Interview with Professor Amelia Wirts

Submitted by Kate Goldyn on

We are pleased to introduce one of our three new faculty members, Professor Amelia Wirts. Wirts is currently teaching Philosophy of Law. During the winter quarter, she will be teaching Philosophy of Crime and Punishment. (Use the links to check out her video introductions to both classes.) We reached out to learn more about her and welcome her to the University of Washington.

What sparked your interest in philosophy?
I found Kierkegaard on my parents’ bookshelf in high school, and I didn’t understand a word of it. But I knew I wanted to. I went to college wanting to be a foreign correspondent for a newspaper, but when I realized that wasn’t the job for me, I decided to start figuring out this Kierkegaard stuff. I haven’t stopped reading philosophy since!

What are your current research interests?
Political philosophy has moved toward more “non-ideal theory” in the last ten years, which, in general, means thinking about political philosophy starting with the unjust world we live in rather than thinking about justice in the abstract. I take that approach to philosophy of law. When we think about punishment and crime philosophically, we cannot do it without thinking about racism and poverty, mass incarceration and homelessness. So, I am working on bringing insights about structural oppression into philosophy of crime and punishment.

What areas of philosophy do you teach?
Philosophy of law, philosophy of crime and punishment, political philosophy, feminism, and philosophy of race. Also, I would love to teach a course on different theories of oppression one day.

What is your teaching style?
I like to teach debates. Whenever I assign a reading or teach a theory, I always ask, who would disagree with this in a smart way? And then I teach that view, too. This may come from my experience in law with the adversarial system. Not only are there two sides in a court case, but often in Supreme Court cases, you get very smart majorities and dissents. One can learn a lot about the position they support by engaging with people, ideas, and writing that smartly disagrees. I think that there are some things, however, that there are just not two sides on. There is no smart disagreement with feminism or anti-racism, for example. But different people have very different but intelligent ways of approaching feminism and anti-racism, and I learn a lot by engaging those debates.

Where were you working/teaching before UW?
I was finishing a dual degree in philosophy (Ph.D. 2020) and law (J.D., 2017) at Boston College. While I was there, I lived in a couple of different neighborhoods in Boston and the surrounding areas (Allston, Somerville, Worcester, and Lowell). I also took a year clerking for a United States Circuit Court of Appeals Judge in Albuquerque, NM.

What is your favorite thing about Seattle/UW so far?
Because of the pandemic, I haven’t gotten to meet my students in person, but I have loved how much they are engaged in our online classes. I also am from the Pacific Northwest (southern Oregon), so I am happy to return to a place where there is lots of excellent, locally roasted coffee and views of huge mountains in almost every direction. The trees on campus also make me exceedingly happy. I loved my time in Boston, but Seattle already feels like home.