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 clear to me that whatever the saint was doing in that strange, 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 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 my first book 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.
David Hume says, “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” I’m the proud father of a daughter and a son. I’ve worked as a movie critic, a sous chef at a French restaurant, and a host of a Sunday-morning talk show about ethics. I’ve also volunteered as a teacher at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (a.k.a. Oakdale Prison). My book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering: What Philosophy Can Tell Us about the Hardest Mystery of All is in part inspired by my time in the prison.
I’ve published articles in the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philosopher’s Magazine, and Christian Century. My article “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers” in The Atlantic has been widely circulated. I’ve been interviewed on NPR and given various public lectures and talks, including a TEDx talk “How Philosophy Can Save Your Life.” In 2014 I was named Distinguished Humanities Educator by the Community College Humanities Association. In 2015 I won the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, “an annual award aimed at identifying candidates who are in the early stages of careers devoted to the humanities and whose work shows extraordinary promise and has a significant public component related to contemporary culture.” I’m trying to live up to that promise.