Last week I completely bust my hamstring playing football against a bunch of younger and fitter players and I’ve spent the week laid up, doing my best to rest to recover. At some point, I will start training again but I am also realistic. At 56 years old, I have to face the fact that my playing days are probably half over. My retraining will be tentative, gradual and carefully managed.
Similar will be my philosophical retraining because, at the same time, my academic research is taking different directions. Most will know me primarily as a metaphysician (or metaphysicist, as I like to say). But the publication of Absence and Nothing was a turning point, I suspect: a finale to 30-odd years working in the field of analytic ontology. There is a sense of freedom that accompanies the end of a major, long-term project and with that comes excitement and a little trepidation.
I am undoubtedly in the mood to retrain. I’ve always wanted to do new things but now I want to do seriously new things. I think the world is facing ever-mounting problems, primarily around imminent environmental catastrophe and the related – for I am sure they are connected – return of fascism. Can I justify a philosophy as abstract and detached as metaphysics while the world around us burns? I think not, but if I am to make meaningful contributions to a more value-driven philosophy, then I need a considerable amount of retraining.
I have plans, including new work with brilliant rising star Sheree Bekker (I got in early because she is soon to be huge in feminist philosophy). First will be a book on public health in a complex world and during my recuperation I am reading-up on health and politics (Rob Baggott’s excellent Public Health: Policy and Politics currently). After that is a project on the connection between politics and metaphysics, arguing that the latter is not entirely detached after all. There is conservative metaphysics (basically Humean) and progressive metaphysics (holistic and emergentist) and many political problems stem from the dominance of the former in popular consciousness. To make the thesis convincing, I know I need some retraining in ethics and political philosophy.
There is a cliché that it’s never too late to retrain and I guess I’m going to find out whether that holds true. I don’t feel ready for my pipe and slippers yet. If I am lucky enough to have another decade to my career, I hope to make a meaningful contribution to public and political discourse. I might be quiet for a while but I know that, if it’s to be worthwhile, I first have a lot to learn.