In Conversation With LSR Visiting Faculty Fellow Stephanie Beardman

Friday, Sep 29, 2017
by Julie Clack

Stephanie Beardman is a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow who specializes in metaethics and moral psychology. She sat down with UCHV to share more about her work and experiences as a scholar.

UCHV: What projects are you currently working on? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

SB: My research concerns prudence, decision-making about the future, how we think about ourselves over time, the nature of certain counterfactual conditionals, and present-tense commitments about future prospects. And although most of my work has been on a more abstract level, this year I'm super excited to focus these general interests on particular questions that arise with the prospect of dementia — concerning rationality over time, notions of the self, and the ethics of surrogate decision-making. For example, how should we think about the question of what to do when present and future selves conflict? I want to address this question both from the first-person perspective involved in, say, making advance directives, as well as the third-person question of how others should think about that conflict when acting on behalf of another.  Consider, for example, a case where a person has stated beforehand that they do not want to be resuscitated under conditions when they have been rendered permanently incompetent — yet when the time comes they clearly seem content to go on living.

UCHV: What book have you recently read that you recommend?

SB: There are so many, really (have you seen the twenty-three boxes of books that were delivered to my office?). But let me mention one that’s directly related to my work right now. I've been enjoying re-reading the papers of David Velleman collected in his recent collection, Beyond Price: Essays on Birth and Death (Open Book Publishers, 2015). Though I often disagree with Velleman's views, the arguments and distinctions he makes are satisfyingly subtle, complex, and consistently important and worthwhile to think about.

UCHV: What have you most enjoyed about Princeton so far?

SB: The University Center has been so incredibly warm and welcoming. I'm deeply grateful to be here. This community feels very comfortable to me, and I'm loving the intellectual life here (most recently, with the three mini seminars offered just last week by Jeff McMahan from Oxford). The campus is of course very beautiful, so I've been enjoying walking around amongst the buildings, trees, and gardens. And I find the interdisciplinary and highly engaged nature of the Center particularly supportive to my research.

UCHV: How does your work intersect with the work of others at UCHV?

SB: This is an inspiring place: Even listening to talks and engaging with researchers far outside of my area is stimulating and a lot of fun. But my interests also overlap with quite a few of those who are here, both as fellows and faculty:

I've always been an admirer of Shaun Nichols' work, so it's lucky for me that he's also visiting here this year. Other fellows whose work overlaps with my interests are Amy Sepinwall, Drew Schroeder, and of course Mark van Roojen. As well as Lori Gruen, who will be here in the spring as a Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching.

And among the regular faculty at UCHV:  Peter Singer has made many important contributions concerning the questions I'll be pursuing this year.  I'm very interested in the work of Johann Frick, especially on conditional reasons and self-knowledge.  Liz Harman has written on the significance of future desires in practical reasoning, on moral status, and on other questions in ethics that are relevant to my work. And there are many others whose philosophical work offers many points of fruitful connections with my own, such as that of Tori McGeer, Michael Smith, Adam Elga, Mark Johnston....

UCHV: Can you share one fun fact about yourself?

SB: In college and for a few years afterwards, I built stage sets, worked as an electric on films, worked in video post-production, did some sheet-rocking, and even hand-crimped a copper rooftop in Cape Breton....  I never got really good at or proficient in any of those jobs — but as a writer, living the life of the mind, occasionally I miss the sort of physical, fast-paced teamwork and energy involved in large-scale projects like those of bringing into existence a building or a work of art.