From Signs to Symbols: Language, Mind and Niche
Prof K Sterelny (RSSS, ANU)
In the last decade, a new picture of human evolution, and of the speed and extent of human divergence from other primates, has gradually emerged. The CI has been one of those responsible for this new conception. At roughly the same time (in part promoted by critiques of nativist linguistics) the problem of the evolution of language has once again become a major focus of debate. The aim of the project is to use this new picture of human evolution to make a major advance on the second problem: how humans, uniquely, became the speaking primate. If successful, the project would thus demonstrate the theoretical productivity of the new model of human evolution while also throwing fresh light on an enduring and important problem.
2013 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award
Dr Seth Lazar (RSSS, ANU)
Warfare is a practice of unrivalled gravity, and yet we lack an adequate account of the morality of war. Traditional just war theory reached plausible conclusions, through implausible arguments; the current orthodoxy is better defended, but leads to untenable conclusions. I will develop a new just war theory, which matches the new orthodoxy for philosophical rigour, but delivers more defensible conclusions in practice—in particular, vindicating the principles of national defence and noncombatant immunity. In doing so I will radically rethink the conceptual and normative structure of war's morality, focusing on the fundamentally collective nature of armed conflict, and our duties to protect those with whom we share valuable relationships.
2013 Discovery Projects
Decision Theory in Crisis
Prof A R Hajek (RSSS, ANU), Professor D P Nolan (RSSS, ANU), Dr R Briggs (ANU)
Our best theorizing about rational decision-making faces a crisis. There are many competing accounts of how our beliefs and desires combine to determine what we should do. Worse, each of these accounts faces serious problems. We thus have no adequate philosophical understanding of rationality, and no adequate theory to guide the decisions that we make—from the ordinary decisions of our daily lives, to the high-stakes decisions of industry and government. We aim to improve the state of the art in decision theory, building on cutting-edge work on conditionals and causation. This will benefit philosophy directly, and also benefit indirectly other disciplines that are concerned with decision-making, including those that inform public policy.
Australian Laureate Fellowship
The Origins of Inequality, hierarchy, and Social Complexity
Prof K Sterelny (RSSS, ANU)
The aim of this project is to explain the social contract — the cooperative foundations of human social life — and the survival of that contract as elites and social complexity emerged from the egalitarian and intimate lives of Pleistocene foragers about 10,000 years ago. The project will identify the evolutionary, social and cognitive mechanisms that made the million year long history of human cooperation possible, examine its limits and failures, and will explore the normative upshot of this million year history of human social life.
2014 Discovery Projects
The Demands of Reason
Dr Nicholas Southwood (RSSS, ANU), Prof P N Pettit (RSSS, ANU), Dr V McGeer (ANU, Princeton), Prof J Broome (Oxford)
We may reason well or badly, depending on whether we satisfy two kinds of demands. We must register all and only relevant considerations. And we must respond correctly to them. But ‘the demands of reason’, as we call them, remain inadequately understood. Drawing on work from philosophy, psychology, political and legal theory, and the social sciences, this project aims to investigate the nature, power and reach of reason’s demands. It aims to shed light on what they are; whether they have the positive transformative power attributed to them by enlightenment thinkers; and whether they can be adduced to explain the nature and origin of other important normative demands, such as the demands of morality, prudence and law.
2015 Discovery Projects
Gendered Excellence in Social Sciences
Dr F K Jenkins (RSSS, ANU), Dr H Keane (ANU), Em/Prof M Sawer (ANU), Dr C A Donovan
Gender equity has still not been realised, despite decades of activism, policy and research. In some of the social sciences women make up less than 15% of the professoriate. Yet these are the disciplines that should most aid our understanding of how gender works in society. The project asks what impact women’s limited influence and status in these key fields of research has upon our capacity to grapple with the social and political changes necessary for progress toward gender equality. In doing so, it builds persuasive arguments about how and why gender matters in the social sciences. By examining how we judge excellence in social science research, the project will contribute to advancing women in all fields.