Q&A: Married Professors Share Philosophy of Partnership
February 11, 2022
Philosophers have a joke: if you get two philosophers together, there will be three opinions. What does that look like for married philosophy professors trying to navigate partnership, domestic duties and teaching?
"We have the same debates everyone has about loading the dishwasher," said Teresa Kouri Kissel, assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies in the College of Arts and Letters. "It's like celebrities in tabloids; instead of stars, it's 'Philosophers - they're just like us.'"
The Kissels met in graduate school at Ohio State University in 2010 when Andrew needed a tutor for logic and was introduced to Teresa, whose undergraduate degree in mathematics prepared her well for logic's proofs and axioms.
Today, Teresa researches logical pluralism and recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for her research on British logician and analytic philosopher Susan Stebbing (1885-1943). Andrew, who studies free will, also received an NEH grant in 2020 for philosophical thought experiments in virtual reality.
In honor of Valentine's Day, ODU News asked them how their studies of history's great thinkers shaped their own philosophies about love and marriage.
ODU News: How does philosophy manifest in your domestic lives?
Teresa: "When we first started dating, we had all these big, deep philosophical debates about the fundamental nature of the world. Now it's just like ... you put the bowls in the dishwasher wrong again, what are you doing? (Laughs) We used to be so intellectual!"
Andrew: "Occasionally it's useful for tackling problems - using analysis and decomposition to break a problem down into component parts. It's not just the way we think, it's a way we've been professionally trained. If we find we're talking past each other, we can dip into that training, but our arguments are just as illogical and emotion-related as anything else."
Teresa: "We just bought a van that's a plug-in hybrid, and we've been talking about where to put the plug, and a lot of conversations about if this, then that. I can never make a decision ..."
Andrew: "And I just bring up more considerations to make it more complicated."
ODU News: In hindsight, what's the funniest philosophical debate you've had?
Teresa: "We once missed an exit on 270 in Ohio because we were having a debate about the fundamental pieces of the universe. We drove an extra half an hour because we got so wrapped up."
Andrew: "We were both in a class that was the perfect intersection of mind, logic and measurement, so we both had stakes in it."
Teresa: "It was about whether there are other possible universes, but not alternate dimensions. So, we were talking about what did that philosopher mean when he said that."
ODU News: And where did you land?
Teresa: (Laughs) "Well, no that's nuts. Can't test it, so we can't figure it out."
ODU News: How is it helpful in a partnership to have a healthy knowledge of philosophy?
Teresa: "A little philosophy can be a good thing. It gives you a bunch of tools to think more clearly about things. Sometimes, we do step back and think about: what is the real point of this, what is the thesis, what are the reasons for it? The ability to step back and reflect can be super helpful."
Andrew: "When you have to do the deep dive on the justifications behind your beliefs, that requires you to do that digging for yourself and for another person. And it's hard to dismiss another person's point of view when you've taken the time to really look at what's justifying their view on all sides. That makes it easier to be a bit more sympathetic and understanding when you do have a disagreement with your partner.
"There's a charity involved; you're interpreting them in the most charitable way you can. Even when you are having those disagreements, you can say, 'I can see where you're coming from even though I come down on the other side.' I think that's a fundamental skill that engaging with philosophy teaches you."
ODU News: It's interesting that so many philosophers, even with all their logic and reason, still fell in love, which could be seen as completely illogical.
Andrew: "The homily at our wedding was about how two philosophers trained in logic and reasoning were engaged in one of the most illogical things. We had a lot of philosophers at our wedding, and one came up to me and said he disagreed with the priest's thesis. He said that love is a very logical emotion when understood correctly. So, yes. We did get input from a philosopher on the interpretation of love by our priest."
ODU News: In your professional philosophers' opinions, is it silly we celebrate Valentine's Day? Is it a greeting card holiday, or a good excuse to celebrate love?
Teresa: "It's blown out of proportion, but I think we like the opportunity to celebrate love. We love love!"
Andrew: "I think that one of the early moments we realized we were going to be together for a long time was a Valentine's Day when I made filet mignon with a red wine bacon vinaigrette. Our tradition now is to cook a special meal together because we like to cook together. I'm on board with Valentine's Day."