Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellowship for Andrew Sepielli

Published: April 11, 2023

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Congratulations to Andrew Sepielli, an associate professor on the UTM campus and in the Graduate Department at St. George, who has received a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellowship for the academic year 2023-24. Each year, Princeton University’s Center for Human Values awards fellows the opportunity to devote an academic year in residence at Princeton to research and write about topics involving human values in public and private life. For 2023-24, the designated research theme was “Reckoning with Race,” though other areas of research were also considered.

Sepielli, who recently published his first book, Pragmatist Quietism: A Meta-Ethical System (Oxford University Press, 2022), expects to be working on his second tome while at Princeton. That body of research will concern methodology in normative ethics, specifically, as he says, “how we ought to conceptualize the world for the purposes of moral theory. There’s a lot of moral and political philosophy that traffics in familiar concepts like war, democracy, consent, the will, property, doing harm vs. allowing harm, and so on. But then there’s this other faction that thinks that conceptualizing the world in these ways is a source of bias, and that it would be better to do something like analyze these notions into colder, less familiar terms, and then evaluate the world so conceptualized.” In Sepielli’s view, this split is not only profound but also profoundly underexplored. He admits to being a partisan of the second approach, “but I’ve never seen anyone offer even close to a satisfactory defence of it (or of the first approach, for that matter).”

What will his research involve? He says he will need to understand what’s going on for humans, psychologically and neurologically, when we conceptualize bits of world in the more analytic way versus when we do so in the more austere way. “Then I need to subject these findings to moral evaluation. So lately, I’ve been reading a lot of work by psychologists who are studying these processes empirically — people like Josh Knobe, Liane Young, Michael Frank, Shaun Nichols, Fiery Cushman, John Mikhail, Molly Crockett, and Tania Lombrozo.”

Sepielli is enthusiastic about working alongside the many renowned philosophers, political scientists, and other humanists in and around the Center, many of whom share his interests at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and even law. But he also plans to pick the brains of “a great set of psychologists, including the aforementioned Crockett and Lombrozo.” In addition, the Philadelphia native looks forward to providing a rare opportunity for his children: more time with their extended family on Sepielli’s side.

“It should be a great year,” he says, one that “would not have been possible without the generosity of the Princeton Center for Human Values and of U of T, its philosophy departments, and especially my department chairs, Marleen Rozemond and Martin Pickavé, who helped me secure the teaching leave necessary for this fellowship on the most favourable terms. Academic life is so much better when the higher-ups have your back like this.”

We look forward to seeing the fruits of Sepielli’s year at Princeton!