PM Irvin


My interests are in the radicalism of W.E.B. Du Bois, racial capitalism, and empire. I am currently working on a project on Du Bois’ notion of real pacifism, which is not pacifistic in the traditional sense, and its relation to his conception of a perpetual peace between nations. I am also interested in Du Bois’ thinking on empire, particularly with respect to his critique of colonial imperialism; even the phrase ‘colonial imperialism’ is a novel one, a conception which links colonialism and imperialism into a single system of domination. Moreover, I am thinking through his conception of whiteness across his work, from his analyzing whiteness as “the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!” (Darkwater, "The Souls of White Folk") to conceiving of whiteness as serving the function of a public and psychological wage for white workers (Black Reconstruction). Other notions of interest from Du Bois’ writings include democratic despotism, abolition-democracy, and the color line.


Aside from Du Bois, I engage with contemporary work in racial capitalism and empire. I have been especially influenced by Adom Getachew’s Worldmaking after Empire which argues for an internationalist politics of nondomination between states. The book also argues that empire appropriated the language of self-determination from anticolonial theorists to create a notion of self-determination which is not inconsistent with empire, a conception which was then challenged by anticolonial nationalists. The problem of empire looms large in my mind here. Moreover, I am very interested in Inés Valdez’s elaboration of Du Bois’ notion of democratic despotism, which she conceptualizes as “the problem of self-and-other-determination” whereby the self-determination of imperial states inherently involves a claim to meddle in the sovereign affairs of other states. In this vein, I am concerned with the problem of racial capitalism in the global arena; in other words, I am engaged with the problem of empire.


In addition to social/political theory, I am interested in the history of analytic philosophy, especially the later Wittgenstein. In particular, I am interested in nonreductionist approaches to meaning and mind, traditional topics in epistemology like philosophical skepticism, epistemic closure, and know-how vs. knowledge-that, the internalism vs. externalism debate, and ordinary language philosophy. Figures of interest include Anscombe, Putnam, Quine, Carnap, Grice, Cohen, Hart, Foot, Stroud, Davidson, Austin, and of course, Wittgenstein. I have a longstanding interest in the Philosophical Investigations, particularly with respect to the rule-following considerations, with notions of interest including forms of life, understanding, and the conception of meaning as use.

When I am not doing philosophy, I love listening to podcasts on history and politics, drinking coffee, going for walks to the Dish, and spending time with my black cat named Lyla, which means night in Hebrew. She is named after a lovely poem by Mahmoud Darwish called "Your Night is of Lilac".

If you have any questions about my interests in philosophy, the best local food, or if you would just like to chat, please feel free to email me at pmirvin [at] (pmirvin[at]stanford[dot]edu). Also, if you are an undergraduate in need of support and guidance, whether for applying to graduate school or navigating the university, I am very happy to help and my (figurative, not actual) door is always open!