Philosophy Chair Gives Presidential Address to APA

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
May 20, 2013

Dr. John Fischer, distinguished professor and former chair of the philosophy department at UCR, recently delivered the presidential address to the American Philosophical Association at the Pacific Division meeting in San Francisco.  Founded in 1900, the APA was established to promote the exchange of creative and scholarly ideas among philosophers and to facilitate professional work and teaching of philosophers. It also represents philosophy as a discipline, fighting for the rights of academics and of philosophy departments in jeopardy of being cut. Each year, the three divisions conduct meetings at which philosophers present research and exchange ideas. He currently serves as president of the Pacific division, and he is a former holder of a UC President’s Chair.

In the address, titled “The Path of Life,” Dr. Fischer argues that moral responsibility and meaningfulness can exist even when there is only one path available to us, since these subjects depend on how one takes the path of life, not freedom in choosing from more than one possibility.  Since he believes debate over ideas like free will and causal determinism leads to “dialectical stalemates-- black holes in philosophical space-time in which progress is hard to come by,” he advocates for an “actual sequence” model of moral responsibility which does not require the kind of control that involves genuine access to alternative possibilities. Although he acknowledges the difficulty in switching from a conventional model, he believes the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Dr. Fischer received his undergraduate degree from Stanford and doctoral degree from Cornell. Before coming to UCR, he served as a professor at Yale and has been involved with the APA for his entire career. His chief research interests lie in moral responsibility, free will, and both metaphysical and ethical issues pertaining to life and death. He has contributed to numerous significant publications, and has received both the UCR Distinguished Humanist Achievement Lecturer Award and the CHASS Distinguished Research Lecturer Award. Just last year, he received a five million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation for the Immortality Project, which aims to study various aspects of immortality, including near-death experiences and their significance or interpretation. 

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