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Christopher Shields

Professor, Department of Philosophy

What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

“The Philosophy Faculty at UC San Diego is not only world class, but enjoys a reputation for world-class collegiality. It matters to me that I work with colleagues who are both diverse and like-minded in the pursuit of intellectual excellence; who share a vision of the importance of philosophy in a liberal education, as in life more generally; and who can challenge and educate me in an ongoing way. UC San Diego offers all that and more. I've worked in many different academic environments, some wonderful, some rather less so; UC San Diego tops the list for its welcoming ways. I've been here less than half of a year, and already I can see that I've made the right choice.”

Why did you choose your field of study? 

“For me becoming a philosopher was somehow the course of least resistance. Judged from the perspective of someone who was in due course to become a professor in the field, I began rather inauspiciously, studying a different discipline at a university to which I didn’t apply, except in the sense that I signed an application form filled out and mailed on my behalf by my mother. She worked as a clerk at the Social Security Administration and, appreciating what lay before me if I did not pursue a university degree, saw to it that I did not follow my own directionless inclinations into disaffection…I am, you will understand, forever unspeakably grateful to mother.

…As a result, I now find myself in the unfathomably fortunate position of being paid to do the thing I love. One may yet ask my mother’s question: how is this possible? For me it was made possible by hard work, yes, but also by a fair helping of dumb luck: I try not to lose sight of the fact that my career from beginning to end owes much to an improbably clement gust of wind.”

An excerpt from an interview, “Aristotle, Metaphysics and the Delicacy of Anachronism.”

What advice do you have for students studying the arts and humanities?

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once observed, 'Many people would rather die than learn logic—and most do!' One might generalize that sentiment to all of philosophy and, indeed, to all of the humanities more generally. We are constrained to ask ourselves—some would say that we are condemned to ask ourselves—what sort of person shall I be? If we do not ask ourselves this question overtly, challenging and uncomfortable though it may at times be, others will ask and answer if for us, leaving us to lead lives charted by others rather than by ourselves. While we are students at a university with the stature and greatness of UC San Diego, we have an opportunity to ask this sort of question in a focused, guided sort of way. Let us, then, avail ourselves of this opportunity—studying humanities, studying philosophy, and, yes, lest we die having missed our chance, studying logic.”

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

“I take myself to be a cog in a wonderful machine, a world-class university, without which the world could not be as wonderful as it is. For that role, I am most grateful.”

What is something about yourself that is not typically included in your bio?

“Here I demure: I disclose only that is not typically included in my bio that I do not disclose things not typically included in my bio. —Or, wait a minute: is that a self-undermining statement? Hmm, better study some logic!

Okay, well, if that's too precious: I am a proud member of the Balboa Park Rose Corps, the fleet of volunteers whose privilege it is to tend the Inez Parker Grant Memorial Rose Garden, San Diego's breathtaking rose garden in Balboa Park. If you've not yet been, go there. Today.” 



Before arriving at UC San Diego, Professor Christopher Shields was the George N. Shuster Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and before that, for a long while, Professor of Classical Philosophy at the University of Oxford, where he was also chair of the Philosophy Faculty Board and a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. 

Earlier Shields was Professor of Philosophy and of Classics at the University of Colorado at Boulder; he has also held various visiting posts at Cornell University, Stanford University, Yale University, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (where he held the Tang Chung-I Visiting Professorship), and the University of St. Louis (where he held the Collins Visiting Professorship). Professor Shields remains an Honorary Research Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.