Chair in Atheism and Secular Ethics Endowed at Miami

Retired businessman Louis J. Appignani has donated $2.2 million to the University of Miami for an endowed chair in “the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics,” reports the New York Times. It is the first position of its kind in the United States.

With atheists still often stigmatized and disparaged in this country, it took some persuading for the University of Miami to agree to create a chair with the word “atheism” in the title, according to Harvey Siegel, a professor of philosophy who has helped to broker the arrangement…

“There was great reluctance on the part of the university to have an endowed chair with the word ‘atheism’ in the name, and that was a deal-breaker for Lou,” Mr. Siegel said. “He wasn’t going to do it unless it had the word atheism in it.”

According to the Miami New Times, there was an “internal effort” to replace “atheism” with “philosophical naturalism” in the title of the position, but that did not succeed.

Appignani’s donation is aimed at promoting the “philosophical underpinnings, ethical status, and implications of atheism, as well as its historical and cultural significance,” according to Everitas, the University of Miami faculty and staff newsletter, adding:

The new chair will be an interdisciplinary appointment held by a distinguished scholar whose research and interests include the study of atheism—understood, for purposes of this gift, as a philosophical approach that emphasizes the methods and techniques of science, logic, and reason in dealing with questions of knowledge, ethics, politics, and social policy. The new chair also will offer annually a minimum of one course on the history, philosophy, or influence of atheism.

Everitas also reports that Appignani has included a bequest in his estate plans to endow another chair at the University of Miami: the Appignani Foundation Bertrand Russell Chair in Philosophy.

Henri Matisse, "The Swimming Pool" (detail)

Henri Matisse, “The Swimming Pool” (detail)


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