The Chronicle Review

Spending Freely on Free Will

September 03, 2012

"We're brought up thinking that the way you do humanities research is on your own," says Russell Wyland, deputy director of research programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities. "We fund a lot of philosophers to write their books, to write their articles." The John Templeton Foundation has done plenty of that, too, but it is also flooding philosophy with much larger grants, of previously unheard-of ambition and scope, which give philosophers a new power to convene researchers from other disciplines. The new Templeton grants vary in the degree to which they include subgrants for scientific research. A considerable portion of Alfred R. Mele's project on free will at Florida State University, for instance, goes to neuroscientific experiments, while others, like Barry Loewer's project on cosmology at Rutgers University, consist mainly of opportunities for interdisciplinary discussion, like conferences and publications. In each case, however, philosophers are taking the lead in framing the projects, rather than being relegated to playing catch-up with the better-financed investigations of scientists.

Here is how Mele has doled out $4.4-million in his free-will project:

$2.8-million for studies in the science of free will

Average award: $350,000; grants not to exceed $600,000

Some of the recipients: Roy F. Baumeister (social psychology, Florida State U.), and Joshua Knobe (cognitive psychology and philosophy, Yale U.)

  • Christof Koch (biology and engineering, California Institute of Technology), Gideon Yaffe (philosophy and law, U. of Southern California), Adam Mamelak (neurosurgeon, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), Uri Maoz (computational neuroscience, Caltech), and Ram Rivlin (law, New York U.)
  • Bertram F. Malle and Andrew E. Monroe (cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences, Brown U.), Haim Sompolinsky (physics and neuroscience), Ariel Furstenberg (neuroscience), and Leon Y. Deouell (neuroscience), all at Hebrew U. of Jerusalem
  • Peter Tse and Thalia Wheatley (psychological and brain sciences), Adina Roskies (philosophy), all at Dartmouth College, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (practical ethics, Duke U.)

$330,000 for studies of the theoretical underpinnings of free will

Average award: $60,000; grants not to exceed $80,000

Some of the recipients:

  • Randolph Clarke (philosophy, Florida State U.)
  • Jenann Ismael (philosophy, U. of Arizona)
  • Carolina Sartorio (philosophy), U. of Arizona

$264,000 for studies in the theology of free will

Average award: $60,000, grants not to exceed $80,000

Some of the recipients:

  • Jesse Couenhoven (moral theology, Villanova U.)
  • Brian Leftow (Christian philosophy, U. of Oxford)

The remainder of the grant has been spent on things like moving and housing costs for residency at Florida State and prizes for essays published in popular venues. For more information on the grants, visit