Research centres and projects
The department is home to the Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies, the Centre for Engaged Philosophy, the Centre for the History of Philosophy, Philosophy in the City, and a number of major research projects.
The Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies is based in the Department and directed by Stephen Laurence, Luca Barlassina, and Gerardo Viera. It organizes seminars, workshops, and conferences to address foundational issues in the study of the mind and cognition. Since its founding in 1992, there have been more than 40 workshops and conferences, resulting in seven volumes, published by Cambridge and Oxford University Presses.
Centre for the History of Philosophy (website coming soon)
The Centre for the History of Philosophy (ChiPhi) is the UK's largest group of scholars working in the history of philosophy, composed of philosophers from Leeds, Sheffield, and York. It brings together staff and postgraduates from the three Universities to consolidate the wide-ranging expertise into a virtual centre for the History of Philosophy that exceeds the resources and expertise of any one UK University.
The Centre for Engaged Philosophy, co-directed by Jules Holroyd and Joshua Forstenzer, promotes philosophy that engages deeply in and with real-world issues of significance such as race and racism and ethics in health care. It brings together scholars and practitioners dedicated to philosophical practices that aim to inform, learn from, and build, ongoing collaborative relationships of import beyond the academy.
Current research projects
Philosophy in the City is a volunteering award-winning outreach project, run entirely by student volunteers from the University of Sheffield’s Philosophy department. It aims to improve the opportunities available to those within the local community to engage with Philosophy; the opportunities for people of any age or background to engage with Philosophy, and to make Philosophy a subject that is of use and value to both the individual and society.
PinC volunteers go into schools and other institutions to teach philosophy and to encourage pupils and residents to think critically about philosophical problems and develop their own ideas.
Luca Barlassina is the PI for this WUN-funded interdisciplinary Research Project that studies emotional responses to the Covid-19 pandemic across four continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America), with the aim of designing public health strategies that can maximise emotional well-being and foster post-traumatic growth.
Philosophy in Prison - Jim Chamberlain
The project, in collaboration with Philosophy in Prison, co-developed, designed and delivered a prototype course for testing a 4-week prison Philosophy course. There are clear benefits to doing philosophy in prisons. The UK Government’s recent Prisons Strategy White Paper stresses the importance of providing prisoners with education, to improve their chances of employment on leaving prison, and structured activities, to reduce the risks of violence and bullying that come with excessive unstructured time.
The module delivered by this project will employ conversation as a methodology for doing philosophy. In this way, it will make philosophy accessible to a wide range of prisoners, including those with few or no educational achievements, learning disabilities, and with English as a second or third language. Moreover, the Department has long-term plans to develop an accredited course in Philosophy for delivery in prison and this project will, among other things, be a proof of concept of a teaching methodology which will support these longer-term plans.
Climate Crisis Education - Joshua Forstenzer
How should formal and informal education be reformed in light of the climate crisis? This is the question at the heart of the Knowledge Exchange project led by Joshua Forstenzer and funded by UKRI's Higher Education Innovation Fund. This project saw the establishment of an international partnership between Union of Justice, Synergie Family, and the University of Sheffield's Philosophy Department. This partnership serves to bring together practitioners in the field of education, climate action activists, decision-makers, and philosophers to foster a sustained conversation about political and civic education, science education, arts education, physical education, sports coaching, work training, leadership training in response to the ways in which the rapid warming of climate and associated dangers require curricular, pedagogic, and policy changes at various levels of education and in diverse educational contexts. Commitments to democratic principles of education and the need to build in experiences of meaningful value that contribute to personal and collective flourishing are taken as starting points in these discussions, even though their continued meaning in a potentially hostile political and natural environment is brought into question.
Knowledge of Mere Possibilities - Dominic Gregory
Some facts are necessary, while others could have been different. Yet our most basic sources of evidence are apparently firmly confined to actuality: my eyes show that it is sunny outside but not whether it could instead have been raining. How therefore do we know that things could have been other than they actually are? Despite the importance of this knowledge to philosophy and everyday life, many basic questions about it remain relatively neglected. This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will develop detailed answers to the philosophical questions raised by knowledge of mere possibilities, while also assessing the resulting view's leading rivals.
MIND Fellowship - Jules Holroyd
Philosophers have written a lot about blame, but much less about praise. One might think that while blaming might be a morally problematic activity (for example, if it is excessively harsh, or hypocritical, or where victim-blaming occurs), praising is always morally neutral, if not morally positive. I argue that this is a mistake: praise can in fact be implicated in oppression: perpetuating stereotypes and distorting the contours of moral agency. Articulating what is going wrong, the implications for theories of moral responsibility, and, ultimately, how to praise better, requires careful philosophical attention. My project is to develop a book that articulates an account of what praise should do, if it is to be justified, and its role in our practices of holding responsible. This builds on my recent work on the oppressive aspects of praise, published in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly* (open access).
* Holroyd, Jules. 2021. “Oppressive Praise”. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 7 (4). https://ojs.lib.uwo.ca/index.php/fpq/article/view/13967.
PhilonoUS, the Sheffield Undergraduate Philosophy Journal is run by current undergraduate Philosophy students and showcases some of the best undergraduate work from Sheffield, as well as other national and international undergraduate students.
Other recent projects
Daniel Herbert and Daniel Viehoff collaborated with the National Civil War Centre in Newark on an AHRC funded cultural engagement project to create an 'Ideas Gallery'. The Ideas Gallery aimed to introduce some of the philosophical and political ideas- such as political and social equality, religious toleration, freedom of expression, and authority based on a social contract- that played an important part in the Civil War era and still influence our thinking today. The political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and their subsequent legacies, were particular points of focus for this project.
Modelling International Cooperation Between States
Holly Lawford-Smith's Marie Curie FP7 Grant "Modelling International Cooperation Between States" is a three-year project aiming to both model cooperation between state agents, and make recommendations about the conditions under which such cooperation is likely to be successful, with a final view to commenting on current negotiations over climate change. The first stage of the project focuses on the nature of states as collective agents. The second stage focuses on whether state agents behave sufficiently similarly to ordinary human agents in at least some contexts that certain lessons from the wide experimental literature on cooperation between human agents apply across. You can watch Holly give a talk about this project here (overview from 1.02-15.40).
The Democracy and Criminal Justice project inquires into the justice of denying prisoners the right to vote. It asks whether offenders should lose any of the rights of citizenship and if so, to what extent they should helped to regain them.
Chris Bennett has been a former editor of The Journal of Applied Philosophy and he sits on the Editorial Board. The journal specializes in promoting philosophical research having direct bearing on areas of practical concern.
White Rose Aesthetics Forum
The White Rose Aesthetics Forum involves philosophers from the Universities of Hull, Leeds, Sheffield, and York.
Jules Holroyd's Leverhulme Trust Project Grant investigated the impact of moral interactions on the expression of implicit bias. It was an interdisciplinary project with Dr Tom Stafford and Dr Robin Scaife who are based in the Department of Psychology at The University of Sheffield. The aim of the project was to gain a better understanding of how interpersonal interactions can be harnessed to combat discrimination due to implicit racial bias. We have also turned our attention to the sorts of institutional changes that may serve this task, and the sorts of interpersonal interactions that motivate institutional change.
The AHRC Culture and the Mind project is a major five-year interdisciplinary research project based in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sheffield. The project is funded primarily through a major research grant of £538,000 from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (to the project director, Stephen Laurence). The project brought together top scholars in a broad range of disciplines to investigate the interaction of culture and the mind and it’s philosophical consequences.
This research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, aimed to explore the connections between these seemingly opposed philosophical traditions. It linked the Sheffield Philosophy Department with those at Cambridge, Columbia, Frankfurt, Pittsburgh, Sydney, Vanderbilt, and the Collège de France.
The Implicit Bias and Philosophy project brought together an international team of philosophers, psychologists, and policy professionals to reflect upon the phenomenon of implicit bias; the project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Sheffield.
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