Regents Name Philosopher a University Professor

John Martin Fischer receives honor reserved for scholars of international distinction who are also exceptional teachers

John Martin Fischer

Philosopher John Martin Fischer has been named a University Professor by the University of California Board of Regents.

RIVERSIDE, California – John Martin Fischer, a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, has been named a University Professor by the University of California Board of Regents. He becomes the 41st scholar and the first philosopher across the UC system to receive the honor.

The title of University Professor is reserved for scholars of international distinction who are also recognized as teachers of exceptional ability. The appointment, approved at the regents meeting Jan. 26, allows these distinguished scholars to visit other UC campuses to give special seminars and presentations and to meet with students and faculty.

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 UC Riverside humanities professor. His approach to responsibility is widely cited by leading scholars of criminal law and has also shaped how many psychiatrists understand mental illness.

He is one of five UCR professors to be named a University Professor since the award’s inception in 1960. The others are Distinguished Professors Jonathan Turner, sociology; Robert Rosenthal, psychology; Emory Elliott, English; and Arturo Gomez-Pompa, botany.

According to UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, “John’s academic achievements are without question of the highest order, but for those who don’t know him, it’s his personal style and efforts to engage with students that make him truly unique.”

In a letter recommending Fischer’s designation as a University Professor, Wilcox said the philosopher “has made distinctive contributions that have drawn very high praise, and constitute rare examples of lasting progress” in research concerning free will, moral responsibility, the value of life, the harm of death, and the human desire for immortality.

“The publications for which Professor Fischer is best known cover our self-image as autonomous and deliberative beings who are responsible for our own actions,” the chancellor wrote. “While many have debated moral responsibility, he brings to the discourse ingenious, highly original, and carefully constructed arguments. … In a second area of his work, Professor Fischer addresses the value of human life, its meaningfulness, and the metaphysics of death by asking whether and why being immortal should be seen as highly desirable, or alternatively, whether and why it should be seen as fundamentally problematic for human beings, as some have maintained. His work considers both religious and scientific contexts. (His) concern is not to defend either a religious or a scientific point of view, but to clarify what the reported experiences and related arguments actually establish.”

Milagros Peña, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, said the University Professor honor is richly deserved.

“This not only says so much about John’s scholarship but also as much for the Department of Philosophy,” she said. “When I was coming to interview for my position and came upon information about The Immortality Project he spearheaded with support from a $5 million grant from The John Templeton Foundation, I said to myself, ‘This is the campus I want to come to should I get the chance.’  John Fischer exemplifies the distinction of our UCR faculty.”

Fischer, who joined the UCR faculty in 1988, said the recognition by the Board of Regents is humbling.

“I feel very fortunate to have had a collegial, supportive department and campus, and the love of my family, which made this all possible,” he said.

Fischer said he will look for ways “to strengthen the voice of philosophy and the humanities in the UC system, and to help to achieve greater diversity in our discipline.  Also, I would like to highlight some of the ways philosophy can make contributions to public affairs.”

Fischer has written or co-authored seven books, and more than 150 essays. His most recent book, “Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife” (2016, Oxford University Press), grew out of research resulting from The Immortality Project and was co-authored with Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, the postdoctoral researcher on the project. Fischer’s 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 – and nine journal symposia devoted to Fischer’s work, a very rare occurrence.

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