Meet Our Researchers – Mark Alfano

Mark Alfano

Dr. Mark Alfano is co-PI of the SMV-funded research project, “Giving from the Heart: The Role of the Heart and the Brain in Virtuous Motivation and Integrity.”

MARK ALFANO (Ph.D., City University of New York Graduate Center) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Delft University of Technology and Professor of Philosophy at Australian Catholic University. His first book, Character as Moral Fiction, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, and his second book, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, was published by Polity in 2016. You can visit his personal website at www.alfanophilosophy.com.

My work in moral psychology encompasses subfields in both philosophy (ethics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind) and social science (social psychology, personality psychology). I am ecumenical about methods, having used modal logic, questionnaires, tests of implicit cognition, incentivizing techniques borrowed from behavioral economics, neuroimaging, textual interpretation (especially of Nietzsche), digital humanities techniques (text-mining, archive analysis, visualization), and of course good old-fashioned intuition-mongering. My biggest historical influence is Friedrich Nietzsche; I find his thoughts fascinating because he was so far outside the mainstream of philosophy in his own day, yet some of his insights are now finding support in contemporary social science.

I met the other members of my SMV team when I was Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. Gus Skorburg was a PhD student in a course I taught, as well as a teaching assistant for an intro ethics course. Christina Karns was researching the neuroscience of gratitude (among other things) over in psychology. Because I’m very interested in the possibility of fruitful interactions between disciplines, these two made for terrific interlocutors and collaborators. Gus and I have co-authored nearly half a dozen papers at this point, and I’ve been enjoying working with Christina on a couple of drafts.

It’s common nowadays to distinguish fast, emotional, error-prone mental processes from slow, deliberative, rational mental processes, but the techniques people typically use to draw this distinction aren’t up to the task. That’s why I’m so excited to be applying new methods (such as electroencephalogram) to old questions (“What does it take to embody the virtue of generosity?”) in an interdisciplinary collaboration. I think that philosophy has a lot to learn from the sciences, but that the sciences also have a lot to learn from philosophy — especially carefully-constructed philosophical frameworks that provide a coherent perspective on otherwise-confusing and noisy phenomena.

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