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Dr Kurt Sylvan PhD Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Associate Professor

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Dr Kurt Sylvan is an Associate Professor 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 writing a book which systematizes the non-consequentialist ethics of belief that I've already developed in several papers (including one just published in Philosophical Review). This view, which I call Epistemic Kantianism, is based on the idea of respect for truth I introduced in my dissertation, and in my first publication. 

My work in epistemology in the narrow sense (i.e., the theory of knowledge) is mostly separate from this business. For I think epistemology in the narrow sense is non-normative. I defended this view in a 2018 publication (though the paper was finished and accepted two years earlier). My non-normativist outlook took a new form in talks in 2017, 2018, and 2020 and in postgraduate seminars in 2017 and 2019. The first of the new views appeared in an abandoned paper called 'The Theaetetus Thesis', where I tried to defend a spinoff of Theaetetus's initial suggestion that 'knowledge is nothing but perception'. That view transformed into a position I called presentationalism in 'Knowledge and the Presentation of Reality', according to which knowledge is that factive mental state which, when occurrent, presents one with a fact. In a yet newer manuscript in progress that I am calling 'World-First Epistemology', I am proposing a more objective descendant of this view, according to which knowledge is a kind of manifestation of the world in the mind.

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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