3. Trent Dougherty: When you were offered the Nolloth Chair I recall that at first you weren’t *certain* you were going to take it given the relative economies and other factors. What have been pros and cons of accepting the chair and living in England?
Brian Leftow: Oxford is wonderful in ways you’d anticipate. The philosophy scene is intense and varied even when you consider home-team talent, and the visiting speaker menu is stellar. And the best undergrads here are as talented the best anywhere, and perhaps better overall due to the tutorial system. But it is also great in ways you wouldn’t anticipate. Among the latter: the Colleges feed their Fellows and the food can be marvelous: sometimes restaurant-quality, and free. (Well, more precisely, it’s a benefit you earn, like medical insurance.) And some Oxford dons raise conversation to an art, almost a form of music–the casual wit that flows out of them is amazing. I’ve enjoyed the people here tremendously. Really, the job and all that has been directly connected to it have had no down-sides at all so far. On the other hand, the Nolloth has to agree to take a 2-year turn as Chair of the theology faculty board (roughly, department chair)–it’s in the contract. That won’t be fun.
Life in the UK has pluses and minuses.
[Continue reading below the fold.]
Among the good things: I live in Iffley, a small village that Oxford grew around early in the last century, then declared a “conservation area” to preserve its village feel. (I have to get gov’t permission even to cut down a dead tree on my property.) I’m under two miles from the University, but a flock of 50+ sheep grazes at the foot of my street, and horses live there too–they go clopping past my door on weekends. I get foxes in my back yard. In Spring the village puts up a “frog crossing” sign (in the standard triangular form of warning signs here, but with nothing in it but a big picture of a frog). And the frogs do cross from the Thames, and settle in back gardens. The village church is Norman, with amazing carvings; there are thatch-roofed houses, others that go back to Tudor times, and probably a few of the original hobbits if you know where to look. It’s a beautiful countryside. And I’ve always had a weak spot for castles.
On the down side, things are incredibly expensive: you have to stop translating prices from pounds to dollars or you’ll go nuts. There’s not much jazz (the main thing I miss about NY). And driving is no fun. There are speed cameras everywhere: more than 6000, in a country that would fit comfortably inside many US states. They ticket you at even 1 mph over the limit. And the limit almost everywhere off highways is 30 mph. As a result, just under a million drivers–3% of the total–are one ticket away from losing their licenses. I know one of them introspectively. The cameras are about to get smarter, too: it was announced recently that they will not just get you for speeding, but check to see if your seatbelt is on and ticket you for that. On the truly nightmarish side, in 2007, the gov’t will begin phasing in a system of universal “congestion charging.” You’ll have to have your car fitted with a radar device. The gov’t will use this to track you by satellite, and you’ll be charged per mile driven, the rate depending on the time of day, type of road and how crowded the area you drive through is. The maximum rate will be $2/mile.
Trent Dougherty: Do you have any observations on the state of religion in Britain?
Figures I’ve seen in reputable sources or been told by others paint a bleak picture. I’m told that only 43 or 46 percent of the population believe in any sort of deity, and that 73% describe themselves as Christian. If the first figure is accurate, the second includes many people who say “Christian” only because that is how they were raised or baptized. 18% are active members of some organized religion- this includes all the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, who are here in large numbers. Less than 2% are members of the Church of England; on any given weekend, there are more Muslims in mosques than worshippers in C of E churches.
4. Trent Dougherty: Obviously, succeeding Swinburne is an honor, but the Nolloth chair
actually connects you indirectly to C.S. Lewis, since Swinburne’s predecessor was Basil Mitchell who succeeded C.S. Lewis as President of the Oxford Socratic Club (how’s that for a transition?). Few professional philosophers give Lewis the time of day (our own Jon Kvanvig is an exception). The reasons for this are obvious, but do you think professional philosophers can benefit from at least reading Lewis?
Brian Leftow: Certainly if we learned to write a bit more like him, that would be a plus.
Trent Dougherty: One might think the emphasis on “write” generates an implicature that he is not a first-rate thinker. Obviously, he was not writing in the same vein as we write today, but I wonder how well you think most of his arguments would hold up to analytic scrutiny.
Brian Leftow: No implicature intended. But it’s just been too long since I read him.