Student Spotlight

Robbie Kubala, PhD Candidate in Philosophy

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: ROBBIE KUBALA, PHD CANDIDATE IN PHILOSOPHY

Where did you grow up?
Austin, TX.

What drew you to your field?
My grandfather Robert Wood is a professional philosopher, and by the time I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be like him (though I probably would have chosen any profession that allowed me to own as many books as he does).

How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field?
Morality is usually thought to be fundamentally impartial, meaning that it makes the same demands on each of us. But our most significant activities are partial, meaning that we give preference to certain people, relationships, and projects over others. Does this mean that partiality is in competition with morality, or can we justify partiality in terms of moral norms? Trying to answer this question gets you really quickly into deep philosophical waters.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
Columbia is a fantastic place to study philosophy: we have a genuinely pluralistic department, and the friendliest and most organized administrative team of any university I’ve seen. When I cofounded our philosophy outreach program, Rethink, back in 2013, both faculty and administration were highly encouraging. I’m proud to say that Rethink is still going strong under new leadership today.

Who are your favorite writers?
Herman Melville, Henry James, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, and Edward St Aubyn. Mostly good old-fashioned psychological realism.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Nabokov’s Professor Pnin.

What music have you been listening to lately?
I’m a huge opera fan, so I usually try to immerse myself in whatever is upcoming at the Met. Right now it’s Strauss’s Salome.

What is your favorite blog or website?
I love Arts & Letters Daily, but the most consistently thought-provoking blog I read is Slate Star Codex. I’m totally fascinated by (though can’t identify entirely with) the rationalist movement, and SSC critically engages all kinds of issues (cognitive biases, effective altruism, Bayesian probability theory, AI safety, etc.) that I wish I knew more about.

Where is your favorite place to eat on or around campus?
Max Soha! Great value for delicious Italian food. And across Morningside Park, 67 Orange Street is the best uptown cocktail bar I know. They do a great happy hour that is very compatible with a graduate student budget.