Department of Philosophy

DEPARTMENT OF

Philosophy

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In the past two years, the Department of Philosophy has added three permanent faculty: Daryn Lehoux, Lisa Guenther, and Elliot Paul. We'll introduce each of them over the coming months, starting with an interview with Daryn. Daryn works in the History and Philosophy of Science, and has written extensively on Ancient science. He's been in the Classics Department at Queen's for a decade, but now has a joint appointment with Philosophy.

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How did you become interested in philosophy? And then what happened to make you realize that you were on the path to becoming a philosopher (and historian)? Did you feel delighted? Apprehensive? Why?

Becoming interested in philosophy was more about learning that the kinds of questions I had always been asking had a disciplinary home. This really took sail when I was applying for graduate school and was browsing the literature put out by various universities. I remember clearly a glossy foldout that the U of T sent me, and in it was a list of all their humanities programmes. I was absolutely floored to see there was such a thing as ‘History and Philosophy of Science.’ I mean, seriously—did they put that in just for me?

You have a joint appointment at Queen's University in Philosophy and Classics. What practical advice would you give students who want to combine philosophy and some other discipline?

I don’t really know what advice to give beyond telling students to look around as widely as they can and follow their interests no matter where they lead. Not every disciplinary combination will be obvious or easy to do, but they are certainly worth pursuing. My own undergrad degree was in Philosophy with an ancient Greek minor, and the University (not Queen’s) actually tried to shut that down on the grounds that it didn’t offer a minor in Greek. I had to dig through a bunch of old paperwork to show them that, in fact, they did. I think I’m the only person with that particular minor on their Waterloo degree to this day.

What was the most critical academic feedback you ever received?

Once in a job interview I got a question that began with the phrase “I am underwhelmed by your claim that ...”

How would you characterize philosophy of science in relation to history of science? Should these be intimately connected, or just learn from each other?

I’m a fierce proponent of the centrality of history to the philosophy of science. I honestly don’t think you can do the one without the other. Or at least, you can’t do either of them in an interesting and truly honest way on their own. The point has real teeth when it comes to thinking about what kinds of epistemic guarantees science may or may not offer us and how it goes about underpinning such claims. As soon as you import historical claims that people made about things we no longer believe in, you get a much more complicated and much richer picture about how knowledge claims work, and the challenges that are then raised have produced some really beautiful arguments and problems. I’ve written a lot about this and could go on and on, but.

In a conversation we had once, I said, casually, that these days everybody in Science and Technology Studies is a Kuhnian. You replied that yes, but you were really a Kuhnian. What did you mean?

Oh dear. What did I mean by that? I think the point I was making had to do with what I took you to mean about STS, which was that the sociological turn that STS makes at its core seems to come from Kuhn (there are a few earlier candidates, but Kuhn’s Structure is what really gave the idea legs, to my mind). My own approach to the history and philosophy of science is less sociological than STS, and yet it is still, I’ve come to realize, deeply sympathetic to Kuhn and faces many of the same hurdles and objections. The big one for me has been trying to work out how to articulate an epistemological position that takes the knowledge claims in my historical sources very seriously, even while recognizing how very wrong those claims turned out to be. It’s easy to point your finger at something like heliocentrism and say oh yes, that’s based on some easy observations but also suffers from a trivial oversight. But it’s much harder to trivialize the problem when you really dig in to the larger epistemic framework in which claims to heliocentrism (or spontaneous generation, or astrology, or whatever) are embedded. And it’s here that Kuhn starts to get his toe-hold. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out the tensions that emerge from how historical actors argued for the plausibility (or even obviousness) of natural phenomena, the fact that many of those phenomena are now seen to be false, and how that complicates what we now take to be true, or real, or obvious. We are, after all, historical actors ourselves.

Where do you write your best work?

I think my best stuff comes out when a problem just grabs me and won’t let go. I end up working through it while cooking, eating, driving, whatever. Notes get scribbled on things and lost. I love that process.

Let's set aside academics for a bit. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I have no idea, but hammocks on warm days spring to mind when I think about it.

Who is your favourite hero/heroine of fiction?

Socrates. (Bwahahaha!)

Really? I thought we were setting academics aside. OK, next: What is your favourite curse word? And ewhy?

I don’t have favourite curse words so much as I have favourite cursers. Some people just have a knack for expressing frustration or surprise in colourful language. My stepfather was a great one for that. Most of them are not fit for print, but one that I always liked was one time when he hit his thumb with a hammer and came out with ‘maudite-shit-de-câlice!!’—I mean, how bilingual do you have to be if that’s what your reptilian brain spontaneously spits out in the situation? Other ones were just head-scratchers: ‘careful, that stuff sticks like shit on a blanket.’ I mean, seriously. That’s just weirdly specific. Who even? What the? Bah.

What profession would you like to try besides your own?

I’ve often said how lucky I am to get paid to do what I do. I mean honestly, how weird is it that I get to think and write about this stuff for a living? But I’ve always said my backup would be my other serious hobby, which is brewing. My brother went and stole the idea, but more power to him, I say.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say to you at the pearly gates?

“Surprise!” would seem appropriate...

 

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