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Ergo | Summer 2012

At the Coffee Machine: A Chat with Adam Cureton

ERGO: Hey, Adam. Well, you made it through your first year with the UT Department of Philosophy. What’s your assessment?

Cureton: My first year here at UT has been fantastic! I have been very impressed with my undergraduate students. They’ve shown remarkable philosophical ability and a sincere eagerness to explore issues of moral and political philosophy. My faculty colleagues and the graduate students are another matter, of course! Being serious now: The faculty and graduate students have been welcoming and supportive, and the research environment here has been very productive for me. The research seminar, for example, has helped me to develop some of my own projects and to explore some of the links between my work and the work of others in the department.

You were a Rhodes Scholar out of the University of Georgia. What do you think that experience offers you in your role as a mentor to UT undergraduates?

I have attended public schools all of my life—except for my stint at Oxford—so I am a firm believer in the transformative power of schools like UT. I hope to do my part not just with the department, but with the honors program, the Haslam Scholars program, and the Office of Distinguished Scholarships, as so many have done for me, to help our students succeed on the national and international stages.

You’re teaching an honors course on disability next year; what's the motivation behind that?

Disability is a multi-faceted phenomenon the understanding of which requires bringing together a multitude of perspectives, methodologies and experiences, and attending to the variety of contexts within which we interact with persons with disabilities.

The course will expose students to a wide variety of academic disciplines, illustrate interdisciplinary thinking by tracing a specific issue through a variety of methodologies, broaden social awareness of a historically oppressed group in a way that may encourage the students to advocate and volunteer in their service in more culturally sensitive ways, and expose them to deep and systematic critical thinking about ideals, values and exemplars. And I hope it will do this while maintaining high standards of intellectual rigor and sparking philosophical curiosity. My interest in these issues arises in part from my own experiences as a person with a visual disability.

What are you working on now?

Two research projects, with an eye to bringing them together in a larger book project. The first one is on the relationship between having respect for other people and having respect for oneself; I've been thinking about whether we can have one without the other, whether self-respect can ground respect for others, and what it takes to respect persons in general.

The other project has to do with what sorts of attitudes we should have towards people with disabilities in our everyday lives and what sorts of attitudes they should have about themselves. I argue that all of us should try harder to respect, accept, and appreciate people with disabilities. The larger book project is on what it means to be a fully reason-governed person.

Rumor has it that in your first year at UT you're already a regular at Dollywood; is this true?

Well, not as much of a regular as EJ Coffman! But then again, I’m not from Arkansas and didn't grow up with Silver Dollar City like EJ. In any case, it’ll be awhile before I can give whittling demonstrations or conduct tours through the Dolly museum, which I hear is EJ’s weekend gig. Of course, like EJ, I’m from the South and I love its popular culture and so I expect it’ll just be a matter of time before I take over his weekend gig.


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