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Ergo | Summer 2013

At the Coffee Machine: A Chat with Markus Kohl

ERGO: So, Markus, you've had a year now to settle into the department, UT, and Knoxville. What are your impressions so far? What has surprised you most?

Markus: My impressions on the whole are very positive. Knoxville is a very livable city. I love the fact that there is a well-functioning bus system and that I don't need a car to get to campus. The department and the university have been very welcoming and supportive; I am especially impressed by the congenial and constructive atmosphere in the department. I have been pleasantly surprised to find the undergraduate students here as good as the ones I had when I was a TA at UC Berkeley. I have found teaching here very rewarding.

ERGO: Your education began in Germany and involved, over the years, a good bit of work in literary studies. How did you find your way to a PhD in philosophy from UC-Berkeley?

Markus: I have always been attracted to both literature and philosophy. For a number of years I couldn't really decide which to focus on, and so I went back and forth between the two fields of study. I did a Master in Philosophy, then a Master in Literary Studies, both at Oxford, then I enrolled in a literary studies PhD program at Stanford for a year, before I eventually switched back to philosophy for good because I missed the in-depth analysis of arguments that philosophy encourages. I picked UC Berkeley because it has a fantastic philosophy department with many great thinkers in all the areas that interest me.

ERGO: You work on Kant, but on Aristotle too. What draws you to the work of these two philosophers?

Markus: Kant and Aristotle stand out in the history of philosophy (along with a few other thinkers) in that they are concerned with human reason on the whole, that is, with its theoretical and its practical questions, and with how these issues relate to one another. Unfortunately, philosophy these days is often a matter of thinking about very small-scale problems and of writing for a tiny number of specialists. Kant and Aristotle emphasize (each in their own ways) that it is one and the same human reason that, for example, tries to give causal explanations and ethical justifications, and they think that ultimately you cannot pursue such theoretical and practical questions in isolation from one another.

ERGO: What are you working on now?

Markus: I am mostly trying to turn some of my dissertation chapters into articles. In Kant, I have been thinking mostly about why he rejects compatibilism about free will and about whether he also wants to apply the idea of freedom to our theoretical faculties. In Aristotle, I have been trying to understand why he thinks that a bad person cannot know ethical truths.

ERGO: What do you enjoy doing when you're not doing philosophy?

Markus: What do you mean, when I'm not doing philosophy? Just kidding. I try to make room for non-philosophical readings, especially about late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century German culture and literature. I also love music, especially post punk, goth, and dark wave. Mostly though, I like to relax (go for a walk or watch a movie) with my wife.

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