Our research

Our research

The department has an innovative and vibrant research culture, benefiting from the presence of a number of philosophical and interdisciplinary perspectives. We consistently produce high-level research publications in a wide range of central areas. Macquarie University received a rating of 'above world standard' (4 out of 5) for research in Philosophy in the Excellence in Research for Australia 2015 report.

Areas of specialisation

Mind, Metaphysics and Meaning

This stream conducts research in the philosophy of mind and cognition, the philosophy of biology and science, pragmatism, epistemology and metaphysics. We examine questions about what it means to have a mind, the relationships between evolution and culture, and the nature of races. Our research includes:

  • embodied and extended cognition
  • neural plasticity and scaffolded learning
  • developmental and molecular biology
  • human nature
  • imperative theories of pain
  • animal cognition and learning
  • language, race and pragmatism

Social Philosophy and Modern European Philosophy

We study the relationship between society and individuals from a variety of philosophical perspectives. This stream engages with the rich historical and contemporary European philosophical traditions and their reception in English-speaking world, including topics such as:

  • Existential phenomenology and hermeneutics
  • Social political philosophy
  • Continental aesthetics
  • Post-structuralism

Ethics and Applied Ethics

Research in ethics investigates issues from the theoretical to the applied. We examine questions such as what it means to be an autonomous person and when are people morally responsible for their actions. Our applied research includes questions of right and wrong in clinical practice and biomedical research. Our research includes:

  • Moral responsibility
  • Human dignity
  • Parenting
  • Kantian ethics
  • Human dignity
  • Ethics and regulation of innovative surgery and surgical research

Our projects

Academic staff of the Department of Philosophy undertake externally funded research projects, and are affiliated with an extensive catalogue of projects relating to the Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics.

The Enculturated Brain

The Enculturated Brain: How Culture Transforms the Brain and Extends our Cognitive Capabilities

This project aims to advance our understanding of the influence of the cultural and social environment on our cognitive capabilities. Its significance lies in producing a theoretical model of how human brains have evolved to be culturally situated. The outcome will be a model that explains how as a species: our brains evolved in richly social and cultural environments; how each human brain develops in such an environment; and, how culture transforms the brain. The cultural transformation of our brains results in culturally extended cognitive systems. This will be a significant innovation in our current understanding of how brains, bodies and culture transform our basic cognitive capabilities.

Future Fellowship 2014-2017: Richard Menary

Defining disease: Addressing the Problem of Overdiagnosis

This project investigates and define the limits of physical disease, to answer questions about when a presentation is a disease, and when it is simply a risk factor or mild condition. The ensuing account of disease aims to make a practical contribution to growing international concern about asymptomatic people being diagnosed and treated for conditions that will not cause any health problems ("overdiagnosis"). The research provides normative grounds for evaluating disease claims. Results will reduce the harm caused by people receiving treatment that they do not require, make a practical contribution to debates about the scope of health care, and yield findings that can help to reduce the cost-burdens associated with overdiagnosis.

Future Fellowship 2014-2017: Wendy Rogers

Cinematic Ethics: Exploring Ethical Experience through Film

This project develops a new interdisciplinary framework for understanding cinema's unique power to evoke ethical experience via audiovisual means. Combining philosophy with film analysis, it moves beyond the prevalent view that cinema merely illustrates moral situations, and challenges the long-held suspicion toward film's manipulative aesthetic power. This project proposes instead a model of cinematic ethics: an investigation of how cinema evokes ethical experience through emotional, cognitive, and aesthetic engagement.  This project will advance the emerging interdisciplinary field of film-philosophy by highlighting film's under-recognised potential to enhance ethical understanding, and thus to promote greater social awareness and intercultural communication.

Future Fellowship 2014-2017: Robert Sinnerbrink

Changing your mind by Changing your Brain

Changing your Mind by Changing your Brain: An interventionist perspective on cognitive neuroscience 

Functional neuroimaging provides a tremendous amount of information about the brain. What it shows about the mind is less clear. Addressing this fundamental philosophical question requires developing a detailed account of theory-testing in cognitive neuroscience. This project will connect neuroimaging to theories of explanation that focus on the way one variable can make a difference to another. By linking neuroimaging to facts about manipulable relationships between the brain and the mind, it will also provide a bridge between neuroimaging and complementary technologies for directly intervening on the brain. This in turn will provide a platform from which to explore the theoretical and ethical consequences of direct brain manipulation.

Future Fellowship: 2015-2018: Colin Klein

Causal Foundations of Biological Information

The source of order in living systems has been the key question at the boundary of biology and philosophy since the eighteenth century. Today it is widely believed that living systems differ from non-living because they are driven by information, much of which has accumulated during evolution, and much of which is genetically transmitted. But there is at present no specifically biological measure of information that can underpin this vision. This project aims to fill that gap by grounding the idea of biological information in contemporary philosophical work on the nature of causation. Amongst other goals, the project will develop a measure of biological information inspired by the early theoretical insights of the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Francis Crick, but general enough to capture information-processing in gene regulatory networks, epigenetic information, and the emergence of new information in self-organising processes. The work will be conducted by Paul Griffiths, Karola Stotz (Macquarie), Arnaud Pocheville (Sydney), Brett Calcott (Sydney), and in cooperation with the Integrative Systems Laboratory at the Charles Perkins Centre.

Templeton World Charity Foundation project 2014-2017: Karola Stotz

Postdoctoral research

The Department of Philosophy at Macquarie provides an excellent environment in which to undertake postdoctoral research. Opportunities for funding of postdoctoral research are available from two main sources: the Macquarie University Research Fellowship Scheme, and the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

For more information about research with the Department of Philosophy, please contact us.

Contributing to the philosophical discussion

Department members from the Social Philosophy/Continental Philosophy stream play key editorial roles for the internationally renowned journal, Critical Horizons.

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