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  • Dr Johan De Smedt

    PhD in philosophy


    School of History, Philosophy and Culture

    Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

    Dr Johan De Smedt

    Phone number: 8490

    Email: johan.de-smedt@brookes.ac.uk

    Location: Harcourt Hill, B building

    Johan De Smedt is a philosopher who publishes in philosophy of religion, philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of art, philosophy of archaeology, and science and religion. The basic question that motivates his research is how evolved, ordinary human cognitive processes give rise to extraordinary products of human creativity, such as the arts, theology and the sciences. He worked previously at Ghent University, Belgium, and at the American Institute for Foreign Studies. He is co-investigator  (with Helen De Cruz) of  “Evolution, ethics, and human origins: A deep-time perspective on human morality” (2017-2020), a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

    Modules taught

    • Evolution and the Mind
    • Philosophy of Language
    • Foundations of German Idealism
    • Early Modern Philosophy

    Research grants and awards

    Co-investigator of the project  “Evolution, ethics, and human origins: a deep-time perspective on human morality” (Dec 2017 – August 2020)

    This is a multidisciplinary project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. 

    Project website here: https://www.templeton.org/grant/evolution-ethics-and-human-origins-a-deep-time-perspective-on-human-morality

    Research projects


    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.


    • De Cruz H, De Smedt J, A natural history of natural theology : the cognitive science of theology and philosophy of religion, MIT Press (2014)
      ISBN: 9780262028547

    Journal articles

    • De Cruz H, De Smedt J, 'Intuitions and arguments: cognitive foundations of argumentation in natural theology'
      European Journal of the Philosophy of Religion 9 (2) (2017) pp.57-82
      ISSN: 1689-8311 eISSN: 1689-8311
      Abstract Website
    • De Cruz H, De Smedt J, 'Naturalizing natural theology'
      Religion, Brain and Behavior 6 (4) (2016) pp.355-361
      ISSN: 2153-599X eISSN: 2153-599X
      Abstract Website

    Book chapters

    • De Cruz H, De Smedt J, 'Emotional responses to fiction: an evolutionary perspective' in Joyce R (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Evolution and Philosophy, Routledge (2018)
      ISBN: 9781138789555
    • De Smedt, J, Jucker J-L, 'Cognition and visual art' in Callan H (ed.), The international encyclopedia of anthropology, Wiley-Blackwell (2018)
      ISBN: 9780470657225
      Abstract Website
    • De Cruz H, De Smedt J, 'How psychological dispositions influence the theology of the afterlife' in Nagasawa Y, Matheson B (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of the Afterlife, Palgrave MacMillan (2017)
      ISBN: 9781137486080
      Abstract Website
    • De Cruz, H, De Smedt J, 'How do philosophers evaluate natural theological arguments? : an experimental philosophical investigation' in De Cruz H, Nichols R (ed.), Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Philosophy, Bloomsbury Academic (2016)
      ISBN: 9781474223843
      Abstract Website