This is the twenty-third installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow these links for links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22.
This interview is with Jeremiah Carey, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m a graduate student in philosophy at UC Berkeley. I’ll be going on the job market in the fall and graduating in the spring, so I’m eagerly (and anxiously) waiting to see what the future holds. My philosophical interests are broad and mostly ethical – I want to know how to live and whatever is relevant to knowing that – but my main research has centered on issues in moral psychology. I pitch my dissertation as a defense of a contemporary analogue of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul. Basically, I argue that in order to make sense of weakness of will, we have to think of ourselves as having multiple “sources” of motivation, which I identify as reason, desire, and the will. A big chunk (over half) is about how to understand desire and its relation to reasons for action. I’m also interested in normative issues in moral psychology and related topics in virtue ethics and free will/moral responsibility. I’ve found myself attracted more to ancient approaches to these questions than modern ones, which has led to secondary interests in ancient philosophy, and, more recently, Asian philosophy.
I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I converted to Orthodoxy fairly recently, though I grew up in church, almost quite literally – when I was young my father was a pentecostal preacher and we lived for awhile in an apartment built above the sanctuary. The denomination I grew up in was un-orthodox (denying the doctrine of the Trinity), and at least at that time quite fundamentalist and anti-intellectual. In fact, my first exposure to philosophy came from my dad’s struggle against the anti-intellectualism of his own church. (I remember him trying once, without much success, to give us family lessons on common fallacies. A more lasting impression was made when he gave me to read, as a pre-teen, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and emphasized Douglass’ discovery of the link between slavery, on the one hand, and a failure to ask questions and to think deeply, on the other.) My family left that church while I was in middle school and remained non-denominationally affiliated for the rest of my childhood (my dad quit pastoring, went back to school and became a medical doctor). Since then I’ve always been, more or less half-heartedly, connected to one church or another, until I discovered the Orthodox church early in my graduate career.
I’ve always been somewhat ill at ease with my faith. I seem to be the only person in my immediate or extended family who is, I’m afraid, basically immune to religious experience. I think there are good arguments for theism in general and Christianity in particular, but I don’t find them rationally compelling. So while Truth is undoubtedly an important issue, my primary draw towards religion is based more on those other transcendentals, Goodness and Beauty. I want to be good, and I want to recognize and love the beautiful, as well as to believe the true. Orthodoxy holds out for me the hope of those things more than anything else I’ve encountered.