12: Adam Scott Kunz


Political Science

Program and Year of Study

PhD, 2nd year (Political Theory)

Previous degrees and colleges

BA English/philosophy, Brigham Young University-Idaho (2008)

JD, The George Washington University Law School (2012)

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Southeast Idaho (a little town called Bern, with a population of about 150 people, all of whom are my relatives). Cold winters, high altitudes, and lots of cows. 

Where do you live now?

Currently, I live in South Davis, far away from the undergrads. 

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

I’m a sucker for the Co-Op. Sometimes, I just go in there and wander like a homeless person, which probably matches my dress and grooming standards. There’s just something uniquely Davis about that place. Having lived on the East Coast for six years, it’s nice to find a chill grocery store. 

How do you relax?

I am a huge fantasy nerd and love reading, playing games, and watching shows that are in the genre (yeah, I play D&D, but I wear deodorant). I love travel and being in the mountains; my favorite place right now is Yosemite. 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Ready to get nerdy? Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. I haven’t read it in years and it was fun to go down a little fictional “memory lane.” 

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

La La Land. And I cried through the last 30 minutes, starting with Emma Stone singing “The Fools Who Dream.” Even now, I’m tearing up. 

Research interests

I study contemporary liberal political theory, focusing primarily on Kant and Rawls. Right now, I am preoccupied with the question of “putting teeth” in liberalism and promoting liberal virtues. 

Dissertation title or topic

My dissertation topic is likely going to be in some vein similar to my research interests, but it’s yet to be confirmed. 

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

In my research, I have focused on liberalism. Often, liberalism can be thought of as having a few key pillars: liberty, equality, the rule of law. These values promote individualism, but they have the potential for causing instability when citizens use them to retreat into private life. I have discovered that historical liberalism included an additional value – fraternity – and that modern liberalism has failed to emphasize this communal value. That means that many of the criticisms that are levelled against liberalism – e.g. that it can be isolating – can be countered with a return to originally liberal ideas that promote unity.  

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

When I was an undergrad at the extremely religious BYU-Idaho, I took an intro to philosophy class from a professor named Brian Merrill. Because it was a religious school, most of the content of my other courses were religious in nature (and, often, conveniently material that reinforced Mormon doctrine), but that class called for critical thinking and sent me on an intellectual journey that I have never left. Reading things like Kant’s epistemology, Wittgenstein’s analytical philosophy, and Aristotle’s political theory, I became obsessed with questions of justice, morality, and effective institutions. I’ve never really looked back. 

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Hands down. Although it is not the only text Kant wrote on his moral theory, it was the one that laid the foundation and provided what I think is a virtually unassailable defense of his version of morality. 

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Bob Taylor in my department is doing some impressive work on liberalism, particularly on the idea of using “exit” as a way of conveying political beliefs. As far as other departments, a good friend of mine, Nina Fontana, has a proposal out right now to do a year’s worth of research on indigenous hunter-gatherers in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine. I know absolutely nothing about any of that, but living in the Carpathian Mountains for a year sounds amazing. 

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

There are lots of things to love about grad life, but the best is being your own boss. Having spent time in the private sector, there is nothing more wonderful than knowing that everything I do is my own decision and will ultimately be for my own interests, and not that of some overseer, partner, or shareholder. While that can be a double-edged sword for those that can’t manage their time wisely, if it’s done correctly, a boss-free graduate life can be rich and rewarding. 

What’s the worst?

I have very few complaints about graduate school, but if I had to name one it would be the insularity, both your own and that of your colleagues. Other jobs tend to expose you to a variety of people, ideas, and problems, which means that you have a breadth of experiences in your daily work. Graduate school is very removed from the “outside” world. I live and breathe my research and the research of my mentors in the department, which means that I rarely encounter people who know anything but academia. While for the most part that’s manageable, there are times where it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t “been on the outside.”  

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

I’d probably still be a lawyer at a big firm, clocking the 70+ hour weeks and living the “high life” (if you can call it that). Something tells me that would not have lasted too many more years.

Finally, please ask yourself a question

If you were called to participate in a fantasy quest à la Lord of the Rings, what would be your role?

Funny you should ask. I’d probably be that sarcastic, anti-social magic user, who’s obsessed with his own quest for power and journeys with the group so long as their destination matches his own. I see myself dying in a raging, cosmic, and cataclysmic inferno of my own making. ;) 


—April 2017


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