The Appignani Foundation Chair for the Study of Atheism, Humanism, and Secular Ethics, an endowed chair established at the University of Miami through a gift by Louis J. Appignani, will be occupied for the first time on July 1st, 2018. The mandate of the position is to explore ‘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’ (UM News, May 23, 2016).
While thinking about the common good in relation to challenges facing humanity (and the world) in naturalistic, secular ways has a longstanding pedigree, the Appignani Chair is the first position of its kind in the U.S. Through a combination of research, teaching, and outreach, the Chair will facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to its mandate, bringing philosophical, historical, and scientific perspectives to bear in thinking about our place in, and impact on, the world.
Humanism is a worldview that emphasizes science and reason, conceived as alternatives to religious thought, as a basis for rational deliberation, with the ultimate aim of marshaling human ingenuity and effort to improve the condition of our world. Secular ethics in the realm of moral philosophy has been explored in many forms, including views that focus on our duties and obligations to others and to ourselves, the consequences of our actions, and the nature of virtue.
Non-theistic thinking has figured in our grappling with the world from ancient times through distinctive versions of natural philosophy on either side of the scientific revolution all the way through to the twentieth century, and in contemporary discussions of the descriptions of reality we find (to mention just a few examples) in cosmology, evolutionary biology, and quantum physics.
In an increasingly non-religious world, how are questions of value and meaning expressed in our arts, sciences, humanities, and cultures? How should we engage with one another in ways that exemplify tolerance and respect in the service of progress and our best hopes for a shared future? Perhaps it is no surprise that a philosopher of science’s exploration of these important questions should begin with our most systematic attempts to investigate the world in which we live.