Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Q&A with Linda Radzik

We asked Linda Radzik (Department of Philosophy), who presented on Wednesday, 23 January on "Changing the Past," a few questions about her work:

MGGCHR: What is your presentation's argument?

Linda Radzik: It is sometimes said that atonement for wrongdoing is impossible (at least for a secular worldview) because the past cannot be changed. In this paper I examine a number of compelling accounts of atonement that suggest the past can be changed in some morally meaningful sense. I argue that these accounts ultimately fail as accounts of atonement, however, because changing the past turns out not to address the core problem of wrongdoing.

MGGCHR: How did you hit on the focus of your current research and what interests you about it?

Linda Radzik: I had already done some work related to punishment, forgiveness and attributions of collective responsibility for wrongdoing. All of these are issues that deal with the aftermath of wrongdoing. It occurred to me that the philosophical literature almost always proceeds from the point of view of either a victim or a judge, but never of the wrongdoer herself. The literature asked, "What should we do with wrongdoers?" but not, "What should I do if I am the wrongdoer?" This struck me as deeply problematic--as an attempt to "other" wrongdoers, rather than to acknowledge our own moral fallibility.

MGGCHR: What is the most interesting place your research has taken you?

Linda Radzik: Because I had such a hard time finding discussions of atonement in the philosophical literature, I had to look farther afield. One thing I did was to search for representations of atonement in film, literature and popular culture. I've become something of an expert on the TV show, "My Name is Earl."

MGGCHR: What is your favorite course to teach, and what makes it your favorite?

Linda Radzik: I enjoy any class where I get to teach moral philosophy. I especially like to consider questions such as: Are moral claims the sorts of things that are true or false? Is morality just a matter of convention? Why should I be moral? Morality is a very odd thing. It is easy to see why we should be skeptical about it. But, I find, it is impossible to simply remain agnostic about morality. You have to make choices, and so you have to find some way to understand yourself as making choices that are better rather than worse.

MGGCHR: If you had the opportunity to invite any living humanities scholar to come speak at the Glasscock Center, who would it be and why?

Linda Radzik: I am a big fan of Christine Korsgaard, a philosopher at Harvard and author of my favorite book on the foundations of morality. I don't always agree with her conclusions, but her arguments are always fascinating.

MGGCHR: If you were stranded on a desert island, what material would you want with you?

Linda Radzik: A boat with an outboard motor and plenty of gasoline.