Professor develops new morality theory, receives grants
Heather Brown, The Oklahoma Daily
An OU philosophy professor has received two grants that will help her write a book about her new theory on what makes exemplary people admirable.
Professor Linda Zagzebski will use the grants to take a paid leave of absence to write the book about her Examplarist Virtue Theory, a moral theory that discusses the relationship between people and their exemplars, people who are picked out by the emotion of admiration, she said. The grants are initially valued at $50,000 for spring 2013 and $100,000 for the following academic year; the money will be used to hire a replacement while Zagzebski is working on the book.
“[A moral theory] is kind of like a map of the moral life, so it’s meant to simplify something that’s really very complicated,” Zagzebski said.
The theory’s basic idea is to define basic moral concepts such as virtue by connecting them to exemplars of moral goodness, Zagzebski said. These exemplars are people who have been singled out through a group’s admiration, she said.
Zagzebski received the two separate grants from Wake Forest University’s Character Project and the John Templeton Foundation at the beginning of the summer. She applied for the initial grant after the Character Project issued an international call for proposals in the areas of the psychology, philosophy, and theology of character, she said.
Expert reviewers in the field assessed the proposals based on criteria such as how likely the research was to be successful, how innovative the proposal was and how significant the research’s impact could be on the progress toward important questions, Character Project Director Christian Miller said in an email.
“Zagzebski is internationally known as one of the leading experts in ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of religion,” Miller said in an email. “Her project was deemed to be first-rate by the expert reviewers who assessed it.”
The Character Project has now given about $3 million to 28 different projects in the field of human character, Miller said.
Zagzebski and other grant recipients will present their projects at the Character Project’s final conference next June.
Zagzebski received her second grant from the Templeton Foundation shortly after receiving the grant from the Character Project, she said.
“[The Templeton Foundation] knew about my theory… just from my other work and actually invited me to submit a proposal,” she said.
The Templeton Foundation, which gave birth to the Character Project, aims to encourage dialogue between scientists, philosophers and theologians and gave $66 million in grants between its founding in 1987 and 2010, according to its website.
Zagzebski’s book will focus on historical narratives of exemplary people and empirical work by psychologists and neuroscientists who seek to find biological explanations for admiration, she said. Zagzebski is the consultant for one such team of researchers.
“[Researchers] have some ways of determining who the most admired people are in advance,” Zagzebski said. “I’m not sure exactly how they do that, but then they put these people in an fMRI machine, and they compare and they have them play economics games to see if there’s anything different in their brains when they play these games than ordinary people.”
The team of researchers with whom she works has
made some interesting findings on which regions of the brain are more active in especially virtuous people, or exemplars, she said.
“Every culture has stories about the people they find most admirable,” she said
“[This research is] only recently … being done by neuroscientists and psychologists on exemplars.”