People outside the field often wonder what sort of research philosophers do. Philosophical research involves reading, analysis, thinking, responding to arguments, and developing and defending original views. It sometimes involves the collection of empirical data, depending on the subject.

Some philosophers work on increasing our understanding of classical theories in the history of philosophy, and others make contributions to the current state of thinking in their specialties. Philosophical scholarship can explore theoretical issues, for instance: how we enumerate objects in the world, what constitutes a reason for action, whether we can make sense of human freedom in a world governed by the laws of physics, what it is to perceive color, and so on. It can also further the discussion on current practical debates, such as whether there should be legal restrictions on the use of drugs, whether climate change implies moral mandates, what (if anything) government should do for the impoverished, and many more.

Student Research

Philosophy students at William & Mary are engaged in their own research projects as Monroe Scholars, as independent researchers with Charles Center summer grants, and as students writing Honors theses. All of these student scholars work with at least one faculty adviser.

You can see a list of successfully defended honors theses in philosophy at the Charles Center website.

Current Faculty Research

The Department of Philosophy at William & Mary is filled with world-renowned scholars. To get an idea of what some of the philosophers here are working on, see the descriptions of some of our faculty projects below.

Maria Victoria Costa’s book, Rawls, Citizenship, and Education, has recently been published by Routledge. The book examines John Rawls’ account of citizenship and discusses the kind of educational policies that can be legitimately pursued in order to support the rights and liberties of citizens and to encourage the cultivation of civic virtues. Her current research is focused on the neo-republican notion of freedom as non-domination, and whether this notion can be used to provide distinctive recommendations for policy and institutional design.

Timothy Costelloe has recently published two books with Cambridge University Press.  The first is The Sublime: From Antiquity to the Present (2012), a collection of fifteen original essays by writers working from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, each focusing on some aspect of or philosophical approach to the affective state traditionally referred to as “the sublime.” The second, The British Aesthetic Tradition: From Shaftesbury to Wittgenstein (2013), is a history of aesthetic theory in Britain from its origins in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century to more recent developments in contemporary analytic thought.  He is currently revising a manuscript titled The Canvas of the Mind: The Role of Imagination in Hume’s System of Philosophy

Laura Ekstrom has published articles recently on free will, autonomy, and the will, and her major project at the moment is a book manuscript entitled Luck, Loss, and Agent Control. In this book she proposes an analysis of the concept of luck that illuminates the role it plays in discusssions of free will and moral responsibility. She also draws attention to underexplored cases of profound bad luck, cases that seem to threaten more than just freedom, but our very sense of ourselves as agents. Reflection on these cases reveals important insights about our emotional lives and the way we treat each other; it tuns out that our beliefs about luck are intimately connected to our capacities for trust, compassion, and humility.

Christopher Freiman has recently published papers on desert and moral motivation, but his current research is on distributive justice and political philosophy more generally. A paper-in-progress on the effects of economic inequality on people’s absolute well-being was recently featured in a colloquium at the University of Arizona, where it was critiqued and discussed by senior scholars in the field.

Joshua Gert has recently completed a book, published in 2012 with Oxford University Press, entitled Normative Bedrock: Response-dependence, Rationality and Reasons. In this book, Gert offers a distinctive account of what it is for a concept to be response-dependent, as many color concepts and value concepts are often taken to be. On his view, to be response-dependent has more to do with the emergence of a referring term in the language than it has to do with the content of the concept such a term expresses, or with the nature of the property it refers to. He then goes on to give response-dependent accounts of rationality and harm, but argues that these accounts are consistent with the idea that facts about harms provide objective practical reasons.

Alan Goldman (Kenan Professor Emeritus) is working on several projects, including "Pleasure," for the Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbook: Philosophy of Sex and Love; 'What is Aesthetic Experience?' in Routledge Current Controversies in Aesthetics; an edited book on Mark Twain and Philosophy for Rowman; and "Semantics for Aesthetic Terms," forthcoming in the journal, Inquiry.

Matthew Haug received a prestigious fellowship from the National Science Foundation for the 2010-2011 academic year, during which time he has been hard at work on a book entitled Methodology and Metaphysics in the Sciences of the Mind. The book will use recent interdisciplinary research on the reciprocal relation between psychology and biochemistry to defend a particular naturalistic view of the mind, which Haug calls inclusive physicalism. The book, in part, will explore what it could mean for mental properties to be irreducible and whether such irreducibility is compatible with physicalism. In the meantime, Haug has recently published several articles on the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind, and he has edited a collection of essays on philosophical methodology with Routledge, entitled Philosophical Methodology: The Armchair or the Laboratory? (2013).

Elizabeth Radcliffe has several research projects related to Hume's theory of the passions and his action theory. She is working on three papers, one on Hume's influence on contemporary moral philosophy, one on Hume and conflicting passions, and one that offers a critical overview of recent literature on Hume's theory of the passions.  She also has a book in progress, which is under contract at Oxford University Press, entitled Hume, Passion, and Action. This book presents a detailed study and defense of Hume’s arguments concerning the roles of reason and certain passions, namely, desires, in motivation and treats Hume as an interlocutor in several contemporary debates. The literature has many discussions of Hume’s motivational theory; however, some recent interpretations of Hume are misleading, although for interesting reasons. This book is an attempt both to address some of the interpretative issues in Hume and to develop Humeanism about reasons for action in a plausible direction, with a twist itself inspired by Hume.