Philosophers Among Winners of ERC Starting Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the winners of its substantial, multi-year Starting Grants, and several philosophy faculty are among them.

They are:

Graziana Ciola (Radboud University)
The Impossible and the Imaginable: Late-Medieval Semantics of Impossibility and the Roots of Complex Mathematics (€1,498,894)

A popular view in the history of philosophy and science holds that we only conceive what is in some sense possible and cannot truly understand anything intrinsically contradictory. In late medieval logic, the Chimera is the paradigmatic example of such an inconceivable absolute impossibility. “Chimera” is a necessarily empty term lacking signification and reference. Analogously, premodern mathematics dismisses the square root of a negative number as the impossible result of an impossible operation,  i.e., something as nonsensical as the Chimera. Yet, by the 16th century, complex numbers—i.e., those numbers having an imaginary part i = the numerical value of [root–1]—start being used and problematised. Somewhere down the line these “impossible numbers” had become conceivable and manipulable. How and why did this shift happen? Our project seeks the answer in the late medieval semantics of necessarily empty terms. In the 14th century, Marsilius of Inghen (ca.1341-96) provides a full fledged treatment of terms like “Chimera” in modal semantics. This account of imaginable absolute impossibilities is widely influential in the 15th and 16th centuries. Girolamo Cardano—credited with the philosophical problematisation of complex numbers—seems at least partly aware of this tradition. “The Impossible and the Imaginable” is set to explore for the first time Marsilius’ semantics of imaginable impossibilities, its later reception and its possible influence on Cardano, seeking the historical and conceptual roots of complex mathematics within late medieval semantics.


Niels Martens
Philosophy of Cosmology: Matter and SpaceTime Eradicated (€1,499,790)

Our most basic, fundamental assumptions are often the ones that get scrutinised the least. This very much holds true for the primary ontological and conceptual distinction that underlies much of physics, philosophy of physics and metaphysics: the idea that all entities and structures in our universe are to be categorised and conceptualized as either space (or, in modern physics, spacetime) or matter, never both, never neither. Everything must be either the “container” or the “contained”. Although this strict conceptual dichotomy did make a lot of sense in the context of our pre-20th century worldview, the COSMO-MASTER project contends that it is no longer tenable, and even a hindrance to further progress. More precisely, each of the main ingredients—dark matter, inflation, dark energy, black holes and general relativity—of our highly-successful and well-established standard model of cosmology that was developed over the course of the 20th century puts pressure on the outdated Newtonian idea that the space(time) and matter concepts can and should be strictly distinguished. A systematic interdisciplinary analysis of the extent to which this dichotomy breaks down will have profound consequences for various debates in the philosophy of physics and metaphysics (e.g., undermining the substantivalism-relationalism debate about the metaphysics of spacetime, and providing novel opportunities to reassess and advance debates regarding conventionalism, scientific realism and scientific guiding principles) as well as for theory development and community interaction in cosmology, and physics more broadly. Far from being an unwelcome babel, a conceptual undoing, giving up the spacetime matter distinction will provide guidance as to which traditional debates become moot and which novel avenues open up.


Thomas Schindler (University of Amsterdam)
Generalisation into Sentence and Predicate Positions (€1,493,715)

Many theoretical contexts require generalisation into sentence and predicate positions, a high-level form of generalisation where (roughly speaking) we make a general statement about a class of statements (e.g. mathematical induction, laws of logic). There are two competing methods for achieving this form of generality: higher-order logics and first-order theories of truth, properties, and sets, respectively. As both methods come with their own ideological and ontological commitments, it makes a substantial difference which one is chosen as the framework for formulating our mathematical, scientific, and philosophical theories. Although some research has been done in this direction, it is still very much in its early stages. This research project will provide a sustained systematic investigation of the two methods from a unified perspective, and develop novel formal tools to articulate deductively strong theories. 

Kenneth Silver (Trinity College Dublin)
Corporate Moral Progress (€1,371,715)

Within business ethics, there is a longstanding debate concerning Corporate Moral Responsibility, the question of whether corporations themselves are the kinds of things that can be responsible for wrongdoing. Proponents of this view hope to vindicate our sense that firms are the appropriate targets of blame and censure. However, proponents have failed to decisively make their case, and they have also failed to come to terms with the magnitude of corporate wrongdoing. Even if firms are possibly responsible, this is far short of showing that corporations have the sensitivity, incentives, position, to be anything but accidental agents for good, let alone equal members of the moral community. As corporations are some of the most significant actors in modern society, this presents a real problem. If it is right to think that corporations have genuine obligations, then a sincere effort must be made to come to terms with why they fail to meet them as well as how to train firms to behave morally in the future. Corporate Moral Progress aims to do just this—to establish the responsibility of firms, to explore the sources of their immorality, and to chart a path for their improvement. By doing all of this, CMP will pursue concrete ways to improve firms for good.

You can learn more about the grants and see the full set of winners here.


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1 year ago

Congratulations all!

Obiora Nwuzor
1 year ago

A QUESTION: Can somebody who did not attend any philosophy school, but studies philosophy on his own for soul evolution join the discussion and also enter for ERC grant?

Reply to  Obiora Nwuzor
1 year ago

Theoretically yes, practically no. The reason being that the amount of tacit knowlegde to get around the gatekeeping for these types og grant becomes allmost insurmountable. Not to speak of the inherent disadvantage if an indvidual would apply without a university affiliation, as it would create suspicion for the evaluators and negativley influence their judgement.

Rosanna Festa
1 year ago

Congratulations for deepness…