Sometimes Sophie Grace Chappell works in ancient philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of religion, metaethics, philosophy of literature, or on the philosophy of personal identity. Or indeed on various other things that happen to interest her; here she is, for instance, talking about Alan Turing on youtube.
But her main current research project is, as usual for her, in ethics. With the support of a three-year Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2017-2020, £142,000), she is just beginning a new book, provisionally entitled Epiphanies: an ethics and metaethics of experience. At least part of this will be about the relation between theory and experience in ethics, and in particular about the transformative power of what James Joyce, Gaston Bachelard, Emmanuel Levinas, and others have called “epiphanies”—flashes of insight or revelation that change the way we see the world, the way we understand ourselves, and the way we respond to other people. Iris Murdoch's hawk, in The Sovereignty of Good, is one famous example of an epiphany; Louis Macneice's poem "Snow" captures another; when Wordsworth, in The Prelude XII.176 ff., talks about "spots of time/ that with distinct preeminence retain/ a renovating virtue", he is evidently talking about the same phenomenon.
Sophie Grace Chappell will be arguing that epiphanies are central to the generation of our reasons and other motivations: a view that is hinted at by John McDowell, though his word is "conversion". She thinks that epiphanies are interestingly poised between being a source of what philosophers since Bernard Williams have called 'external' and 'internal' reasons—because it is constitutively unclear whether epiphanies themselves 'come from outside', or 'come from within', or both. Chappell’s own view is both. (As The Waterboys put it in their song "The Wind in the Wires": "And if it's all in our minds, Well, where else would it be?") However, Sophie is not convinced that her view can be proved; nor that anyone in the debate, from Williams onwards, has a very good account of Williams’ internal/ external distinction.
For more about epiphanies, see Epiphanies: an ethics and metaethics of experience
Epiphanies will, if all goes well, be the successor to Chappell’s previous research project. That resulted in a book published by OUP in March 2014, namely: Knowing What To Do: imagination, virtue, and Platonism in ethics, for which she held a £40,883 AHRC personal research-leave fellowship (August 2011 to January 2012).Find out more about this book from OUP's website.
Knowing What To Do was reviewed in the TLS for 24.10.2014, by Luke Brunning: “This book must be praised as an inspiring expression of an ethical vision with deep historical roots and urgent contemporary relevance… Chappell’s book is itself an ethical exemplar, a study in the contemplation of value, a testament to ordinary goodness.”
Stephen Mulhall, in his Philosophical Quarterly review, sees the book as marked "by Chappell’s distinctive blend of wide reading (both inside and outside professional philosophy), polemical vigour and elegantly ferocious wit, and most importantly by [an] ability to apply [the] moral imagination to the best that mainstream moral philosophy has to offer in order to reveal the extent to which the rigidity of its presuppositions not only manifests a dire lack of imagination, but thereby eliminates from its portrait of (actual or ideal) everyday moral life any exercise of that same capacity."
And Hallvard Lillehammer, in his NDPR review, observes that that "Chappell's... non-conventional approach not only serves to illuminate important aspects of moral thought that normally receive little or no attention in systematic moral theory, but also helps to support the claim that these are aspects of moral thought that moral philosophers may want to say more about."
Paul Bloomfield, the reviewer for The Australian Journal of Philosophy, describes Knowing What To Do as "a tour de force of ethical anti-theory... The book is full of interesting arguments and examples, and it is a pleasure to read. Knowing What To Do is a rich, complex, and rewarding book of which Chappell can rightly be proud."
John Rist, in a review of Knowing What To Do forthcoming in Philosophical Investigations,writes this:
"Chappell’s brave new book can be divided into two parts. In the first [Chappell] presents powerful arguments against the (mis)treatment of ethics in the majority of Anglo-American philosophy departments... In the second [Chappell] urges a return to a certain Platonistic Virtue Ethics... In Part One much credit [is given] to the work of Bernard Williams, especially to Williams’ objections to the confined and so deforming... emphasis on what has been called ‘morality in the narrow sense’, i.e. a concern almost entirely with moral obligation rather than also with character and character-formation, and on a related almost exclusive emphasis on productive agency, with so little attention paid not only to the emotions but to any ‘mere’ contemplation of what there is. In Part Two we find a welcome respect for something like the revised Platonism of Iris Murdoch..."
Rist's main criticism is this: Chappell “should perhaps forget the conventional philosophical modesty about metaphysics... and give us the Full Monty, or rather a more completed and theistic version of the Full Monty where Plato’s uncertainties about the relationship between God and the Good are resolved... But... this is a rich and challenging book, and I have hardly said a word about some of its unexpectedly interesting discussions, as about glory as a moral good. I should rather conclude: ‘Just read it, and then read it again – and on reading it ask yourself whether or not Chappell should not have gone all the way.'"
As Sophie Grace sees it herself, the heart of Knowing What To Do is a historically-based exploration of the ways in which moral philosophy can fail to see the trees for the wood: of how, especially when it takes a defining and systematising turn, it can become so obsessed with some grand récit as to make the detail of real-life ethical choice invisible. To do this is to make plausible answers to the question how to know what to do even harder to come by than they are anyway.
Her own approach to that question how to know what to do—which she was just beginning to develop in the last chapter of Ethics and Experience, hopes to have articulated more fully in Knowing What To Do, and will have more to say about in Grace In The World—draws extensively on the work of Plato and Aristotle. It is broadly an anti-theoretical approach, though one might also call it a Platonistic virtue ethics. Central to it is the notion of moral imagination—or rather notions, since Sophie sees a number of different interesting ideas all of which might come under that heading.
Knowing What To Do combines a Wittgensteinian emphasis on the diversity and particularity of our practical reasons with a stress on the central place in ethics of two things: first, a notion of contemplation or attention as the essential precursor of any truly worthwhile action, rather like Iris Murdoch's and Simone Weil's; secondly, a stress on the importance in ethics, not only of propositional knowledge, but also of knowledge by experience, knowledge-how, and objectual knowledge. Thinking about these varieties of knowledge can be a way of reorienting all sorts of debates in ethics and metaethics. For instance, the question of moral objectivity or realism is usually taken as the question whether there is or could be propositional knowledge in ethics. But how might the question of moral objectivity look, if we focused instead on the possibility and the place of experiential knowledge or ability knowledge or objectual knowledge in ethics?
Access Professor Chappell's academia.edu page (with a much more flattering, but alas much less honest, picture) here: https://open.academia.edu/Sophiegrace
Sophie Grace Chappell likes cycling, skiing, ski-mountaineering, hillwalking, and climbing (but not falling off) [PDF, 66 KB]. She once skied 29 full descents of the Sunnyside in Glenshee in a day, and would have made it to 30 but for a grumpy lift-attendant and the fact that she didn't have her skins with her. She has also skied all three of Cairngorm, The Lecht, and Glenshee in a single day—when she did have her skins with her—and would like to try skiing all five Scottish centres in a day some time soon. She completed the Munro summits in 2004, and is now rounding up the last two dozen or so tops. She climbs, or has climbed, VS 5a (lead), E1 5b (second) in summer, and Scottish grade V (lead) and VII, 7 (second) in winter.
She writes poetry [PDF 204 KB], some of it published, with a particular interest in translation. She has recently completed a translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Vinctus [PDF 82 KB], Agamemnon [PDF 660 KB], Choêphoroi [PDF 378 KB], and Eumenides [PDF 457 KB]. She is married with four daughters, and is a long-term member of All Souls’ Episcopalian Church, Dundee. She is a paid-up member of Affirmation Scotland, an active supporter of The Scottish Equality Network, and a patron of Accepting Evangelicals. Aside from her OU role and in a personal capacity, she has been known to campaign for political causes dear to her heart--as here for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxRw5KYJV2s&t=105s
Ethics, metaethics, applied ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics especially philosophy of literature, ancient philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of religion especially religious experience and mysticism, mediaeval philosophy.
Some examples of Professor Chappell's published and late-draft work in philosophy are available on her Publications page.
Chris Grey, "Church-musical aesthetics"
First supervisor; with Martin Clarke (Music)
Lucy Fay Manning, "Logical atomism in the Theaetetus and the Tractatus"
First supervisor; with Naoko Yamagata (Classics)
Sarah Pawlett Jackson, "Second-personality in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas"
First supervisor; with Manuel Dries (second supervisor)
David Hurrell, "Decadence in Nietzsche"
Second supervisor; with Manuel Dries (first supervisor)
Jon Phelan, "Truth in narrative fictions"
Second supervisor; with Derek Matravers (first supervisor)
2010-2015 Paul Jackson, "Epicurean atheism and theism in Lucretius' de Rerum Natura" (PhD awarded spring 2015)
First supervisor; with Naoko Yamagata (Classics)
2006-2013 Raymond Boyce, "Moral perception" (PhD awarded spring 2013)
Second supervisor; with Alex Barber (first supervisor)
2006-2103 Luca Sciortino, "Ian Hacking on styles of thinking" (PhD awarded autumn 2013)
Second supervisor; with Cristina Chimisso (first supervisor)
There is no area of philosophy that Sophie Grace Chappell is not interested in teaching, though she is probably not the Go-To Person for philosophy of quantum physics.
She is an Open University course author on
A222 (Philosophy of religion)
A333 (Philosophy of narrative art)
The MA remake (topicTBC)
Sophie Grace Chappell gives frequent talks in schools and public philosophy clubs and other such forums, both in Britain and elsewhere: for example at the Barnes Philosophy Club (at least when she doesn't stand them up), at the Pinner Philosophy Group, at Chigwell School, at Wellington College, at How The Light Gets In, and at Harris Academy. She also gives the sermon in her church sometimes, and on one occasion in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford.
She is always happy to consider invitations for further banging on and sounding off in public.
Sophie Grace Chappell has held the following Visiting Fellowships or Professorships:
School of Latin and Greek, St Andrews University, September 2001-May 2002
University of British Columbia in Vancouver, January-April 2003
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, September-December 2005
Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, St Andrews University, January-May 2006
University of Oslo, February 2010
University of Reykjavik, August 2011
Flinders University, Adelaide, June 2014
Since 2000 she has been Treasurer of the Mind Association, and Associate Editor and Reviews Editor of The Philosophical Quarterly. The latter role gives her some insight from the journal's side into a minor literary genre that every academic knows from the author's side – the rejection slip. Between 2006 and 2012 she was Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Philosophical, Anthropological, and Film Studies at St Andrews. She held AHRC research-leave fellowships in 2001-2, 2005-6, and 2011-12, and was the Director of the AHRC Scottish Ethics Network in 2006. She was the Secretary of the Scots Philosophical Association 2003-6, of which she is now an Honorary Life Member.
Governor, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy http://www.bacp.co.uk/
Patron, Accepting Evangelicals http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org/
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