Candice Delmas grew up in France, where it is commonplace for students to study philosophy in high school. So, from a young age, she was hooked. Even among her other interests like literature and art, it was always the philosophical questions that appealed to her.
“I’ve always had an inquisitive mind,” she says. “I loved engaging with art, cinema, literature, and those things that were difficult to approach. I saw them as puzzles, open to deep horizons. I was especially interested in the transcendent power of art, the artistic creativity and enjoyment of art as the reflection of the human condition and ways in which we use that to transcend our mortality.”
Her interest in political philosophy grew. Witnessing the end of the Soviet Republic, the progress of nonviolent revolutions, and the development of democratic movements piqued her interest in questions of what we owe the state, what citizenship requires of us, and other important civic values.
She attended Paris Nanterre University and Paris-Sorbonne University, where she studied the history of philosophy. During that time, she garnered an interest in Anglo-American philosophy and the philosophy of action, which led her to participate in an exchange program at Georgia State University in Atlanta and then, in her words, she never went back.
“I was thirsty for something that wasn’t really in the water I was drinking at home,” says Delmas, who is a first generation college student. She admires the American education model, which includes smaller classes that are more discussion-heavy, over the large lecture hall traditions of education in France.
She later received her PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was an assistant professor of philosophy at Clemson University before joining Northeastern University, where she is now an associate professor of philosophy and political science, as well as the associate director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program.
Delmas says her current interest in “citizen-led struggles for emancipation” has been shaped by both France and the U.S.’s history of radical protests, including labor strikes and the civil rights movement. In 2018, she published “A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil,” which discusses a topic that has become increasingly more prevalent, given the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“[The book] tries to go against the grain of what philosophers have been interested in when discussing issues of civil disobedience,” she says. “It’s something that usually comes up as, ‘There’s a moral duty to obey the law.’ [However,] the way activists talk about their struggle, they say it’s a responsibility and a moral duty to resist injustice and to disobey unjust laws. And so, I thought that by focusing on permissibility, we were really missing the big picture of what resistance to injustice should really be about.”
Given today’s political and social environment, Delmas advocates for all students to take some sort of philosophy course, whether they are majoring in the discipline or not.
“I mostly teach 2000-level courses, which means I often have in my classes some students who will not take another philosophy or political theory class, and I have them in mind when I design my courses,” she says. “I really make sure they find it relevant and timely and really piques their interest because it addresses events, issues, and questions they are thinking about on their own terms, and that it will equip them with particular conceptual tools, ideas, and arguments to further develop their thoughts.”
For example, she started teaching theories of populism soon after the election of President Donald Trump. She added new readings to her syllabi from Black political thinkers to address the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Many of her assignments revolve around students choosing and discussing topics important today in politics and society.
Delmas is currently completing a paper on the rights of incarcerated persons to legally hunger strike as a tactic of disobedience, and she hopes to do more research on prison abolition from a philosophical perspective. Her inquiry includes a critique of the “status quo” of the injustice of mass incarceration in the U.S., as well as the concept of an alternative reality – “one without police, but with solidaristic community networks, without capitalist exploitation but where everyone finds dignity in work.”