Adam Pautz

Professor of Philosophy
Adam Pautz
Professor of Philosophy
Photo: Mike Cohea/Brown University
A high school encounter with the work of Bertrand Russell started Adam Pautz on his life’s work in philosophy. What seems to be against the current grain of philosophical theory, he says, he really a return to once-dominant thinkers like Russell and Descartes.

It was a moment in his high school library that forever changed Adam Pautz’s life trajectory. He confesses that he knew little about philosophy at the time, but when he picked up the 1912 book The Problems of Philosophy by British philosopher Bertrand Russell that all changed.

“I was instantly hooked. I must have read it 10 times.”

Entering college at the University of Minnesota, Pautz didn’t even know if his interest could translate into a degree, but was soon introduced to a whole world of analytic philosophy that he could study. He double majored in philosophy and psychology and knew that he had found his life’s work.

After college, Pautz went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from New York University and has published dozens of articles and presented at numerous conferences nationally and around the world on his research, which focuses on philosophy of mind and metaphysics, primarily.

Pautz currently has two main areas of interest and has two books underway describing that work.

One is the question of appearance versus reality. Popular philosophical thought says that items in the physical world are as they appear. Pautz argues that items aren’t actually as they appear. For example, he argues that objects aren’t really colored, but appear as such because of a color vision system humans evolved to help navigate the environment. Pautz draws from new empirical findings in psychophysics and neuroscience to shape his argument.

“I’m going against the grain, but have a few allies (in the world of philosophy),” he says.

Consciousness and its place in the physical world is another current area of interest.

The standard view is that consciousness must be reductively explained in other terms. For instance, some take thought to be more basic than consciousness and try to explain consciousness in terms of thought. They say that my conscious experience of a tomato is just a physical representation in the brain that is apt to cause thoughts about the tomato.

Pautz sees things the other way around.

“We should see consciousness as the more basic thing and use that to explain thought. For example, my conscious experience of a tomato explains my ability to have thoughts about the tomato. That’s the intuitive view.”

Pautz hopes to turn his “consciousness-first approach” into a book and will teach a seminar on the topic this fall. In the spring, he’ll teach a class on appearance versus reality, a topic on which he’s currently writing another book.

Pautz comes to Brown from the University of Texas–Austin, where he’s taught in the philosophy department for more than 10 years.

No stranger to Brown, Pautz been in touch with philosophers on campus over the years and says that the faculty was one of his motivations for coming to Brown.

“The Brown philosophy department has a wonderful history. Some of the most important figures in the field have been Brown professors, so that tradition attracted me to Brown.”

And he’s equally excited about working with the students.

“I’m a big fan of the Brown curriculum and because of that I expect and hope my students will be in my class not because it satisfies some requirements, but because they want to be. I look forward to teaching really motivated students.”

Pautz’s thinking often goes against the grain of current popular philosophical theory, but he insists that it’s not his intention to be contrarian. Rather, it’s a return to the once-dominant views of well-known philosophers like Russell and Descartes.

“They’re not crazy views that nobody has ever occupied. It just happens that right now they’re not the dominant views. If anything is new about my approach, it’s the way I argue for the views.”