Episode #15: Zachary Pirtle

Conventional wisdom regards the “STEM” disciplines as diametrically opposed to the humanities in general, and philosophy in particular. But Zachary Pirtle is living proof that this view is wrong headed. After studying philosophy and engineering as an undergraduate, Zach went on to receive an MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Arizona State University and his PhD in Systems Engineering from George Washington University. His training and research in engineering was deeply informed by science policy and the philosophy of science.

During his graduate studies, Zach became a Presidential Management Fellow and a civil servant in the federal government. In addition to his day job, Zach has continued publishing his research, and has helped organize the Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (fPET).

In this episode, he explains what philosophy–particularly ethics and epistemology–can contribute to engineering. We explore what engineering is; how the philosophy of science helped him stick with the study of engineering; and how to think about the obligations engineers have in and to a democratic society. At a time of waning public confidence in the federal government, on the one hand, and big tech, on the other, Zach helps us reflect on how science and technology policy might be intelligently designed to better serve the public and improve society.

We also talk about the power of science fiction to offer inspiring visions of the future…and his experience helping to organize a citizens forum on asteroids!

 (Note: Pirtle’s views are his own and do not represent his employer)

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Episode #14: Amy Reed-Sandoval

What can philosophy tell us about immigration and identity?

Amy Reed-Sandoval, assistant professor of philosophy at UNLV, is the founder of two Philosophy for Children (P4C) initiatives: one in Oaxaca, Mexico, and one at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso. She is the author of the new book, Socially Undocumented: Identity and Immigration Justice.

Amy was recently awarded the Public Engagement Fellowship from the Whiting Foundation to expand her P4C work. In this episode, she shares her experience working in the conceptual and geographical borderlands between American and Mexican culture, between teaching children and college students, between philosophy and everyday life.

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Episode #13: Tim Richardson (Part 2)

Tim Richardson is a Washington, DC based multi-client government affairs and media
consultant. After extensive political and business publishing and two congressional aide
stints, Richardson has become the nation’s only private sector consultant that has worked
on Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration. In addition, he has served
as Wildlife Forever’s Washington, DC representative since 1995.

In our conversation, Tim sings the praises of what he calls “normative careers,” and explains why studying the humanities and philosophy can not only lead to a fulfilling life, but a successful career. Tim has worn many hats throughout his career–journalist, speechwriter, fundraiser, consultant, lobbyist–and worked for a number of politicians, including Lloyd Bentsen. But what unites his efforts is his grounding in philosophy.

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Episode #12: Tim Richardson (Part 1)

Tim Richardson is a Washington, DC, based multi-client government affairs and media
consultant. After extensive political and business publishing and two congressional aide
stints, Richardson has become the nation’s only private sector consultant that has worked
on Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration. In addition, he has served
as Wildlife Forever’s Washington, DC representative since 1995.

In our conversation, Tim sings the praises of what he calls “normative careers,” and explains why studying the humanities and philosophy can not only lead to a fulfilling life, but a successful career. Tim has worn many hats throughout his career–journalist, speechwriter, fundraiser, consultant, lobbyist–and worked for a number of politicians, including Lloyd Bentsen. But what unites his efforts is his grounding in philosophy.

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Episode #11: Andrew Light (Part 1)


With the possible exception of William Bennett, Andrew Light is the first philosopher to work in a presidential administration.

Andrew has two interrelated careers.

One is as an academic. He is University Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Atmospheric Sciences, and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University. In his academic work, Andrew is the author of over 100 articles and book chapters on climate change, restoration ecology, and urban sustainability, and has authored, co-authored, and edited 19 books.

The other is as a policy expert and advocate where he works on the front lines of international climate and science policy. From 2013-2016 he served as Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, and as a Staff Climate Adviser in Secretary of State John Kerry’s Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity he was Co-Chair of the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Combating Climate Change, Chair of the Climate Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals across all agencies for the U.S. government, and served on the senior strategy team for the UN climate negotiations. He is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

In short: Andrew helped to negotiate the Paris Agreement.

In our conversation, Andrew tells the story of how he created a parallel professional identity: by first breaking into the think tank and policy community in D.C., and second landing a job in the U.S. government. In Part 1, he gives a report on the state of climate policy in the Trump era, how he got involved in interdisciplinary work, and what he thinks philosophers can contribute in the policy arena.

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