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Research Groups

Our research culture revolves around a cluster of themed research groups, made up of lecturers, researchers, and post-grads who meet regularly in the department (and the Dun Cow pub). We discuss each other's work, host visiting speakers, participate in reading groups, workshops and seminars. This creates a vibrant academic atmosphere, and it provides a solid structure through which we can develop the breadth and range of our academic activities. It's part of the reason for our amazing success in developing large collaborative research projects.

Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics

Bringing philosophers working on art and beauty together with those interested in morality and in politics provides an exciting opportunity for reevaluating value. Aesthetics, ethics, and politics are areas in which value concepts play a constitutive role. In all these areas we are concerned with what is good, beautiful, worthwhile, right, and fitting. Whenever we talk in value-terms, there are philosophical questions to be answered, about the relation between the normative and the descriptive, and so there are many opportunities for us to learn from each other's work.

Mind, Language and Metaphysics

The Mind, Language and Metaphysics research cluster is the largest group in the department and covers a broad range of key philosophical disciplines and philosophical methodologies. We have world-leading expertise in many core areas of philosophical metaphysics – these include the study of causation, grounds, powers, laws, emergence and the nature of fundamental reality – as well as a panoply of other key and emerging topics at the forefront of philosophical debate. We have strong research interests in the nature of time and space, including the history of the understanding of these concepts, in questions relating to free-will and determinism, mental action, the nature of rationality, philosophy of action, perception, emotion and in questions surrounding the nature of value. Our research in language and logic spans from work on philosophy of fiction and informal argumentation through to mathematical logic and machine reasoning.

We are proud of our pluralistic approach and meta-philosophy – for instance, we have strong interests in early phenomenological approaches to intentionality and in Wittgensteinean and otherwise grammatical approaches to mind and action. MLM also has interdisciplinary collaborative ties to classics, psychology, physics, chemistry and the informatics department.

Like all typical philosophers, we are also interested in nothingness.

Science, Medicine and Society

The Science, Medicine and Society cluster is the focus of a number of research activities. Its staff members co-ordinate an M.A. in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine. As such, many of the members of the group are postgraduates who have completed the M.A. and continued their research within this group. The cluster, which is one of only a few of its kind in the UK, provides exciting opportunities for dialogue between philosophers and historians with a range of interests in science and medicine. Many of the group's members contribute to the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) and the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease (CHMD).

History of Philosophy

History of philosophy is a concern of most staff in the Durham Department, and their interests range from Ancient Greek philosophy to the philosophy of the 20th century, taking in medieval philosophy, rationalism, and empiricism. Figures whose work we research include Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein and Anscombe. Historians of philosophy affirm a close relation between philosophy and its history, holding that the study of the history of philosophy is itself part of philosophy – in contrast to the study of the history of science, which is not part of science. As philosopher Wilfrid Sellars commented, "The history of philosophy is the lingua franca which makes communication between philosophers, at least of different points of view, possible. Philosophy without the history of philosophy, if not empty or blind, is at least dumb".

It facilitates communication in the same way that knowledge of standards is the lingua franca of jazz improvisation. In doing history of philosophy, one is doing philosophy itself, understanding it more deeply through investigating the historical origins of problems discussed today. To say this, is to endorse a humanistic as opposed to scientistic conception of philosophy. Only the former can properly acknowledge the philosophical classics, which are a continuing source of philosophical enrichment. Philosophy is here aligned with the humanities – theology, politics, the arts, history, literary studies. Concern with its own history is implicit in philosophical practice as far back as Plato and Aristotle, who tried to overcome – or at least come to terms with – the arguments of their predecessors. That is still the concern of Philosophy today.

A Durham Research Expertise: Women in the History of Philosophy

Our Women in Philosophy Cluster is a virtual research cluster that brings together – and showcases – our world-leading excellence in the history of women in philosophy from the middle ages right up the present day. Our work on women in philosophy spans not only the ages but ranges from archival work that promises to disrupt traditional canonical narratives to promoting women’s voices in the discipline now – through our syllabi, seminar series and in our discussion groups.