Making a Career out of Philosophy


Pursuing a career as a philosopher may not be the easiest task in this day and age but it led Robert Hartman halfway across the world, from his home in the USA to Sweden, and the University of Gothenburg. Here he has worked as a postdoctoral research fellow on the Lund Gothenburg Responsibility Project.
“It’s a great project that allows me to work with many of my heroes in philosophy.”

Robert Hartman
Photo: Joacim Schmidt

Robert Hartman started his academic journey in his home state of Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where an interest in theology led him to pursue religious studies. However, he was not entirely satisfied with the curriculum.
“They were studying religious anthropology, and I was more interested in the religious claims being made, and if they were true or not. As a Christian I wanted to understand my own faith commitments.”

Then Robert Hartman took a class in philosophy, and found that the questions being asked there were more consistent with his own inquiries.
“What’s the world like? Are we material beings that came through the big bang evolutionary process? Or was there something behind the evolutionary process that had designs to generate human beings? That’s how I discovered philosophy and its value.”

After studying philosophy of religion and Christian studies at Trinity International University Robert Hartman decided that he wanted to pursue philosophy in its own right, which led him to St. Louis University where he both taught courses and got his PhD, in which defends the concept of moral luck, a topic about which he also wrote his first book that was published in 2017.
“Moral luck can be explained with a brief example in which two drivers drive home drunk at night and swerve and hit a curb. On the curb that one driver hits, there is a pedestrian that is killed, and on the curb that the other driver hits there is no one, and because of that no one is hurt. The two drivers act exactly the same but due to luck we still judge them differently.”

Getting better at philosophy will make you better at anything else you want to do

After completing his PhD he faced the challenge of finding a career path in philosophy. Robert Hartman explains that, even though the professions was more common a couple of hundred years ago, there are still active public philosophers who tour and hold lectures in, for instance, business ethics.
“However, most people who go on to use their philosophy training, both its form and its content, do so in academia. But like I tell my students; getting better at philosophy will make you better at anything else you want to do, because it trains your critical and creative reasoning abilities.”

Upon browsing a website were jobs related to philosophy are posted he came in contact with the Lund Gothenburg Responsibility Project, a project funded by the Swedish Research Council, together with Lund University and the University of Gothenburg, which deals with understanding and evaluating legal and moral responsibility.
“I applied and got in. I feel lucky as I get to work with the people whose books I’ve been reading. Many of them have come to Gothenburg during the last two years and I’ve been able to ask them my questions and present my objections to their views. It’s been a really good experience,” says Robert Hartman.

In February 2017 he arrived in Gothenburg with his wife and two young children. Even though Robert Hartman and his wife miss raising their children around their broader family they have all come to enjoy their life in the city. During their stay they have been living in an apartment provided to them by the University of Gothenburg’s guest housing service.
“We love the city, there are a lot of public parks and events, and with your family it’s extra enjoyable. My wife and I have put our children in Swedish school and they teach me a little Swedish at the breakfast table. It’s been good.”

There are healthier work patterns in Sweden

Something that Robert Hartman feels differs between working in academia in the USA and in Sweden is the view on work-life balance. At the University of Gothenburg he was surprised when he, and his colleagues, were advised not to answer e-mails outside of office hours, something that is unlikely to happen in his home country where it can almost be expected that you’re responsive outside of your regular work time.
“And here it is required by law to take four weeks’ vacation every year, which is just not part of the law or culture in the United States. There are healthier work patterns in Sweden and I try to embody that during my time here, it’s good in the long run and it’s good for my family.”

Originally published 23 May 2019