How does the mind work? What is it to treat another person fairly? How do we manage to communicate with one another?
By addressing these topics and more, researchers within the Philosophy Division are advancing the boundaries of human understanding on some of life’s most fundamental questions.
Our expertise includes areas such asmoral philosophy, the philosophy of mind and language and the philosophy of Wittgenstein. Our academics have conducted ground-breaking work to help us understand complex areas such as the the notion of fairness and the nature of conscientious objection.
Our projects have a genuine impact on the world around us, such as attempts to better understand and alleviate cognitive disorders or political research governing what we owe to each other and society. We also work across disciplines, including with psychologists and clinicians in an ongoing project to advance our understanding of pain.
The effects of our research are felt globally and we enjoy particularly strong connections with a number of Chinese universities.
Doing business better
The nature of the complex relationship between business and society from the perspective of so-called ‘social contract theory’ is explored by Professor Emma Borg’s research.
Businesses need to be profitable to survive, and it may seem that acting more ethically could reduce profits, but Professor Borg’s research shows that there is actually an ‘ethical dividend’ for firms which behave in a moral manner - for example treating employees fairly results in a more diverse workforce, better staff retention and therefore the preservation of institutional knowledge.
Professor Borg has worked with local not-for-profit organisation Ethical Reading, which works to improve business practices in the Reading area, and in June 2019 they launched a new Code of Ethics for businesses. Find out more on our research blog.
Conscientious objection in healthcare
Conscientious objectors in healthcare, for example doctors and nurses refusing to perform abortion or euthanasia, have found themselves discriminated against in various ways in the UK and other countries – whether through dismissal, lack of promotion, or more subtle forms of coercion. Aside from personal views on the morality of a medical activity or treatment, Professor David Oderberg argues that healthcare workers should have their freedom of conscience enshrined in law. He has written a Declaration in support of conscientious objection in healthcare, the aim of which is to provide a platform for the public support of freedom of conscience in health care. Read more in Professor Oderberg’s 2018 blog for The Conversation.
What is colour?
Are colours physical properties, or do they depend on our eyes and minds? Can the meanings of colour words be different for different people? These are some of the questions being explored by Dr Nat Hansen’s Henson’s philosophy of language research, which brings together methods from philosophy, psychology, and linguistics to test theories of meaning - for example the meaning of colour words such as ‘green’ or ‘red’. In a forthcoming paper he argues that there is not a single, unified concept of colour, and that how we think about colour varies between individuals, situations, and across different historical periods.
Experimenting on linguistic meaning
The philosophy of language is informed by linguistic experiments – but how can experiments tell us about something as intangible as the meaning of a word? The meaning of many expressions is not fixed before their use in conversation; meanings undergo a process of mutual adjustment and negotiation. With his 2019 University of Reading Research Fellowship, Dr Nat Hansen will develop experiments using conversational contexts that are designed to capture the dynamic processes by which meaning is negotiated and fixed. The work will expand the practical techniques available for investigating meaning and broaden our theoretical understanding of linguistic meaning by applying experimental approaches from the cognitive and social sciences to central issues in philosophy of language.
The action-based brain
This AHRC-funded research network led by Dr James Stazicker (formerly Reading Philosophy) and Andrew Glennerster (Reading Psychology) explored a radical hypothesis about higher brain function: that perception, thought and action have more in common than traditionally assumed, as they are all explicable in terms of brain mechanisms which have long been taken to underlie the control of action. More broadly, the network combined tools from philosophy and the cognitive sciences to assess the scope and limits of action-oriented theories of neural and artificial information processing. Find out more about this project, completed in 2017 and read more about its findings.
We are also founding members of the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership