Matt finished his graduate work in philosophy at Talbot in 2007 and is currently working on his Ph.D at Notre Dame. He does research in philosophy of religion, ancient philosophy, and metaphysics. Here’s a recent interview he was kind enough to do for the blog:
What persuaded you to study philosophy and when did you know that you wanted to pursue philosophy academically as a career?
I was interested in philosophy, theology and apologetics early on, and I had a few terrific philosophy profs in undergrad who were significant influences on my life. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and college life, and so I decided to pursue becoming a prof-of-influence like them.
When I first began studying philosophy as an undergrad I felt a void, lost at sea so to speak, while strangely also feeling a mysterious sensation and attraction (and occasionally threw books out the window!). How comfortable are you now in studying philosophy and how did you become confident in your research?
I’m more comfortable in the sense that I’m at least somewhat familiar with many of the issues in philosophy. However, I’m much less dogmatic about almost everything, so in that sense I’m less comfortable stubbornly defending many issues.
What are some of your favorite philosophical problems (dilemmas, etc.) to think about?
I find it both fascinating and frustrating that philosophers disagree so much, and often heatedly. I don’t yet have a view on why that is, but it’s something I find myself thinking about a lot. I also think a lot about free will — what it is, whether we have it, how it relates to divine providence, etc.
How has studying philosophy challenged your Christian worldview?
“Challenged” probably isn’t the right word — deepened perhaps, and certainly humbled. There are a lot of smart people out there, and none of them believe exactly what I believe. This both inspires me to consider whether my beliefs are true and/or defensible, and to be respectful of others’ views. This isn’t some bland tolerance, since I think such views incompatible with my own are false. But I think it’s a necessary form of charity — intellectual charity — that is a fruit of the spirit.
How do you organize and balance your work and home schedule (when do you read/write/spend time with friends/family)?
Whoever thinks they know the answer to this question is lying! For me, I try to put in an eight-hour workday, then have family time in the evening, then work late as necessary. I often must put in a full Saturday as well, but I try to protect evenings and Sundays as much as possible. (Until the week papers are due, of course!)
“What’s the difference between a philosopher and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of 5!” I laugh and grieve at this joke. How concerned should we feel about the philosophy job market?
Zero. Philosophers, of all people, should recognize education as an end, not a means (e.g., to a job). If you can’t get a traditional academic post, then God must have something else in mind for you. But that doesn’t mean you’ve wasted those 13 years getting your PhD. (NB: this will not convince your grandparents, but it’s still true!)
Richard Dawkins has said that “the time has come for people of reason to say enough is enough. Religious faith discourages independent thought, it’s divisive, and it’s dangerous.” What is your opinion about this?
If we’re honest, we must admit Dawkins’ second sentence is basically correct. Religions have a sordid history of all three, even to the present. Of course, it must be argued that religion inexorably leads followers to such dreadful results, which I think is rather difficult. So Dawkins’ suggestion to give up religion is far from supported by pointing out religions’ sordid history. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged all the great good that has come about by religious practice. I think those of us with religious convictions would do well to both defend it, but also ask forgiveness for our ancestors’ indiscretions.
Do you think non-philosophers (those who are less philosophically inclined) should study philosophy, if so, how serious should they consider philosophical issues?
To the extent that one has philosophical questions that need settling, whether for themselves or for others, they should study philosophy. I personally have no questions about the history of cricket, so I’m not going to study up on it. If someone has no desire to study philosophy, telling them they ought to study it or forcing them to do so won’t do any good. However, it is certainly possible to gently help them discover the joy of tackling life’s biggest questions.
Where are you in terms of the program?
Just finished two years of classes. Now I’ve got a year for oral exams, then 2-3 years for dissertation.
Are zombies metaphysically possible?
Do you have any “words of wisdom” for individuals who may be considering a career in professional philosophy?
Be open to lots of different kinds of opportunities, areas of study, etc. You will probably lose interest more than once in an area you once found interesting, but may unexpectedly find an area that holds your interest like never before.
What advice can you give to budding Christian philosophers?
Be a Christian first, a philosopher second. Nothing is more aggravating to me than a Christian philosopher who acts like a buffoon (or worse), whether or not they are brilliant. Kindness and generosity go a long way, much further than intellectual firepower.