Ben Mulvey, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, has enough books in his office to open a small bookstore. His library reflects the close connection between his hobbies and his profession.
“I’d be reading these books anyway,” Mulvey said. “I’ve always been a philosopher, but I was fortunate enough to change it from amateur status to professional status.”
After high school, Mulvey traveled around the country, visiting almost every state and taking odd jobs wherever he went. He worked as a janitor, dishwasher, short-order cook, house painter, mechanic, gas station attendant and fish market worker. He dropped in and out of several schools.
He decided to attend school full time while working at a gas station and realizing that hewanted more out of life.
“What drove me to philosophy were life-long encounters with people who raised interesting philosophical questions,” he said. “And when I realized that these questions were things that were studied by philosophers for thousands of years, I thought, ‘Wow, I’d like to study that.’”
Mulvey attended the University of Florida, which was then called Florida Technological University. He received his master’s and doctorate degrees at Michigan State University.
He said he tries to show students how philosophy has a practical goal.
“It’s not some abstract intellectual exercise,” he said. “There are practical applications in particular that in the most general sense can make you happy and help you achieve happiness and well-being in your life.”
For Mulvey, philosophy can also be applied to our civic discussions. He said it is disturbing that public discourse has become superficial and divisive.
“It seems that the loudest voices in our society, often those voices that belong to important decision makers, are used to articulate nothing but vague clichés or wishful thinking or insults,” he said. “Philosophy is all about clear, reasoned thinking, which is basically just the opposite of what’s emphasized in our culture these days, so I feel like I’m swim-ming upstream all the time.”
Mulvey, who has been teaching at NSU since 1988, said that he takes a “benevolent drill sergeant” approach to teaching.
“I try to challenge them and demand that they stretch themselves intellectually,” he said. “I use humor a lot to keep people engaged and awake. Nobody sleeps in my classes.”
Mulvey is interested in biomedical ethics and is a member of the board of advisers to the Florida Bioethics Network, an organization of people from different professions who try to provide biomedical ethics education to the medical community as well as influence Florida legislation. He was also on the medical ethics committee board of Broward General Hospital for 11 years, an experience he said was interesting and rewarding.
Another of his hobbies is dancing. After taking ballroom dancing lessons for a few years, he visited Argentina and fell in love with the Argentine tango. He took tango lessons for a year after returning from Argentina.
Mulvey loves to travel and has been to London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Montreal, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, which he calls “the great cities of the world.”
“I like to see the places where great thinkers did their thinking,” he said. “And I like to see the way people live together outside the United States.”
Mulvey teaches his students this same flexibility in their thinking.
“One of my most significant methods of teaching is to get students to see alternatives to their own ways of thinking and living because sometimes there are better ways — ways that would make them happier,” he said.
Ultimately, Mulvey applies philosophy in his own life.
“It’s helped me to have a reasonable sense of priorities among my values.”