How to become a professor in PHILOSOPHY

In this plan your career episode Stanford Professor Joshua Cohen shares with you why it does not require a specific  career plan in order to become a professor in the field of PHILOSOPHY.

More specifically, in this PLAN YOUR CAREER episode you will learn:

  • How Prof. Cohen became a professor in philosophy and why he never looked back since he made his career choice.
  • What are the most relevant journals to submit your work to and which are the most important conferences to attend.
  • How Prof. Joshua Cohen has been able to maintain a high level of motivation and discipline throughout his entire distinguished career.

About Prof. Joshua Cohen

cohen

Prof. Joshua Cohen is Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society and professor of political science, philosophy, and law at Stanford University. Prof. Cohen is also program leader for the Program on Global Justice at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he is a principal investigator in the program on Liberation Technology.

Prof. Joshua Cohen was previously a professor of political science and philosophy at MIT, he was educated at Yale University and Harvard University, where he earned his PhD under the direction of John Rawls. He has been elected Fellow in 8 honorary societies and has more than 10 teaching awards for his work and was the Summa Cum Laude of the Phi Beta Kappa – an American academic honor society

A political theorist, trained in philosophy, with a special interest in issues that lie at the intersection of democratic norms and institutions. He has written extensively on issues of democratic theory, particularly deliberative democracy and its implications for personal liberty, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and political equality   and serves as co-editor of the Boston Review, a bimonthly magazine of political, cultural, and literary ideas. Among his recent publications are Philosophy, Politics, DemocracyRousseau: A Free Community of Equals; and The Arc of the Moral Universe and Other Essays. For 2012-13, Cohen is on leave, working as a member of the faculty of Apple University.

 

Raw Transcript

If you want to learn how to become a professor in the field of Philosophy, stay with me.

Hi and welcome to howtobecomeaprofesor.com, the web show to learn from proven professors and experts. I’m your host Stephan and today you will learn how Professor Joshua Cohen from Stanford how he would plan his career in the field of Philosophy today. Professor Joshua Cohen is Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society and professor of political science, philosophy and law at Stanford University. Professor Cohen is also program leader for the Program on Global Justice at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he is a principal investigator in the program on Liberation Technology.

Prof. Joshua Cohen was previously a professor of political science and philosophy at MIT, he was educated at Yale University and Harvard University, where he earned his PhD under the direction of John Rawls. He has been elected Fellow in 8 honorary societies and has more than 10 teaching awards for his work and was the Summa Cum Laude of the Phi Beta Kappa. An American academic honorary society.

A political theorist, trained in philosophy, with a special interest in issues that lie at the intersection of democratic norms and institutions. He has written extensively on issues of democratic theory, particularly deliberative democracy and its implications for personal liberty, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and political equality   and serves as co-editor of Boston Review, a bimonthly magazine of political, cultural, and literary ideas. Among his recent publications are Philosophy, Politics, Democracy, and Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals; and The Arc of the Moral Universe and Other Essays. Last but not the least, for 2012 and 2013; Professor Joshua Cohen is on leave, working as a member of the faculty of Apple University.

Stephan: Professor Joshua Cohen, thank you very much for taking your time for this interview. It’s a very big honour to have you here with us.

Prof. Cohen: Thanks very much, it’s a pleasure to be here, Thanks for inviting me.

Stephan: The very first question I’d like to ask you is; how would you plan your career in the field of philosophy today from a B.A. degree to tenure, if it’s possible please be as specific as you can.

Prof. Cohen: I have a little bit of a trouble with the question,” how would you plan your career”. You know, I think philosophy is one of those subjects that, you go into because you really feel like, that’s what you have to do, and you can’t do anything else.

Stephan: Right.

Prof Cohen: And so you do, I think you go into it if there’s some questions that really are burning for you. And then you pursue those questions. So I think planning your career can come in conflict with that. Where you’re worried about how the work is gonna be received. How you gonna…I don’t think you should plan it, you just do it because you got to do it. that’s not  very helpful advice. I know that. (Both laughing). That’s the advice I give to everybody. The basic advice is.You got one life, that’s what I tell students about the same as you. You got one life, you should do stuff that really animates you, that gets you up every day. You feel like you can’t do anything other than that. And then you hope that things work out. But planning it…I don’t have any good advice about planning.

Stephan: (Laughing) Okay, I appreciate it, Thank you so much. I don’t know…..

Prof. Cohen: You‘ve got further questions rather that if you’d like I’d answer more specifically. I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea of somebody going into philosophy and planning their career.

Stephan: Right, right… Maybe you could share with us how…when did you make the conscious decision of doing philosophy and doing research in the field of philosophy.

Prof. Cohen: So I decided in my sophomore year in college that I wanted to study philosophy and get a PhD in philosophy and become a philosophy Professor. It was partly because there were a few people around who were then graduate students and I was an undergraduate of Yale as you mentioned. And there were a few people around who I thought were really interesting people, they were getting PhD’s in philosophy and I thought….hmmm that seems like a pretty good thing to do, and compelling thing to do. And also, I think… this may be hind sight, but I think I thought at that time, there were a lot of things that I’m  interested in and getting a PhD in philosophy and becoming a philosophy Professor looked like a way of creating opportunities to pursue the different things that I was interested in. It wasn’t really a focus thing decision, like okay I’m gonna do this rather than that, It was like a flaring decision. It was like, I’ll go with the philosophy and then I can pursue whatever interest me as a philosopher. I think that’s how I thought about it at that time and that is actually how it’s worked out.

Stephan: Alright. Okay. And so have you made a conscious decision to become a philosophy Professor or did it just happen?

Prof. Cohen: No, as I said I think in my sophomore year in college, I thought that’s what I wanna do, and I never as far as I remember… again I’m talking about you know forty years ago, but as far as I remember, once I made that decision. I didn’t look back, I didn’t think well maybe I should have…. That’s what I’m gonna do.

Stephan: Okay.

Prof. Cohen: But, to your earlier question about planning? I didn’t think: “Okay, if I’m going to be a philosophy Professor, what do I need to do to get into the best graduate school or you know”. I just thought: “Okay, I’m gonna be a philosophy Professor”. Now I had to take a bunch of philosophy courses or learn more about philosophy. Do it as well as I can. You know as I said forty years distance, I made this remembering, I don’t recall a kind of career planning, step by step. I’d rather do this first, to do that next, here’s the goal, here’s the next. But I have always done what interest me.

Stephan: Right, right, Okay that’s perfect. This answer is good enough. I’m a little bit scared to ask you the second question. But I’m doing it anyway (Laughing). What are in your opinion the most relevant journals to submit your original work to and which are the most relevant conferences to attend in the field of philosophy.

Prof. Cohen: I can see why you’re worried about asking. I’ll try to answer it without deepening your concern. So, first of all I should mention 2 background facts. Number one, I work in political philosophy, and I’ve never published anything in philosophy, outside of political philosophy. So my knowledge is principally about political philosophy journals. Secondly, from the beginning you mentioned before that I taught at MIT. So my appointment at MIT was half in political science and in fact I was chair of the Political Science Department at MIT for 8 years. And it’s also happened to be political science at Stanford. So, I’ve always had you know one foot in one academic foot outside of philosophy.

So if you put those things together, I have limited expertise to answer your question. That said, in political philosophy I think it’s still true that the most important journal the one where you wanna get your work published is; Philosophy and Public Affairs. There are others that are excellent but the journal ethics isn’t very good at all. So there’s more and more in philosophy than in ethics, and it’s also a bigger journal. The Journal of Political Philosophy is a newer journal and it’s very good in philosophy more broadly. The Journal of Philosophy, is a reading journal, The Philosophical Review also a reading journal and then it depends on I think things branch out in terms of what’s your specialization and what’s your style of writing philosophy. It may be very dependent on whether you’re writing in philosophy of mind, or in philosophy of language. And it may also vary depending on whether if you’re writing the history of what. So things differ a lot. But I think in political philosophy, I feel more confident that I might talk broadly about general philosophy in fact I still may remain reading journals. Conferences, the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association is the major, discipline wide meeting in philosophy. And if you wanna hear new stuff in a variety of fields and meet people, I think that remains the place to go, but I should say , you’re not gonna be surprised by this; I don’t like to go to conferences that much. And I should also say, on the issue about journal publication. I‘ve mentioned Philosophy and Public Affairs. I was actually associate editor there for about a dozen years and I also published a number of my main papers in Philosophy in Public Affairs. So there may be something very self serving about my saying that that’s the winning journal. But I think you would more object to that answer but that’s the truth in advertising.

Stephan:  Alright, Okay. Thank you so much, you were quite specific and actionable on that question, thank you so much for that.

Prof. Cohen: You mean unlike the first question where I just rant about it.

Stephan:  No, that’s not what I meant; the answer to the first question was rather inspirational I would say also very valuable. Yeah, we’ve reached the third and final question which is, and I guess I know the answer to this question already. How have you been able to maintain such a high level of motivation and discipline throughout your entire career? And you know I’m especially interested in the question, how can young scholars avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed? Or the feeling not being smart enough along the way or overcoming that feeling?

Prof. Cohen: The motivation, and your right you can predict it from my response to the first question. The way, speaking for myself, the way I keep a high level of motivation for the things that I do is – I only do things that I am highly motivated to do. I mean that’s not quite right, you know you’re in a field, you’re in a department there are responsibilities somewhere. And I think it’s very important to take on that responsibility. I mentioned I chaired for the department for political science, I also chaired for philosophy for a few years. Every body’s got to do that and it’s an important thing to do. It’s a responsibility to your colleagues, to the field. And in terms of the writing and the work, I just think, to say again what I said before. You got one shot. You do what you love. And if you don’t love what you’re doing, don’t change what you love, change what you’re doing. And the other question about how do you overcome the feeling of not being smart enough or good enough. I don’t know how to answer that, I mean one thing is that almost everybody, it’s worth being aware that almost everybody thinks that their really not good enough, or smart enough. And also, you know as you mentioned before, its great privilege, pleasure, fantastic work with John Rawls and get to know him very well. He became a friend, my teacher. I never, I don’t think, maybe this is 20-20 hind sights also, I never thought I’m gonna do what John Rawls did. I thought I can do something that’s good, that’s worth doing that will make a contribution, But I didn’t have a feeling of inadequacy relative to that ambition, because I thought this is a very unusual person, I’m not going to be able to do what he did. And I didn’t feel bad about that, there are lots of ways to make a contribution. So in some way, working with somebody who is at that level, extraordinary prestige and originality and also fantastically modest person, I thought, I’m not gonna do that. And also when I started teaching at MIT, I was colleague with Noam Chomsky. You talked to Chomsky you think   “Oh I see alright his different from me. He’s a genius, I’m not.”

So knowing a couple of people like that makes you think, I can do something, I can make a contribution. But they’re at a level of something they got going that I am not going to be able to do. So the answer I guess I’m giving you. The way to avoid having that feeling is, love what you’re doing and then orient yourself, in terms of a sort of a fair appraisal of your own abilities. I am also probably pretty arrogant so that maybe helped me too (both laughing)

Stephan: Alright, Prof. Cohen. Thank you so much. I’m trying to wrap this very philosophical interview. First main lesson I can draw from this interview is that, it’s really important to do what you love and we only have one shot in life, don’t waste your life doing something that you don’t love, in the words of Steve Jobs. And the second part you got very specific and recommended the most relevant journals and conferences for the broad field of philosophy and also for the specific sub-field political philosophy. And lastly, yeah again you shared with us that each of us as a scholar. We have to contribute something original, and walk our own path. Okay. Prof. Joshua Cohen, I really appreciate your very inspirational insights and thank you for taking your time and sharing your rich experience and wisdom with the Online School of Unconventional Academics. We learned a lot of actionable and specific stuffs form you and I’m sure many of our viewers will put them into practice. And as always, I’d like to end my interview with the following quote. The best advice is worth nothing if it’s not put into practice. Prof. Cohen.

Prof Cohen: Thanks! It’s been a pleasure I appreciate your taking the time.

 

 

 

 

 

Mentioned books, links and resources


Show Notes

Journals

Books by Prof. Joshua Cohen

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  • Jameela

    So, how do you become a professor of philosophy? Ha ha. Must have been a frustrating interview, but I get it that there really is no specific path. I guess you have to start thinking about philosophy and writing about it. Hopefully you’ll come up with something that nobody else has.

    • Stephan Si-Hwan PARK

      Not frustrating but a bit challenging :). Are you also a philosophy major or grad student? If yes, what are you working on and in particular interesting in?

      • Jameela

        I’m actually researching the family structure and filial piety in Chinese culture and how it affects the psychology of the individual — specifically whether or not it makes people less rational / logical.

        • Stephan Si-Hwan PARK

          That is fascinating! On what assumptions do you base your hypothesis that filial piety makes the individual less rational? Please tell me more :) Have you also checked out Quora? Maybe you can discover interesting new ideas on filial piety http://www.quora.com/search?q=filial+piety

          • Jameela

            I don’t like quora because they make you sign in just to look at stuff
            that you might not even be interested in. Also, I’m trying to take a
            really fresh look at this, so I’m trying to avoid others’ findings until
            after I’ve worked through my own discovery and observations.

            I’m not sure what I will find in the end, but it is my experience that
            people in Chinese culture often make a decision based on a relationship
            and rationality is mostly ignored. However when a decision does not
            impact a relationship, logic continues to be low on the priority list.

            My initial interest was spurred by my friend’s obligation to follow his
            mother who is senile and in no way fit to make any important decisions.
            He knows that she doesn’t understand the world anymore, but he’s 40 and
            she still tells him what time he has to come home and whether he can go
            on vacation, etc. (palms face) Unfortunately, this is not an isolated phenomena.

          • Stephan Si-Hwan PARK

            Yes, you are right about Quora. It is a nuisance that you have to register first in order to see content there. I totally got what you mean with taking a fresh perspective on your idea. However isn’t it the very first step to see what is already out there? This might you save you a ton of work and maybe you are working on something that already has been proven/disproven previously?

            Your research topic is definitely worth looking into. However due to the nature of your claims it is a quite delicate endevour and might entice passionate resentments among Chinese.

            Looking forward to hearing more about your progress!

          • Jameela

            In some cases, yes, but I’m certainly not walking into this blindly. There has already been some discussion on the topic, but I am more interested in finding something that I hadn’t predicted.

            I am more interested in doing the work myself because other people could be wrong, but also because I think I will get more out of the research in this way. Besides, I would probably just forget what someone else wrote if I didn’t do the work myself.

            It is inevitable that anything I do will be resented by someone eventually, so I can’t let that get in the way of my research, can I? I’ve already considered the pushback, so I’m considering publishing the content in a humorous play instead of a series of statements. Perhaps people will be able to get a laugh out of something that they can relate to as opposed to being resented.

            When I have brought this up to Chinese people or people who are/were brought up in Chinese culture, they have never appeared to be offended when I say that the culture is illogical and often agree, having made similar observations themselves. I’ve never heard anyone say, “No! We are a logical people!”

          • Jameela

            To clarify, I’m not saying that Chinese people are not logical at all. I’m just trying to illustrate that logic is not a priority when making decisions.

  • truth seeker tbm

    Really, don’t be looking into false history for answers to the question they don’t want answered. Cause u r answers that your searching for are all ready written, but you think you are reading truth. (Bible for example) Philosophy was once the highest of educations even thought after religiously. Now it’s just a fun class to take to bore you.. So I ask this question? Who said?, “The gods regretted soon that they created a person. We did the same. People regretted that they created the gods.” “But alas, they are all sadly deficient, because they leave us under the domination of political and religious prejudices; and they are as inefficient as the sleepy dose of an ordinary sermon.” “This is the great object held out by this association; and the means of attaining it is illumination, enlightening the understanding by the sun of reason which will dispell the clouds of superstition and of prejudice.”