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Interview with Andrei Zavaliy

This year’s Fellow, Andrei Zavaliy, is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy. The following is an edited version of an interview done while he was on campus.

A Zavaliy
Andrei Zavaliy

What got you interested in philosophy?

There are always multiple impulses that gently push people in particular directions, and these pressures eventually produce an overt decision, such as the choice of a university, a major, or a career. In my case, one important impulse was my father’s library--a rather extensive collection of books on all possible subjects, but especially on religion and philosophy. I tried reading those books rather indiscriminately from an early age, moving from one shelf to another. When I was about 12, I came across a peculiar little volume entitled A Dictionary of Philosophy. It contained entries on many mysterious-sounding philosophical terms. The explanations of those concepts were even more incomprehensible than the original terms. Nothing captivated me more at the time than the very sound of abstract philosophical notions, the names of ancient philosophers, and the fabled stories of their lives. From then on I made a resolution to do what it took to be able to read and understand these peculiar books, hoping to penetrate eventually into what seemed to me the secret wisdom through the veil of obscure terminology.

By the time I went to college, there was no doubt in my mind about the major to choose. I couldn’t quite understand students who remained undecided about their field of study well into their sophomore year. More specifically, during my undergraduate and graduate studies, I have pursued two philosophical interests which might initially appear incompatible to many people: the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, an icon of 20th-century continental philosophy, and moral philosophy in its strictly analytic tradition. One advantage of doing my graduate work in New York City: I could take classes from prominent analytic philosophers at the City University of New York Graduate Center in the morning, such as with Saul Kripke, and then catch an uptown train to a take a seminar on Heidegger’s “Being and Time” at Columbia University in the evening.

Heidigger
Heidegger influenced Zavaliy's studies.

Eventually, I focused on moral psychology as my primary area of specialty. It is a relatively recent and promising interdisciplinary field of study which utilizes the empirical data of modern developmental and abnormal psychology while taking full advantage of the theoretical resources of traditional moral philosophy. One of my central philosophical concerns is with the issues surrounding the comprehensive theory of moral agency and the applied aspects of moral theory, especially exploring the role of emotive states for moral motivation and performance.

What are you working on while at Dartmouth this summer?

There are several projects that I am trying to accomplish while at Dartmouth. My main focus right now is on a chapter of what will hopefully become part of a larger work dealing with the nature of an other-directed moral evaluation and its function in the overall structure of moral agency. A mature moral agent, I argue, has a tendency to express moral blame at wrongdoers, publicly evaluating their actions from the moral point of view. The lack of such an action--a consistent nonjudgmentalism, even when justified by considerations of tolerance and open-mindedness--would be indicative of a morally problematic status of the person himself. I am also trying this summer to make some progress on my article on moral emotions, as well as catch up with readings on Daoism and Shinto for the class on World Religions that I teach back home in Kuwait.

How is being at Dartmouth helping you with your work?

In recent decades, Dartmouth has become a major research center for scholars exploring the possibility of integrating theoretical philosophy and empirical sciences, to the benefit of both sides. Many of the “household names” in the moral psychology field have either once taught or are still teaching at Dartmouth: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Adina Roskies [Department of Philosophy], Michael Dietrich [Department of Biological Sciences], Peter Ulric Tse [Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences], and others. Being here is certainly a unique opportunity to meet some of these professors or to get a better understanding of their work through the resources available at Dartmouth. Other encounters on campus were equally useful, although completely unexpected. My floor neighbor, Dr. Suilin Lavelle, a visiting philosophy professor from the University of Edinburgh, happened to be working in the same area and it was most enlightening to attend the open lecture she delivered for the members of the philosophy department. Or, to mention just one other name, Steven Katz, a former Dartmouth professor who still comes to campus every summer do his research. Every morning I see him in the library surrounded by stacks of books. He told me how Elizabeth Anscombe and Bernard Williams tried to persuade him to become a philosopher while he was studying at Cambridge University. Just observing how committed he is to his work and what an active writer and researcher he remains, even at this advanced point of his career, inspires me.

The endless rows of bookshelves at Baker-Berry Library are one of the main reasons why scholars from various fields seek to secure a fellowship at Dartmouth. I had immediate access to all the books and periodicals that I could conceivably need for my project, all the supporting materials and encyclopedias within reach, and the library staff was most helpful in trying to locate for me an occasional volume that was unavailable or was borrowed by another patron. It would be impossible to make much progress on my writing without such resources. The lower level of the Berry wing of the library, where most philosophy volumes are kept, has become my official office for the last two months--from the moment the library doors click open exactly at 8 a.m. and until I get very hungry.

But above all I should say it is a unique atmosphere of a small academic town where the air itself is permeated with history and the beautiful landscapes of the surrounding areas make me regret that I was not born an artist. All that definitely helps to set one’s mind on a particular task without any distractions. I am indeed privileged to be here this summer, and I want to thank both the Department of Philosophy of Dartmouth College--Adina Roskies and Susan Brison, in particular--and the administration of the American University of Kuwait for making this experience possible. I can certainly corroborate the testimony of the previous research fellows from AUK; Dartmouth is an ideal place for academic work.

 

 

Last Updated: 8/18/15