Philosopher to Lecture on Moral Responsibility

John Martin Fischer, regarded as the world's leading philosopher on free will, will deliver the UCR Faculty Research Lecture May 31

John Martin Fischer

John Martin Fischer, considered the world’s leading expert on free will and moral responsibility, received one of two 2014-2015 Distinguished Campus Service Awards.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy, will deliver the 61st Faculty Research Lecture on Friday, May 31, at 3:30 p.m. in the Genomics Auditorium, Room 1102 A. His topic is “The Path of Life.”

The Faculty Research Lecturer Award is the highest honor the Academic Senate bestows at UCR.

The lecture is free and open to the public. There is a fee to park on campus. Permits may be purchased at the kiosk at the main campus entrance on West Campus Drive at University Avenue.

Fischer is widely regarded as the leading philosopher in the world on free will, moral responsibility, and life and death. In 2012 the John Templeton Foundation awarded him a $5 million grant to study immortality, the largest grant ever awarded a UCR humanities professor.

“Over the course of my career I have argued for an ‘actual-sequence’ theory of moral responsibility, i.e., an approach to moral responsibility that does not require freedom to do otherwise, but focuses on the properties of the actual path,” Fischer explained. “On my view, moral responsibility is a matter of how the story of the relevant behavior unfolds, where this does not involve an agent’s genuine access to alternative possibilities. I also think that meaningfulness in life is fully compatible with there being only one path available. We can think of life as like a pilgrimage that is entirely laid out in advance; this is completely consistent with life being robustly meaningful.”

The selection committee said the recognition of Fischer for the 2012-13 academic year acknowledges his “extraordinary productivity and wide acclaim for the extremely high quality of his work, especially that dealing with the timeless issues of free will and moral responsibility. Importantly, his work … has had important impacts on several of fields beyond philosophy, including criminal law and psychiatry.”

The committee noted the comment of one scholar not affiliated with UCR who wrote of Fischer’s work on free will and moral responsibility, “His view is, I believe, the best on offer in all of the history of philosophy,” including the work on free will by Aristotle, Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, A. J. Ayer and Moritz Schlick.

Another wrote, “Fischer’s influence is not limited to philosophers. His approach to responsibility is widely cited by leading scholars of criminal law and has also shaped how many psychiatrists understand mental illness.”

Fischer, who joined the UCR faculty in 1988, has written co-authored six books, and more than 150 essays. His work is discussed extensively in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, especially in the entry on free will. Oxford University Press has published four volumes of his essays;  publication of even one “is considered a major scholarly achievement,” the committee noted.  Oxford University Press also has published nine journal symposia devoted to Fischer’s work, “a very rare occurrence that provides additional testament to his eminence,” the committee said.

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