Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Projects

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What kind of experience do we refer to when we talk about self-esteem? How are our interpersonal relationships shaped by this experience? And what is the role played by high and low self-esteem in mental illness? While significant efforts have been made in the field of psychology to clarify some of these issues, the notion of self-esteem has been under-researched from a philosophical perspective.Surprisingly, this is the case also in current philosophy of emotion, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychiatry, where a number of concepts and dynamics relevant to the understanding of this form of experience have been investigated. With the aim of rectifying this situation, in this project I will endeavor to provide a philosophical account of self-esteem. More specifically, drawing on the insights and theoretical frameworks developed in classic and contemporary phenomenology, I will investigate three main thematic areas. (1) I will start by clarifying which types of mental states are constitutive of self-esteem, exploring in particular the idea that this predicament is best understood as a background affective orientation or "existential feeling". (2) I will then move to examine the connection between self-esteem and intersubjectivity, focusing on the various ways in which self-esteem influences and is influenced by interpersonal relationships such as friendship and love, and by particular forms of cultural and professional experience. (3) Finally, I will identify various dynamics through which alterations of self-esteem give rise to disruptions of affectivity and self-understanding in psychiatric illnesses such as depression,anxiety, and narcissistic personality disorder, complementing and expanding existing phenomenological analyses of disturbances of emotions and the self.

This project responds to the urgent need to understand and constrain human destructiveness. The timeliness of this project is underscored by two factors: firstly, the weakening and corruption of many of the traditional cultural structures whether social, religious or political, which have in the past served to constrain aggression, redress injustices and ameliorate inequities; secondly, by the rapid advances in social neuroscience and psychology furnishing much in the way of primary data about both destructive and prosocial behaviour. Interrogating the relationship between the 'I' and 'we' perspectives of primary subjectivity will shed new light on violence, destructiveness and ethical failure.

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This research proposes to investigate the connection between habit formation, practical reason, and empathy. While sociology and psychology have widely acknowledged the relevance of habits for collective social practices, the relation between habits, practical reason, and empathy constitutes a gap in the philosophical literature. My project aims to fill this gap by outlining the main principles of a phenomenology of habit. The overall aim is to provide comprehensive answers to the following two questions: What do habits tell us about personal identity and social sensitivity? How can a more nuanced approach to the role of habit in social interaction help us extend current understanding of empathy? I shall proceed as follows. In the first part of my research, I shall give a historical and theoretical outline of the main debates regarding habit formation. I shall show that largely negative accounts of habits do not consider how habits shape personal identity through synchronic adjustments that internalise the individual response to values. I will, then, employ the methodology of contemporary phenomenology to defend a positive view of habit. This strategy is based on the theoretical framework that conceives of habituality as embodied agency. Drawing on Husserl, Stein, and Merleau-Ponty, I shall argue that habits are fundamental for identity formation as well as to account for the way we respond to others through the internalisation of practical reason. With this approach the project seeks to contribute to an improved basis for both ethics and social cognition.

Further details of my research

Short abstract:

Can there be a non-secular democracy? My answer is ‘yes,’ and my research seeks to show how. I am concerned with the place religion should occupy in the democratic public realm in order to best realize emancipatory ideals of freedom, equality and justice. Sympathetic both to contemporary criticisms of theories predicting the retreat of religious influence on political life and those defending the neutrality of secular politics, I rethink the relationship between politics and religion with a view to opening a conceptual space for a new model of non-secular democracy. In doing so my research contributes to a conception of politics that speaks to an enormous growth in international migration, together with an unpredicted rise in religious revivalism.
A healthy democracy preserves and promotes the process of democratic will-formation in the public sphere through public reasoning. The increased presence of various religious convictions and practices, however, raises serious challenges concerning the boundaries and function of public reasoning. In support of a robust pluralism I defend the requirement of non-authoritarian reasoning, which excludes certain ways of reasoning but not particular reasons. In addition, I give public reasoning a direct and influential role in the application and specification of norms, including legal ones. These features of public reasoning play a central role in my overarching aim of developing a pluralist model of democratic politics that allows for the most expansive communal right to political self-determination, while simultaneously preserving and promoting individual capabilities for identity-formation and self-realization.