Take 5: Philosopher Jason Stanley

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy, is noted for his contributions to philosophy of language and epistemology. His work has influenced other fields as well, including linguistics and cognitive science. He is the author of three books, “Knowledge and Practical Interests,” “Know How,” and “Language and Context.” A fourth book, “How Propaganda Works,” is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. Stanley has also written for a popular audiences for The New York Times, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and other newspapers. Before coming to Yale in 2013, he taught at Rutgers University.

What scholarly/research project are you working on now?

At this minute, I am wrapping up a book on political propaganda, for Princeton University Press, called “How Propaganda Works.” It explains what propaganda is, why it's effective (when it is) and how it undermines democracy. After it's published, everyone will recognize when people try to employ propaganda rather than reasoned argument. So elections from now on will just be decided on the basis of rational discussions about the common good. The resulting peace in the world will enable me to focus on my next book, which I have been working on for many years. It is about the development of formal semantics, in particular about the relation between formal semantics as a justificatory project in meta-mathematics, and its role in the linguistic theory, as providing the foundation for a theory of interpretation and meaning. I am hoping tons of people read it. Finally, I'm gearing up to work on a book on the nature of skill — what the Greeks called Techne. It has been a neglected topic in philosophy for decades. As with my 2011 book, “Know How,” I'm arguing against the view that thought is the enemy of action. As it turns out, thought is a very close friend of action.

What world problem would you fix, if you could?

If I could, I would make it so that everyone in the world could genuinely understand the perspective of everyone else; why they are frustrated, when they are, as well as why they are satisfied, when they are. I would like to grant everyone the capacity to see the situation of everyone else, as someone occupying that other person's viewpoint, and feel what one would feel in that situation. I am hoping we can get one of the major pharmaceutical companies to work on this.

What do you do for fun?

For fun, I hang out with my three-year-old son. I just bought him a microphone, to facilitate his burgeoning stand-up comedy career. His latest joke is "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get into an airplane." My wife is an assistant professor of cardiology at Yale, and of course the best thing is when she has time to hang out with us as well. She is definitely the best thing about me, as my son will immediately tell you.

What person, living or dead, would you like to spend a day with?

Like many philosophers, the person I'd most like to spend a day with is Plato. (I prefer him to Socrates, since I have always put great premium on the capacity to publish). But of people who have lived in the last 200 years, I guess it would be W.E.B. Du Bois. The physicists took from philosophers the best parts of metaphysics; the sociologists took from philosophers the best parts of social and political philosophy. Du Bois marries the best qualities of a great historian with the theoretical vision and scope of the greatest social and political philosophers. I'd probably be a bit tongue-tied talking to either Plato or Du Bois though (for some reason I'm now very worried about that, and wondering whether it should affect my choice).

What are you reading for pleasure?

For pleasure, I read exactly the things I read for my research. My writing and my teaching is guided by what I read for pleasure.


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