Philosophy or Math. I got it into my head that the more abstract the major, the better. I came to Princeton from Peru, where I grew up. My family expected me to come to the United States to become a doctor or an engineer, or go into politics. My mother almost cried when I told her what my intended majors were.
After being placed into Real Analysis my first semester at Princeton, I quickly realized I didn’t have it in me to be a math major. I then took, it seemed to me at the time, every introductory course to every other plausible major, but none of them drew me in and challenged me the way philosophy did. As a sophomore, I took a class on the Psychology and Philosophy of Rationality taught by Gilbert Harman, Eldar Shafir, and Philip Johnson-Laird and the questions we considered in that class never left me.
What I loved about the philosophy department was how intimate and supportive it was to undergraduates and undergraduate research. I remember asking Professor Sean Kelly, now at Harvard, to supervise my thesis and he agreed under the condition that I would be willing to meet with him every week. I had no idea at the time what an incredibly valuable experience that would be. I know of very few people that had that kind of intense research experience as undergraduates and I can’t imagine that happening at many other places.
I pursued a Ph.D. in philosophy at Stanford. When I found out that people would be willing to pay me to keep doing what I had been doing at Princeton, I couldn’t believe my luck.
I am an assistant professor of philosophy at the City College of New York, which is part of the City University of New York system. My research is in the philosophy of action, moral psychology, philosophy of education, and political philosophy. I love being at a public university where I can teach a wide diversity of students. [This interview was conducted in December 2013]
One of the great things about the philosophy department at Princeton, if you end up going into philosophy as a profession, is that your preceptors are very likely to become important figures in philosophy themselves. I still get a thrill when going to a talk by one of my ex-preceptors; although I get the feeling that they are not quite so thrilled at realizing that they are now old enough that their students are professors themselves.