Joy Gordon, PhD
By Corbin Casarez
This spring Dr. Joy Gordon joined Loyola as the Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. Professor of Social Ethics. Her faculty page is here. The following is the second of a series of faculty interviews conducted by Corbin Casarez, Loyola Philosophy PhD student, for the Association of Graduate Students of Philosophy (AGSP) blog. For more information on AGSP, please view their official webpage or visit their blog.
AGSP: Welcome to Loyola Chicago! We’re certainly glad to have you here, and we’re equally grateful for your participation in our series of faculty profiles. So what brought you to Loyola University Chicago?
JG: I had heard wonderful things about the LUC Philosophy Department for many years. Two of my colleagues at Fairfield received their PhD here and had nothing but glowing things to say about the faculty and students in the department. I taught at Fairfield University for nearly twenty years, and while I really enjoyed it a lot, it’s very exciting for me to be in a department with a graduate program, and strong support for research.
AGSP: Well, we (the graduate students) are excited to count your expertise among the resources and support for quality research here. What have you enjoyed about Loyola in the short time that you’ve been here?
JG: The students in my graduate course this semester (Ethical Issues in International Relations) are just terrific. It’s also great to see that the department has a deep culture of collegiality. As I’ve been getting settled in over the last few weeks, I’ve been very appreciative of the many ways that my new colleagues here have reached out to make me feel welcome.
AGSP: So the Ellacuria Chair is reserved for an expert in Social Ethics, so we know your general area of specialization. But what are you currently working on and thinking about?
JG: I’ve been doing work on the ethical aspects of economic sanctions for a number of years. That’s turned out to be a useful context in which to approach a number of issues that I find compelling, such as thinking about the abuse of power within the context of international law and global governance. At this point my work is going in two directions. First, I want to do more fine-grained work on issues related to legitimacy and legality regarding the United Nations Security Council. But in addition, I’m working with scholars and institutions in Latin America to develop and publish more of their contributions to the field of international ethics.
AGSP: That reciprocal increase in accessibility—their research is able to enter into the currents of academic conversation and other researchers are able to learn the work that has already been underway—is fantastic! What a boon for all parties! I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your intellectual biography: how did you come to these interests, and what are your influences?
JG: As an undergraduate at Brandeis, I was interested in philosophical questions within social theory: the concept of human nature in Marx and Freud, the debate over positivism in the late 19th century, the various conceptions of rationality employed by Weber. I also studied hermeneutics and the Frankfurt School a good deal. In law school, I tended to focus more on the theoretical aspects of my seminars, even in courses that were more concrete “black letter law” courses. In graduate school, I focused on political philosophy, and wrote my dissertation on Latin American political thought, drawing on both hermeneutics and the Frankfurt school.
AGSP: It’s interesting that you say you were interested in the theoretical aspects of your graduate work, yet your own research has very practical implications.
JG: In the course of spending time in Latin America, I became interested in human rights, and in particular the tension between economic rights and political rights. Economic sanctions provided a context that illustrated that tension very vividly. In the case of Cuba, for example, US sanctions cause enormous disruption and hardship to the Cuban population in regard to everything from lodging and transportation to food security. The reasoning is that this is in the interest of the human rights of the Cubans, since the purpose is to enhance their political rights. From there I ended up doing a great deal of work on the humanitarian impact of economic sanctions, primarily in Iraq, but also Cuba and Iran. Then, in the course of writing about the UN Security Council sanctions on Iraq, I also started to see new questions concerning global governance, and that’s what I’ve been working on recently.
AGSP: What is the most important thing that you hope students take away from your classes?
JG: Well, this sounds odd, but I guess I would say something like the “musicality” of a text. I’ve been teaching introductory core courses to undergraduates for many years, and every time I re-read the text before class, I’m always struck once again by the elegance of the argumentation. I’m thinking, for example, of the passage in Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” where he explains that law is fundamentally caught in a tension between the need to speak generally, and the certainty that speaking generally will always result in wrongs done to individuals; between the need for equity to address those individual circumstances, and the certainty that equity slides quickly into arbitrariness. Aristotle captures all of this, with clarity and elegance, within the space of a couple sentences.
AGSP: In an age where philosophy frequently is done in journal articles geared toward specialists, and thus with highly technical language and a certain “style” of academic writing, it’s nice to be reminded that philosophy can be beautiful as well as clear. Speaking of “musicality,” I understand you dabble in the sonorous arts…?
JG: I play folk music, with a little blues and jazz thrown in. I play guitar and banjo (clawhammer, not bluegrass). My friends and I have occasionally played gigs for (very small) audiences, but mostly I just get together with friends on the back porch or in someone's living room.