Do you yearn to be quipped at cleverly while feeling your self-esteem evaporate? Is your fascination with English Pleasure Gardens undying? Do you long to hear the phrase “things look bleak for you” said with the dulcet tenor of a London accent? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are mad. But you are also a perfect candidate to become a pupil of the enigmatic James Stacey Taylor.
He is ironic, intelligent, and breathtakingly tall. Early American fables claim he carved the Grand Canyon by dragging an axe across the desert – the name was later changed to Paul Bunyan for legal reasons. Now, he enjoys a quiet life of educating young minds in the Philosophy Department of TCNJ.
Dr. Taylor was kind enough to answer several questions for The Perspective – and even suggested a few himself when he discovered the interviewer was woefully incapable. Now sit back, secure tongue firmly in cheek, and enjoy the musings of a delightfully sardonic Brit.
Where did you grow up?
Mainly in the Bedford Park area of London; this was the first planned Garden Suburb, dating from the C19th Arts and Crafts movement in England, and so was a very pleasant place to grow up. Yeats lived a few houses down from the house I grew up in, and wrote several of his major poems there. Not when I was living there, of course—he was dead by then. Or so his biographers would have us believe.
Where did you go to university?
At St. Andrews University, in Scotland, and UC Berkeley, for my undergraduate work and first postgraduate degree; then Bowling Green State University in Ohio for my further graduate studies. And, no, I don’t play golf; it is a silly game. There are far easier ways to get that little white ball into those small holes.
When did you move to America, and why?
I spent a year at UC Berkeley, as part of my undergraduate degree. I moved more permanently in the mid 1990s, to continue graduate work in philosophy. At the time the chances of securing an academic job in America were much higher than in Britain—there were simply more available—and an American degree was considered advantageous. Plus, I was misled—the man who recruited me to study in Ohio claimed that the Midwest was just like California. It isn’t.
Have you seen much of America?
I’ve lived in the Midwest, the Deep South (Louisiana), the Shallow South (Virginia), and on both West and East Coasts, so I’ve experienced quite a wide variety of American life. Including line dancing and tractor pulling, both of which I observed from a safe distance.
What do you like about America?
The general friendliness of people, and gas station hotdogs. These are probably the most important contribution America has made to the culinary arts. (The hot dogs, that is.) They’re absolutely wonderful, and so cheap! Plus, you can load up on vegetable-based condiments, and so they’re healthy, too.
Do you like horror movies?
Why does this question follow questions about America?
Of course! I used to live in a town that was the set of a recent horror film, whose working title was Backwater. (It was released as Venom, and is terrible.) When you’re living in a town that’s being filmed as the backdrop to a horror film called Backwater things look bleak. Especially if the film crew have to spruce the place up so it doesn’t look too creepy. I recommend Spoorlos and Anatomie as terrific horror movies—although stop watching Anatomie after the first scene. It goes downhill rapidly. And is mean to utilitarians.
How did you get interested in philosophy?
The school I went to (i.e., for the equivalent of high school) had a very good Sixth Form Library, and subscribed to academic journals in philosophy and classics, among others. I was browsing through the philosophy journals, and found the articles in them fascinating, especially those to do with theoretical ethics. Unfortunately, this happened after I’d been accepted to read for a Law degree at an English university. So, I gave up my place there, took a year off, and applied to read philosophy at St Andrews.
What are your interests in philosophy?
I’m interested in medical ethics, especially the morality of using markets to procure human transplant organs. I’m also interested in the related questions of whether death is a harm to the person who dies, whether the dead can be wronged, and whether the dead can be harmed. (The answers are no, no, and no. The dead would be very lucky indeed, were they to exist to instantiate such a property.) I also work on theories of personal autonomy—what it is for an action or a desire to be correctly attributable to one as one’s own. And I have interests in the work of Descrates, Berkeley, and nineteenth century utilitarianism.
Do you have any other academic interests?
Yes—history (especially medieval English history), and classics (especially the Epicurean school). I’m also keenly interested in plagues, especially the Great Mortality of the C14th. That was a real disease—not like the weak-kneed stuff that’s around now.
Do you have any pets?
Three Catahoula hunting dogs, and an embarrassingly large number of cats. An embarrassingly large number of cats is any number above zero.