I first fell in love with philosophy when as a sixteen year old I chanced on Thomas Aquinas's five proofs of God. Though I read the proofs with more bafflement than understanding, it was somehow crystal-clear to me that whatever the saint was doing in that strange, precise, exulted prose was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life on.
A decade later, while I was finishing my PhD at Emory University, my wife told me that she was pregnant. It dawned on me that I didn't want to live like Diogenes, the philosopher who slept in a discarded barrel and begged for his food. (Once, when asked why he was begging from a statue, he replied, "To get used to being refused." He was, needless to say, unmarried.) Though I admired the work of scholarship, the normal path of zeroing in on a micro-specialty and licking the necessary wing tips to get tenure didn't appeal to me. When my mom phoned to tell me that a job had opened up at Kirkwood Community College, not far from where I grew up, it seemed like a reasonable way of making a living and working freely on my writing and thinking.
What I found there awoke me from a dogmatic slumber. Sure, there were plenty of indifferent students drifting aimlessly toward a job. But there were also nurses, ex-cons, soldiers, aspiring chiropractors, social misfits, and many others, who believed, naively and correctly, that philosophy could make a difference in their lives. I wrote The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (University of Chicago Press, 2014) with such people—i.e., all of us—in mind.
I write movie reviews for Little Village and host Ethical Perspectives on the News, a Sunday-morning talk show on KCRG, the local ABC affiliate. For the past decade I've also worked as an occasional sous-chef at Simone's Plain and Simple, a French restaurant on a gravel road between Iowa City and Kalona. I first fell in love with cooking and baking when my sister and I as kids would press our faces to the stove window and bet on which of Mom's pita loaves would pocket first. My dissertation advisor, Donald Phillip Verene, is a great Italian cook, trained by Giuliano Bugialli. We talked more about olives and prosciutto than Plato and Vico.