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Dr Kurt Sylvan PhD Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Admissions

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Dr Kurt Sylvan is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Southampton.

I joined the department in January 2014, initially as a post-doctoral lecturer in the Normativity: Epistemic and Practical project, but becoming permanent in 2015.  

I finished my PhD at Rutgers in 2014. Ernest Sosa was my advisor and Ruth Chang, Jonathan Dancy, Alvin Goldman, and Susanna Schellenberg were on my committee. My dissertation was entitled On the Normativity of Epistemic Rationality. It sought to explain why we should care about being epistemically rational by appealing to the idea that it constitutes respect for truth. This project quickly transformed into a larger one that seeks to explain why perspectival obligations have perspective-transcendent significance, by appealing to (i) the idea that all value calls fundamentally for respect, and (ii) the idea that respect is constituted by heeding the demands of perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my longest-standing area of specialization is epistemology. I have more recent research interests in moral philosophy, political philosophy, and the philosophy of practical reason. ​ I have also taught modules in other areas, including aesthetics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics.  Much of my research combines my interests in epistemology in the broad sense and ethics, and is best described as work in the ethics of belief (also the name of a module I teach). I'm currently working on the first explicit and systematic non-consequentialist ethics of belief, Epistemic Kantianism, which rests on the idea of respect for truth I introduced in my dissertation.   

I also think epistemology in the narrow sense (i.e., the theory of knowledge) is non-normative, and really a branch of the philosophy of mind. I defend this view in a recent publication. In work in progress that emerged from a graduate seminar I taught last year, I'm developing a descendant of the first account of knowledge considered in 'Western' philosophy, which was also defended by figures in classical Indian philosophy, and which remained widely popular until the 20th century.  This is the view that knowledge is that general factive mental state which, when occurrent, presents one with a fact, where presentations are quasi-perceptual states.  This partly vindicates Theaetetus's thought that 'knowledge is nothing but perception', though the perception at issue is intellectual rather than sensory, in line with Plato's extensive remarks about knowledge in the Republic.*

*Note that I and others in this tradition cover inferential knowledge by allowing for secondary seeings of truth, of roughly the sort discussed in Dretske's Seeing and Knowing. Inferential knowledge is indirect in one way but direct in a more important way.  As for testimonial knowledge (in contrast to testimonially justified true belief), I think Reid got it right when he emphasized the 'striking analogy' between the testimony of persons and the testimony of the senses, and in effect suggested that we can secondarily hear truths through a trustworthy speaker's words.  Indeed, the speaker must plausibly make the truth clear to one in order for one to gain knowledge just from their say-so.  Such making-clear is presentation.

For further information about me and my research, see my webpage

Advice and Feedback Hours

Monday 15:30 - 16:30

Thursday 16:00 - 17:00

In room 1025 at Avenue (Building 65).

Research interests

Kurt's primary research interests are in epistemology, moral philosophy, the philosophy of practical reason, and the philosophy of mind.  He also has interests in social and political philosophy, classical Indian philosophy, meta-ethics, and metaphysics.

Affiliate research groups

Epistemology, Ethics

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Ethics, Moral Philosophy, Ethics of Belief, Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Political Philosophy

Dr Kurt Sylvan
Student Office
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
University of Southampton
Avenue Campus
Southampton SO17 1BF
Room Number: 65/1025

Room Number: 65/1137


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