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School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488490
Harcourt Hill, Building B
I am senior lecturer in philosophy. Before joining Brookes I had appointments at the VU Amsterdam, the University of Oxford, and the University of Leuven. My main specialization is philosophy of cognitive science, and I have also published in philosophy of religion, epistemology and general philosophy of science. My work is concerned with the question how humans form beliefs in domains that are remote from everyday concerns such as in mathematics, theology, and science. I examine how we can form such beliefs, and what explains their transmission.
I am happy to supervise MRes and PhD students in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of religion and experimental philosophy
My present research interest is meta-ethics and evolutionary explanations of morality. I intend to flesh out a form of moral realism where true moral statements correspond to facts about human cooperation. My distinctive contribution to this debate is to bring archaeological findings into the philosophical discussion, looking specifically at archaeological evidence for care for disabled individuals, for cooperative hunting and childcare, and for large-scale social security networks between hunter-gatherers bands as evidence for the ancient origins of a uniquely human morality.
Principal investigator of the project “Evolution, ethics, and human origins: a deep-time perspective on human morality” (Dec 2017 – August 2020), in collaboration with Johan De Smedt
This is a multidisciplinary project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. (https://www.templeton.org/grant/evolution-ethics-and-human-origins-a-deep-time-perspective-on-human-morality)
Project abstract: Human morality has unique features: we care about fairness, we are compassionate, and we cooperate in ways that go further than the altruistic behaviors of other primates. Such behaviors are regulated by moral norms, which are shared and enforced by communities. The evolution of human morality is an enduring question in ethics and moral psychology. This project will examine the evolutionary origins of morality by including a crucial piece of evidence that has been neglected in the literature: archaeological evidence for care and cooperation among human ancestors. We will combine this line of inquiry with findings from developmental psychology and studies of cooperation in non-western cultures and in primates. We will address 3 central questions. 1. How did human morality evolve? We will investigate the archaeological evidence for hominin cooperation, such as care for disabled individuals, collaborative hunting and gathering, and childcare. We hypothesize that human-specific morality evolved in a mosaic fashion as a result of selective pressures specific to hominin social life. We will write a monograph, a paper, and hold a series of public lectures. 2. Can there be objective moral norms in the light of evolution? We will explore the hypothesis that moral claims (in particular, pertaining to human cooperation) can be true in a realist sense, whereas others are likely not. Outputs will be a paper, a panel session, a conference and an edited volume on moral realism. 3. Are the theological notions of original sin and the Fall compatible with evolution? Drawing on the theology of Irenaeus and Schleiermacher, we propose they are. We outline a mechanism for this in a monograph and paper, and will organize a conference on the topic. We expect our project will change how scholars engage in evolutionary ethics. It will demonstrate that the details of how human morality evolved matter, and that they can help decide between philosophical and theological positions.
Below is a summary of ongoing and completed externally funded projects
I am a fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion: https://www.issr.org.uk/fellows/user/306/
Contribution to the LSE Brexit blog
Roundtable discussion on experimental philosophy of religion at University of Notre Dame
Interview about women as science communicators in the Irish Times
Research on cognitive science of religion mentioned in BBC