Meet Our World-Class Faculty: Jorge Lizarzaburu
A conversation with Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jorge Lizarzaburu.
August 07, 2023
August 07, 2023
Could you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your background?
My name is Jorge Lizarzaburu, and I’m from Ecuador. I majored in journalism because I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t like it very much. After I finished my undergraduate degree in Quito, Ecuador, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, and completed a master’s degree in communication studies, but I didn’t feel at home there. When I was writing a thesis there, I realized that I wanted to do philosophy. I received my master’s in philosophy at the University of New Mexico, and after that, I moved to Emory University, where I did my Ph.D. in philosophy.
What sparked your interest in philosophy?
I was always interested in big questions and wanted to be a journalist. But there’s something about philosophy that’s fascinating to me. It’s this notion that you can tackle huge questions about the nature of reality, the nature of the world, and social and political organizations. Basically, any topic has philosophical underlying principles that you can look at from a particular perspective. That’s what got me into philosophy originally. During my education, my view of philosophy changed a bit. I became attracted to this notion that philosophy can be done rigorously and precisely, and it’s not that different from what a mathematician does; logical rigor is important in philosophy. I was attracted to the fact that we can tackle these huge questions but with very rigorous methodological tools.
Why did you want to be a philosophy professor?
I always tell my students I’m lucky and privileged because they pay me to read, learn languages, attend conferences, and meet intelligent people. There’s this very beautiful lifestyle that being a professor allows you to develop, which not many people can do. More importantly, I like the sense of community that develops from being a professor and hanging out with students. I always tell my students that they keep me young. It’s engaging with other people and encountering different opinions. The philosophy classroom is a space to debate ideas, change your mind, or understand what you believe is correct because certain standards justify those beliefs. It’s just a wonderful experience. I’m very happy with what I do.
How did you hear about Southwestern, and why did you want to work here?
My wife is a third-generation Texan from Southeast Texas, and when I finished my Ph.D., she was already working here in Texas at a different institution. When I was looking for jobs, we were looking for places that would be close. We found this small liberal arts institution, Southwestern, so I started researching and was fascinated because my undergraduate institution was just like this. Then I applied and met the people in my department; I met the dean and the president, and everybody was really welcoming. More importantly, I felt very at home. There are some moments when you feel intuitively that you’re at home, and there’s no rational explanation. When I visited, I felt at home, and then my first semester, everything clicked, and I’m really happy. I love the mission and the small community. I went to CU Boulder and then Emory, which is a little smaller, but those are big institutions where you don’t get one-on-one time with students. After two years, I know everybody by their first name, and everybody knows me, and that’s just fantastic.
What classes do you teach?
I’m currently teaching Latin American philosophy, a core course for our Latin American Border Studies program. I’m very proud of that class because we are one of the few departments in the US that teaches Latin American philosophy and non-western philosophy in general. Philosophy, like everything, can be Western-dominated, male-dominated, or white-dominated, so our departments have been working on moving away from that. I taught a course on indigenous philosophies of the Americas, and I teach courses in socio-political philosophy in general. I’m also teaching reading philosophy, a methods class where we read philosophy carefully. It’s a fantastic class at Southwestern. We only have seven people, so we sit at a small table outside and read philosophy and read passages carefully, little by little, and have discussions. I just love it.
How have you enjoyed your time at Southwestern thus far?
I’m so happy. I enjoy the sense of community and love how small it is. I always tell students they’re lucky to be in an environment where everybody knows each other. You get lots of attention from people, and you have a lot of resources regarding how much time people dedicate to you and how much time people can spend listening to you. Sometimes students come to my office and just talk to me about their own lives, and that’s perfectly fine. That’s what we’re here for. At other institutions, you will never have the chance to do that. I also very much enjoy my department. My colleagues have been great. I can only say good things about Southwestern. I enjoy working with our students because we have a very diverse population in terms of walks of life; people come from all different places. Having all these different perspectives enriches the environment so much, and it makes conversations so interesting.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love spending time with my wife and dogs; our dogs are our life. Besides that, I love music. I love watching sports a little too much. And, of course, the boring things you would imagine; I love reading. I picked up some new hobbies during the pandemic inducing cooking and baking, and I love baking bread.
Is there a philosophical quandary that keeps you up at night?
I’m fortunate to say none. But I have weird moments when I’m like, Oh, what about this where ideas come to my mind. There’s a big issue that is always in the back of my mind when I’m writing, reading, and teaching: how do we find standards to determine what is truth? Truth is very important to me. When I started studying philosophy, I loved the idea that everything is up for debate. But the question to me is, even if the question was interesting, how do we find methods and standards to decide whether this is true? Because otherwise, all that we’re doing is just talking or speculating. I always tell my students that philosophy is examining everything and questioning things that seem questionable. But also, we should embrace skepticism grounded in something and not just skepticism for the sake of skepticism because otherwise, we end up in a whirlwind.
If you could meet any philosopher, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I was thinking about it, and, as a philosopher, I’m interested in how philosophy shows up in daily life. So I’m more interested in meeting people who have done something with philosophical principles. There is a revolutionary indigenous group in Chiapas, Mexico, called the Zapatistas. In the 90s, they organized an uprising and decided to build autonomous territories because the government was not taking care of them. They lived in abject poverty without health care, education, or anything. Instead of continuing to ask the government for things, they organized themselves. They follow egalitarian principles with gender balance, and it’s primarily women who are behind this. They have their own educational system where they teach their traditions. They have interesting and important knowledge that we look for in philosophy. It’s a dream of mine, at some point, to spend some time with them; I would love to see how they operate.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like people to know about you?
I’m very proud that I’m a first-gen scholar. I’m the first person to attend college in my family and become a professor. It’s important that there are a lot of first-gen students in a university so they see that it’s doable, even though it can be a difficult journey. And I’m always happy to talk to first-gen students about that.
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