Ethics @ Edinburgh
Ethics is one of the central areas of philosophy and one in which there have been numerous exciting recent developments. Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh has a unique wealth of research talent in this area. Ethical theory therefore forms part of one of its four research 'clusters' which represent its research strengths. In particular, it has faculty members doing important work in central areas of meta-ethics, normative theory, and political philosophy. The ethical theory research cluster at Edinburgh regularly hosts research events in this area, such as international conferences, workshops, reading groups and the hosting of visiting scholars (for more details, see below). It also has substantial research links with the other five research clusters in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh: ancient philosophy, epistemology, ethics, mind and cognition and philosophy of science.
Here are some research issues that are of particular interest to those working in ethical theory at the University of Edinburgh:
- What do moral (and, more generally, normative) sentences mean? What, for example, does it mean to say that an action is morally wrong?
- In what sense, if any, are moral and other values 'objective'?
- Is morality well understood in terms of general principles and systematic theories, or does it transcend any suitable codification?
- In what senses, if any, are reasons for action context-dependent?
- In what ways, if any, can moral and normative theory be enriched by the formal tools of decision theory and economics?
- Is morality well understood in terms of promoting the best outcome?
- What is the most plausible formulation of so-called "rule-consequentialist" moral theories, and are any such indirect forms of consequentialism defensible?
- How, if at all, can moral responsibility and free will be reconciled with a plausible naturalistic conception of agency in the world?
- What role should equality play in play in a plausible theory of justice?
- How might obligations to provide reparations for historical injustices be best understood?
- What is the relevance of collective agency for moral and political philosophy?
Forthcoming Ethics Events
- Epistemic Expressivism Workshop (15 – 16 October 2011)
Ethics Reading Group
Ethics @ Edinburgh hosts the Ethics Reading Group.
Work in progress sessions
Staff will present their work in progress in the hope of useful feedback. We are holding the session in room 1.01 (DSB), which is smallish. All staff and postgraduate students welcome. Please let Elinor Mason know if you plan on coming.
- 2 March, 2-4pm Guy Fletcher
- 30 March TBA
- 4 May TBA
The core members of faculty who work in ethical theory are:
- Matthew Chrisman joined the department in August 2006 after finishing his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work is primarily in meta-ethics and meta-epistemology. His work explores both traditional expressivist and inferentialist approaches to the relevant discourses. Much of Dr Chrisman's work is at the intersection of meta-ethics, meta-epistemology, and the philosophy of language.
- David Levy works on the nature of understanding, particularly of morals, ethics and people. He is puzzled by the difference between philosophical and ordinary understandings of the experience of necessity, especially moral necessity. The account of moral understanding that he is developing counters impersonal tendencies in contemporary moral theorising with the idea of critical authority: the authority given to and recognised by those with whom one shares moral understanding about inter-personal relationships. His historical interests are principally in Plato and Wittgenstein.
- Elinor Mason joined the department in 2004. Previously she was an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and before that at Arizona State University. Dr Mason got her PhD at Reading. She is currently working on a book-length defense of consequentialism, and is also doing work on the idea of moral responsibility.
- Michael Ridge originally joined the department as a lecturer in 2001. Previously he held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Australian National University, and got his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Ridge's primary work is in meta-ethics. In a series of articles he has developed and defended a new form of meta-ethical expressivism ("Ecumenical Expressivism") which attempts to incorporate important cognitivist elements while preserving the main advantages of expressivism. He is currently writing a book-length defense of this view. Professor Ridge also had done considerable work on the debate over moral particularism and moral generalism, culminating in his co-authored (with Sean McKeever) book in that area, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal (OUP). He intends to do more work on this topic in the future. He has also done work on a number of side projects, ranging from duties of reparation for historical injustices to the development of new ways of understanding rule consequentialism. In future work he intends to work more on the intersection of meta-ethics and meta-epistemology, possibly leading to collaborative work with Dr Chrisman and Professor Pritchard.
In addition, there are a number of other members of faculty whose work is directly relevant for the moral philosophy group. Professor Duncan Pritchard's work on epistemic value, in particular, is of direct relevance to the work of Dr Chrisman and Professor Ridge, for example. Professor Andy Clark's work on embodied cognition is also relevant to Professor Ridge's work on moral particularism insofar as that debate touches on how real agents might use principles in their everyday moral deliberation.
There are a number of research affiliations between the Ethics research cluster at Edinburgh and other research bodies. For example, Professor Ridge and Dr Brown were both co-applicants (with colleagues from Stirling and Glasgow) for a recently awarded grant from the Carnegie Institute to host a series of workshops in normative theory and to reform the Scottish Ethics Network (SEN) and Dr Elinor Mason served as an officer and conference organizer for the British Society of Ethical Theory in 2008.
There are a number of postgraduate researchers interested in ethical theory-related topics at Edinburgh, including:
- Ana Barandalla (PhD)
- Lilly Copple (PhD)
- Elizabeth Ellis (PhD)
- Thomas Giourgas (PhD)
- Hasse Hamalainen (PhD)
- Panayiotis Kapetanakis (PhD)
- Sebastian Kohler (PhD)
- Jessica Miller (PhD)
- John O'Connor (PhD)
- Emer O'Leary (PhD)
- Selina Sadat (PhD)
- Diana Stewart (PhD)
- Ashley Taylor (PhD)
Anyone interested in doing postgraduate research in Ethics at Edinburgh should contact whichever of the above listed members of staff in the ethics cluster you deem to be the most well suited to supervising your work here.