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Fleischacker on writing

Sam Fleischacker

Sam Fleischacker is a professor of philosophy at University of Illinois Chicago. He works in moral and political philosophy, the history of moral and philosophy,and the philosophy of religion. Among the issues that have particularly interested him are the moral status of culture, the nature and history of liberalism, the relationship between moral philosophy and social science, and the relationship between moral and religious values. His publications include The Ethics of Culture (Cornell, 1994), On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion (Princeton, 2003), A Short History of Distributive Justice (Harvard, 2004), Divine Teaching and the Way of the World (Oxford, 2011), Kant’s Questions:  What Is Enlightenment?  (Routledge, 2012), and The Good and the Good Book (Oxford, 2015). Professor Fleischacker has been a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, the University Center for Human Values at Princeton, and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at Edinburgh University. He taught previously at Williams College.

  • What kinds of writing do you write?
    • Mostly philosophy but also short pieces on Jewish topics, op eds on political topics, and occasionally short stories
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  • What’s one of your favorite things you’ve written, and why?
    • My book A Short History of Distributive Justice, because it presented scholarly material in a framework that had a clear “story line” 
  • What’s something you wrestle with in your writing process?
    • Fitting the short phrases that I like, which occur to me unexpectedly and at odd times of day, plausibly into the flow of the argument I’m making, which otherwise might be a bit dull
  • How would you describe your writing process?
    • I write in short bursts – not more than an hour or two per day – but try to do so very regularly:  at least three or four times a week, when I’m teaching, and every day but Saturday when I’m not
  • “Hardware” tell-all; for example: Microsoft Word or Google Docs or paper forever? Legal pads or note cards or backs of envelopes? Pencils or pens? No. 2s or mechanical? Bics or Montblancs? Etc.!
    1. Pen on a legal pad for notes;  MS Word for composition
  • A standout feature of your actual desk or virtual desktop that you rather like?
    • It’s a standing desk!  Much healthier, I’m told.  And I try to keep it pretty clear when I’m writing.
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘writerly feeling’ when you’re in the zone?
    • Focused, happy, uninterruptible
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘not so writerly feeling’ when you’re hitting a wall?
    • Frustrated, distracted, self-hating
  • What’s your top piece of writing advice for grad students embarking on their dissertations?
    • Remember that writing 2 pages of rough draft a day, 2-3 days a week, will net you 200-300 pages in a year:  more than enough to get a whole dissertation done!  Aiming for more than that – whole days of work, in which you might write 10 pages, say – and not writing if you can’t do that, is likely just to be daunting, exhausting, and frustrating