Profile with Bridget Clarke

Bridget Clarke (Montana & Lady Margaret Hall 1990) is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Montana. Her research interests are in ethics, the history of ethics and moral philosophy. She holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Montana.    

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Bridget Clarke: Missoula, Montana, which is where I live now. I’m not originally from here though. I grew up in Michigan.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Bridget Clarke: The funny answer to that is actually a family anecdote. When asked what I wanted to be as a kid, I would answer “a bank” because “that’s where the money is.” More seriously, there wasn’t a particular vocation I found myself wanting. At one point, being some kind of major athlete appealed to me. That meant I mostly had to be inspired by male athletes because there weren’t really any women for me to watch. That’s particularly true because I saw myself playing football or boxing, which I find hysterical now. But I did all kinds of sports, soccer and basketball especially.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in philosophy?

Bridget Clarke: In college. I had my first philosophy class there. It was a really good class with a professor named Albert Borgmann, who still teaches. I didn’t know philosophy existed before that class. I had always asked myself those kinds of questions, but I didn’t know there was a discipline dedicated to them. I didn’t know people had been thinking about them for thousands of years.  Then I took this class and realized that people have always been discussing what had been going on in my head for so long. So that was the moment.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job now?

Bridget Clarke: I think the greatest part is that I get to make a living by reading wonderful books—reading and talking and thinking about them. I get paid to do that. I can’t get over that.

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part?

Bridget Clarke: The most challenging part is staying creative. There are so many demands on your time, and it’s tough to avoid stress-driven work. I think once you are just stress-driven, you lose touch with the really creative part of your work. For me, that’s a real challenge.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman in your field?

Bridget Clarke: I would say that she is probably a lot better at this and a lot smarter than she thinks. That’s not exactly advice, but it’s what I would want her to know. Philosophy is still a very male-dominated field. I see it in my students all the time - the women so underestimate their abilities. It’s a little bit heartbreaking.

Rhodes Project: Is there anything that consistently frustrates you in life?

Bridget Clarke: I’m very frustrated at this point in my life at how long it takes me to write. I’m just a very slow writer and that’s a huge source of frustration.

Rhodes Project: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Bridget Clarke: I think the greatest difficulty is ongoing. It’s really about just accepting who I am and working creatively with my limitations, whether it’s in the area of my work or in my relationships. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for many people in life.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Bridget Clarke: I live in a beautiful place and I spend a lot of time outdoors to relax. I like skiing and hiking. I have a two-year-old, and hanging out with her is often intensely relaxing. I like to take her to a creek that’s across the street from our house.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you, and why?

Bridget Clarke: What inspires me are people who are so good at what they do that there’s a touch of the Gods in them. You see them and there’s something a little bit superhuman about what they do. I was just thinking about this because Wimbledon is on and I was watching Serena Williams. There’s something god-like about how she plays—not about her person really, but about what happens when she’s on the court. I’m always inspired by people like that. There’s a bit of the supernatural in them.

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