what on earth people might mean when they say things like ‘we can’t describe ultimate reality’. Or the kinds of things that come about from negative theology, say, we can’t say anything positive about God. Or, we can only say negative things about what’s ultimately real (God being one way of describing what’s ultimately real in this tradition). And, you know, I come from the sort of robust, realist Australian attitude of, hey, if you are saying you can’t say anything about a subject matter and that’s true, then at least you’ve said that.
So this book, when I read it, it made me think, oh wow. Because it was connecting some things that I’d been thinking about in terms of meaning theory and the way that words might work, and connecting this to other things in a philosophical and religious tradition that I hadn’t had much time for. It helped me to understand how somebody might see the world in that kind of way, and whether that’s got a kind of long-lasting effect, or not, I have no idea. But it’s certainly changed the way I think about things. And that’s so exciting. That’s a younger philosopher’s book I read and that has had a very recent effect on my intellectual journey.
James: What is the most controversial philosophical stance you hold?
Everybody responded to my logical pluralism book saying that I had to be wrong. So that’s the thing I’m probably most ‘out there’ with, in saying, you know, there’s no one true logic. That’s the thing that everybody’s argued with. When it comes to a question like ‘is this valid, is that valid?’ I just don’t think that it’s correct to answer categorically yes or no. Or to say that something can only be valid or invalid in this particular sense. And so, I think, objectively speaking, that’s a philosophical stance that’s certainly been very controversial, thinking that there’s no one true logic.
There’s other things that I believe that are probably more controversial than that, but I’ve not put out there so much, but I dunno whether they’re controversial philosophical views. I mean, I’m a Christian and so I believe in God. I don’t really know exactly how I might defend that against philosophers who want to go and argue about it. And that’s not something I’ve particularly written on. And it’s not an area of academic stuff that I’ve done a lot of research work on or anything like that. So, probably among certain circles that’s more controversial.
So when it comes to a philosophical stance, which I hold as a philosopher, logical pluralism is going to have to be it.
Mark: When you say that you’re a Christian, is that because of something like reading any particular argument you come along in a philosophy of religion course, like the ontological argument?
No, and that’s the thing. Religion was not the kind of thing that I got into because of a reasoned argument. In one sense it was sort of part of my background, you know, as somebody that was raised in a Christian environment and went to church as a kid; all that stuff made sense to me as a young person. And then in another sense I found it really interesting hanging around philosophers and seeing, oh what do philosophers say about this? And reading philosophers who were interested in religion, both in religious people and irreligious people. That’s when I realised that there’s a whole range of views about that. Nothing in the atheist stuff that I read made me think, oh my goodness, religion is rubbish. But then also, nothing in the philosophy of religion stuff that I read made me think, oh my goodness this is making sense of my background, what I believe and all of that. The philosophy of religion just came and slid in as a different kind of foundation to what it is that I believe. I guess that’s just the way that I hold my religious perspective and practice. It’s not like I felt, “oh great, now I’ve got a particular philosophical argument to ground it.” You know, it’s just part of my way of understanding the world that is deeper, and got into me earlier than the philosophy. And it’s still there.
So, I have a great deal of sympathy for students in my philosophy of religion class who come from a whole range of different views. We’re interested in how the arguments help us to modify how we hold those things or what we think about those things, but I don’t come into that class with a thought that I’m going to change people’s minds to any given perspective. I’m interested in helping students think more deeply about their own views and about the views of others, and how different kinds of descriptions fit together. If you say, what are you doing when you say ‘God answers your prayers?’ When you meditate, are you actually getting closer to enlightenment? What are you actually doing? That might profoundly shift your attitude towards meditation or prayer or providence. But I definitely don’t approach a philosophy of religion class as something where I hope everyone is going to agree with me. That would be profoundly sad, because on one level I don’t even agree with myself from 25 years ago. There are many things that I keep on saying and believing, but the way those things are held is very different. Even though I might be voting for the same party, politically or theologically speaking, that I did before, the way I understand what it is that they’re doing and everything else like that is very, very different too.
Mark: That’s fascinating! Any parting words for our readers?
Well this is the question that I’m not prepared for.
I’m tempted to say, you know, as a middle-aged white male philosopher with a continuing position in a University, that the most important part of this privilege is actually the connection I can have with students, with young people, and the things that we learn from each other. So my parting words are words of invitation for the students who maybe are reading this, and also students in my classes and so on: recognise that what you are doing—when you’re learning philosophy—is something that you are doing. It’s not just something that you are receiving. And one of the most special things for me is to hear from my students and listen and learn alongside them.
The students I’ve had the privilege to work with have been the most special part of working as an academic philosopher. So I don’t think of myself as having any parting words or something to impart, because I don’t want to have the last word, because that would be a shame if things had to stop with me. I’m much more interested to hear from others and hear from my students who are coming up behind. You know, the future.
Mark: Thank you so much for coming to talk with us today.
No, it’s been my pleasure. Even though there’s a massive contradiction because I’ve been spending all of this time talking. But yes, thank you.
Thank You, Professor Greg Restall!
Greg’s most recent book is Logical Methods (MIT Press, 2023), an introduction to logic co-authored with Shawn Standefer. If you’re interested in logical pluralism, check out Logical Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2006), co-authored with Jc Beall.
This interview was edited and abridged by Anna Day, Eloise Hickey, Mark Rothery, and James Cafferky and published in March 2022.