Templeton Foundation grant supports new program uniting neuroscientists and philosophers

brainA recent grant from the John Templeton Foundation will bring philosophers together with neuroscientists to learn each others’ fields and then design and perform experiments together.

The project, headed by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Felipe De Brigard, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, will hold three annual two-week summer seminars for emerging scholars in both neuroscience and philosophy. Both Sinnott-Armstong and De Brigard are members of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS).

While neuroscientists and philosophers are separated by different methods of study in the sciences and humanities, both groups are trying to answer many of the same big questions about free will, morality, perception, memory and consciousness.

“I am thrilled at the support Walter and Felipe have drawn from the Templeton Foundation for the summer institute in neuroscience and philosophy,” says Michael Platt, director of the DIBS. “This project builds upon growing interactions between neuroscience, philosophy, ethics and law, supported and encouraged by DIBS and the Kenan Institute for Ethics over the past few years. This award clearly marks Duke as a leader in this interdisciplinary effort.”

In addition to funding the summer seminars and a selection of the resulting research proposals, a public conference will be held each year, bringing together project fellows and key researchers. Papers that emerge from the seminars and conferences will be collected together with classic essays on the subject in the form of an anthology to be used in undergraduate and graduate courses, further bridging science and philosophy in higher education.

This project will build on the existing work of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Moral Attitudes and Decisions Laboratory (MADLAB), an interdisciplinary group for research conducted by undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty.

Kenan Institute for Ethics director Noah Pickus says that the grant “further enhances our investment in the MADLAB as an explicit strategy to more realistically account for how people make ethical decisions.”

Alex Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Philosophy, said “I am very enthusiastic about this project for the opportunities that it will afford young philosophers to integrate the findings and theories of neuroscience in their work on fundamental questions in the philosophy of psychology and the philosophy of mind as well as the nature of human behavior.”