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Grant Supporting Collaborations Between Scientists and Philosophers Awarded to Eric Turkheimer

Dec 03, 2015 |
Eric Turkheimer, Hugh Scott Hamilton Professorof Psychology

A research initiative by Psychology Professor Eric Turkheimer linking behavior genetics and philosophy has received has received a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The grant will support the establishment of a “Genetics and Human Agency” program providing funding for research collaborations between philosophers and empirical scientists, junior investigators, and science journalists.

The proposed research teams supported by the Temple Foundation grant each will focus on a “Big Question” concerning the implications of modern genomics for human self-determination and flourishing. In a field such as behavior genetics, the discoveries have wide-ranging implications, Turkheimer said, and a major goal for the project is the cultivation of a more positive relationship between scientists and philosophers.

“It’s not about expecting philosophers to turn into cheerleaders, but into knowledgeable, participant critics of the scholarship being produced,” said Turkheimer, the University of Virginia’s Hugh Scott Hamilton Professor of Psychology. “It’s also about affording the scientists who are busy in the lab gathering data and thinking about how they’re going to get their next grant the time to think about the implications of this work, where it’s headed, and how it changes the way people think about themselves.”

The empirical scientists for the proposed network of research teams will come from a wide variety of fields: biology, genetics and epigenetics, psychology, sociology, economics, statistics, psychiatry and medicine. Similarly, philosophers will be recruited from many specialties, including history and philosophy of science, metaphysics of causation, ethics, the philosophy of biology, medicine and psychiatry.

The Temple Foundation grant will support the University’s hosting of annual meetings facilitating scientific discussions among funded researchers, junior investigators and science writers. The grant also will support public-information efforts to communicate researchers’ findings, in the interest of explaining modern genomics in ways that help people understand the implications of behavioral genetics in their own lives, in terms of self-knowledge, efforts at self-improvement, personal relationships, and other issues.

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to what it calls “the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” The Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. It encourages dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.