Interview with Professor Aaron Novick

Aaron Novick

We are pleased to introduce one of our three new faculty members, Professor Aaron Novick. Novick will be teaching Philosophy of Science in the winter quarter. (Use the link to check out his video introduction to the class.) We reached out to learn more about him and welcome him to the University of Washington.

What sparked your interest in philosophy?
I remember a moment from my childhood when I became very worried that, even though I was able to competently use the English language, I didn't really understand it. I didn't discover philosophy as a discipline until my first year of college, but it's hard to avoid feeling like it was inevitable that I'd end up here.

What are your current research interests? 
Currently, I'm interested in issues surrounding theoretical and conceptual change in biology. It's widely recognized at this point that central terms in biology—'species', 'gene', 'homology', 'organism', even 'life' itself—don't easily admit of a single, globally applicable definition. I'm interested in this state of affairs, both for what it can tell us about biological science in particular and what it can tell us about scientific language more generally. I am currently researching the complicated history of the term 'homology', as a case study through which to understand these dynamics.

What areas of philosophy do you teach?
I teach philosophy of science, with an emphasis on philosophy of biology. I have a side interest in Chinese philosophy (especially from the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods), and will be teaching a class on the topic in Spring 2022.

What is your teaching style?
Philosophy, at its best, encourages one to think through issues for oneself: what matters is less what one believes than how one came to believe it. I try to encourage this by prioritizing discussion over lecturing, and by designing assignments/assessments that require students to develop an original reaction to philosophical work.

Where were you working/teaching before UW?
Most immediately, I spent a year as an assistant professor at Purdue University, before leaving for UW. Prior to that, I spent a year as a post-doctoral researcher at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada), supervised by Ford Doolittle. I completed graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, supervised by James Lennox.

What is your favorite thing about Seattle/UW so far?
A difficult question to answer, with everything closed! But I love the proximity of beautiful hikes in all directions, though I've not taken nearly enough advantage of them yet. As for UW, I'm tremendously lucky to be joining a department full of kind people and excellent scholars.

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