Why we act or don’t act poses one of the toughest problems facing scholars, and it's one that ricochets between philosophy and empirical science. The Templeton Foundation just pledged $4.5 million to one philosopher to bring together both camps in pursuit of this question of self-control. The initiative will make subgrants in two rounds over the next three years.
Alfred R. Mele, a philosophy professor at Florida State University, just received the grant from Templeton to investigate how self-control works and how it can be improved. This is not the first such grant he’s received from the funder, as from 2010-2013, he oversaw a similar, $4.4 million project to explore the problem of free will.
One unique aspect of this project, and the free will grant before it, is that it melds philosophy and science. There’s always something of a tug-of-war between the two when it comes to questions like these, which were at one time considered mostly philosophical, but with relatively recent scientific advances have become major focuses of empirical study. “The Philosophy and Science of Self-Control” will attempt to integrate the debate among philosophers with the controlled studies in fields like neuroscience and psychology.
The funding will cover a post-doctoral position at FSU, and offer grants to work on the subject in two rounds. Letters of intent for round one are due September 1. Awarded researchers will complete either theoretical or research projects on self-control with the program culminating in a capstone conference.
The question of self-control is important in a broad, nature-of-humanity way, but it also has highly significant real world importance. Studies have show that children who have strong powers of self-control are much more successful later in life, thriving in their careers while avoiding crime and physical threats.
It’s the kind of thing of particular interest to Templeton, which funds several disciplines as they relate to the “Big Questions.” As a result, the foundation has a very unusual mix of giving, supporting things like theology and spirituality, but also the hardest of hard science. Read more below.