Richard Marshall interviews Josh Knobe:
3:AM: So how did you start? You have brought a freshness to academia, how come?
Josh Knobe: From very early on I was interested in philosophical questions but I always had a fear of academia. I thought that if I ever became an academic I’d became this dried up person and spend my life writing about something that no one would ever read or care about. And I’d write about it for a few years for a few other professors who’d obsess over it but it would make no difference. So then after I was an undergraduate I was still very interested in philosophy but instead of going to philosophy school I instead did a whole bunch of weird jobs. I was working with homeless people and teaching English in Mexico and doing translations in France. So then over time I began to feel that I wasn’t getting anywhere and I’d always had this interest in philosophical problems and they wouldn’t go away. So in the end I decided to return to academia and I eventually did return to grad school.
3:AM: And what kind of philosophy interested you at the time, given that experimental philosophy didn’t exist then, obviously!
JK: At the time before I went to grad school the kind of philosophy I was interested in was very much the traditional philosophy. I was obsessed with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and so I wanted to investigate and do the kinds of things that they were doing. So that was what my sense of what philosophy was all about. But at the same time I was doing all this research in psychology. I had published a bunch of papers with someone who had been a grad student at the time when I was an undergraduate student. And we were working away at these psychological projects. But at that time I saw this work as being sort of a thing on the side and separate from my real interests, which I took to be my philosophical interests. And then when I got to grad school something kind of weird happened. Someone started to write a commentary on the stuff that we had been doing in the psychology journals. But this person was in philosophy and wanted to treat these psychological papers as being of philosophical importance. So he’d be saying, you know, I think you’re right about this, wrong about that, maybe this needs better evidence. But he was treating it all as if it had philosophical significance.