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Neil Sinclair

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts

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Biography

I studied Philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford, culminating in a PhD from Cambridge in 2006. Subsequently I spent time teaching philosophy in Bristol, Oxford and St. Andrews, before arriving in Nottingham.

I am interested in the nature of ethics. When people say 'Murder is wrong' or 'Student fees ought not to be so high' what sort of thing are they doing? Are they describing some fact about the world, and if so how can we know it? Or are they simply expressing their emotions so that ethics is, in some sense, subjective, perhaps a social construct? I don't think we can really understand anything about rightness or wrongness, good or evil until we answer these questions. And these are the questions that my research and teaching at Nottingham addresses.

I was awarded a Lord Dearing Award for Teaching in Learning in 2014 and the Marc Sanders metaethics Prize in 2016.

Expertise Summary

My primary philosophical interest is in meta-ethics, that is, the study of the nature and status of moral judgements. I am interested in whether ethics is a discipline like physics or biology - in which we aim to generate theories that are accurate representations of the way the world really is - or more like a practice such as politics - where we aim to negotiate ourselves around social interactions in ways that are (broadly) mutually advantageous. I have spent most of my time researching a view which is placed firmly in the latter camp: expressivism. This is the view, roughly, that moral judgements are expressions of emotion with the hope of influencing the attitudes and actions of others. I am also interested in the promiscuous offspring of expressivism - 'quasi-realism'. This has necessarily led to an interest in issues that both pertain to and go beyond the purely meta-ethical sphere - such as the nature of reasons for action, logical inference, truth, explanation, mind-independence, causation and belief.

Other ongoing research interests include the connection between evolutionary theorising and ethics, the connection between meta-ethics and normative ethics, methodology in moral thought, the possibility of expressivist accounts of other (i.e. non-moral) discourses, the nature of moral explanation and the meta-ethical dimensions of environmental ethics.

I am happy to consider proposals from research students wanting to work in any of these topics. You can see me talking about meta-ethics here: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheThinkaMinute

I plan to be on research leave for some of the academic year 2018/2019.

Teaching Summary

In all my teaching my aim is to encourage all students to participate in such a way that they can learn as much from each other as from me. I always emphasise to students that one of the biggest… read more

Research Summary

My current research concerns the nature of ethical thought and language. In particular I am interested in expressivist theories of moral practice (and their rival, moral realism), their connections… read more

Selected Publications

In all my teaching my aim is to encourage all students to participate in such a way that they can learn as much from each other as from me. I always emphasise to students that one of the biggest resources they have at University is each other. The great thing about philosophy is that this discursive approach is built into the history of the subject, and invariably brings rewards.

Most of my teaching is in subjects that I have either previously researched in, or would like to research in the future. Previously, ideas that I have tried out on groups of students have ended up forming parts of my research papers.

I am teaching or have recently taught the following modules:

  • Sustainability, Society and You (FutureLearn). A Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) exploring issues concerning the relations of humans to their environment.
  • Normative Ethics. This second-year undergraduate module addresses the question: What is the common feature that makes all right actions right (and wrong actions wrong)? We discuss several answers to this question: that actions are right when they maximise good (consequentialism); that actions are right when they follow our duties (deontology); actions are right when they are performed by a virtuous person (virtue ethics). We also discuss the view that there is no single common feature that makes all right actions right (particularism).
  • Environmental Ethics. This third-year undergraduate module considers how we ought to treat the non-human natural world. We consider whether and how nature has intrinsic value; what environmental sustainability amounts to; whether we have obligations to preserve nature for future generations; connections between environmentalism and feminism.

I am teaching or have recently taught the following graduate modules:

  • Philosophy of Language (covering 'foundational' issues such as how meaning can arise, looking at the work of Grice, Lewis, Davidson and others)
  • Expressivism (covering motivational arguments for expressivism, the Frege-Geach problem and quasi-realism)
  • Ethics/Theory of Value (covering issues in meta-ethics, especially those concerned with moral explanations)

Current Research

My current research concerns the nature of ethical thought and language. In particular I am interested in expressivist theories of moral practice (and their rival, moral realism), their connections to wider theories of meaning, and their particular application to the concept of a 'reason'. I am also currently researching topics in evolutionary ethics, debunking arguments and the definition of moral terms (The Naturalistic Fallacy).

Past Research

My past research was primarily concerned with elucidating an expressivist view of moral discourse. I have published papers explaining how expressivism is compatible with the mind-independence of value, with minimalism about truth and with the practice of offering moral explanations.

Future Research

I am interested in the nature of moral explanations, their relation and similarity to scientific explanations, and the consequences our understanding of explanation might have for moral theorising. I am also interested in the nature of practical reasons and connections between ethics and politics.

Department of Philosophy

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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