Professor Lenny Moss
PhD, Berkeley (Biochemistry); PhD, Northwestern (Philosophy)
OFFICE HOURS: Fridays 1:30 - 2:30, 4:15-5:15.
My office is Amory 319. The best way to contact me is by email (not by office phone).
For Current Publications (w/pdfs) and CV please see https://exeter.academia.edu/LennyMoss
The usual expression of ‘interests’ on philosophers’s web pages strikes me as a bit peculiar in the it typically seems to presuppose that it purely a personal matter. One indicates what questions one subjectively just happens to be interested in (as with a hobby) and not what one takes to be the question or questions that should or must be addressed. The expression of web-page research interests can either serve as an advert for the privilege and luxuries of the academic life or it can be an entry-way into a conversation about how best to understand the intellectual challenges and perhaps even moral imperatives of our historical moment. I take the challenge of addressing questions of nature and normativity to have that kind of status. On the whole, we no longer embrace a vision of humans as distinct from nature, and yet we are at great pains to simultaneously seek, in normative terms, the warrants for our always already normatively saturated life and action orientations, while also taking ourselves, in a scientifically-accountable way, to be creatures of nature. I take this deficiency to have unfortunate ethical, socio-political, environmental and scientific consequences. My project involves developing a ‘non-reductive’, yet scientifically accountable, view of nature that is permissive of, and amenable to, the possibility of a naturalistic understanding of freedom and autonomy as normative focal points, while also reconsidering the implications for our understanding of the meaning of freedom and autonomy from such a new-naturalistic perspective. I have been advancing a theory of 'natural detachment' that draws upon resources ranging from theoretical biology and chemistry, new findings about the role of 'the group' and sociality in human evolution, to Brandomian semantics and the social theory of Jurgen Habermas and Axel Honneth, in endeavouring to provide a new basis for reconciling naturalism and normativity.
My work in philosophy has drawn on the formative influences of three not obviously complementary sources, these are a long-standing interest and affinity with the socio-historically structured, practical/normative intentions of the Frankfurt School (especially Habermas and Honneth), extensive training and practice as a biochemist/biophysicist and molecular cell biologist, and yet also a realisation that there is much truth in the Heideggerian and neo-Heideggarian critique of philosophical intellectualism. Much of my work has involved attempting to bring the resources from each of these perspectives to bear on the other two while at the same time seeking to develop an integrated perspective that can address systematic questions in philosophy generally. In the philosophy of biology, I have contributed to bringing an understanding of biological causation into a broader philosophical and scientific contextualization and I continue to be critical of both narrowly neo-Darwinian and "new-mechanism" theoretic approaches that fail to do justice either to the phenomenology of human (and other) life-forms or to the upshot of cutting edge, post-genomic, empirical research findings. Using a critique of Schrödinger's celebration of the solid state and its formative influence on the shaping of molecular biology as a point of departure, I've begun a new project which looks for fundaments of the living state in the peculiarly complex and ambivalent character of aqueous systems as elucidated in the emerging findings of condensed matter chemistry and physics. In recent work, in another direction, I've drawn upon interdisciplinary, including phenomenological, studies on the nature of expert skill acquisition, along with the under-appreciated legacy of German Philosophical Anthropology to suggest a framework for extending the domain of normative concern within Critical Theory from that limited by Habermas to the scope of the purely symbolic to that of our embodied, quasi-biological material relations in the world (and in so doing discovering a link to the "capabilities" approach of Sen and Nussbaum). More generally stated, I am interested in problems of "nature and normativity" as they ramify into virtually every problem area of philosophy. In present work, for example, concerned with problems in the philosophy of mind and language, I am advancing a naturalistic account, drawing upon a novel concept of hominid/human "detachment", that claims to be able to mediate the tensions between the anti-cognivitivism of Dreyfus, the Sellarsian rationalism of McDowell and the expressive inferentialism of Brandom. Mindful of both the increasingly pervasive interest in, and yet increasingly disparate approaches to, the further elaboration of a contemporary metaphysics, I've come to see my own integrative project as another contending direction of thought in this conversation and am looking toward a book length exposition of such.
For publications (pdfs) and CV please see: https://exeter.academia.edu/LennyMoss
- Philosophical Anthropology, i.e., non-dualist, non-reductionist approaches to combining empirical, phenomenological and reconstructive approaches to answering the question "what does it mean to be human?".
- Theoretical, Conceptual, Historical and Normative Studies of Biology (with particular interests in issues concerning the place of teleology and normativity in nature, empirical and theoretical advances in evo/devo and eco/devo with implications for new Baldwinian models of evolutionary change, the meaning of the findings of comparative genomics, new theories of the phenotype, also reviewing and mining the work of neglected German and French thinkers such as Portmann, Plessner, Cassirer, von Uexkull, Goldstein, Canguilhem), normative implications for questions of "bio-enhancement" and biotechnological interventions generally.
- Critical Theory/Frankfurt School, i.e., empirically sensitive work in normative social theory drawing on the tradition of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, Honneth & McCarthy.
- Philosophical problems of nature and normativity
- History of Philosophy from an Anthropological Point of View
- German Philosophy (esp. Kant, Hegel, Heidegger)
- Brandom's Expressivist Semantics
- The McDowell-Dreyfuss Debate
* James Krueger (co-supervised with Alasdair MacIntyre) Philosophy of Biology and Medicine. Krueger is presently Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Redlands (USA).
* Katherine Kendig, "Biology and Ontology: An Organism-Centered View" - Completed December, 2008. Presently Associate Professor at Missouri Western State University (USA).
* Dan Nicholson, "The Concept of Mechanism in Biology: A Contemporary Critique of Mechanistic Biology" - Completed December 2010. Presently Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Exeter
* Sara Wasmuth, "Conceptualizing Addiction" Presently Assistant Professor University of Indianapolis (USA).
* Antonios Basoukos, "Science, Practice, and Justification: the Apriori Revisited". Completed September 2014
* Güler Cansu Agören, on the History and the Ontology of Concept of Depression (in progress)
* Simon Young, on Heidegger's Philosophy of Language (in progress)
My interests in philosophy and science both go back to my early teens but they were conceived in very different contexts, and nurtured in very different moods. The twists and turns, engagements and disengagements that have led to their coming together have surely constituted a principal leitmotif of my intellectual life. Where my scientific intrigues may have been seduced by the well-crafted, pseudo-utopian rhetoric, arfully deployed in the New York Worlds Fair pavilions of Dupont Chemicals, General Electric and the like, and further developmentally embedded by early successes in the seventh grade chemistry classroom of Mrs. Chasen's philosophy has always had a very different status for me. As philosophy was hardly on the career menu in the projects and terraces of Queens and Brooklyn in which I grew up, it has always been about something special, ill-behaved, revelatory, critical and tinged with a giddy promise of liberation. (Nor have I even yet come to be able to countenance the standpoint of those for whom a career in philosophy is taken, not as a provocation of the marvellous, but rather as a somber birthright).
Not every experience that cultivates and conditions one's purchase on or in the world finds a place on one's academic vita. Before settling into a life as a research scientist I ran corned beef and pastrami for a Kosher-style deli on Wall Street, hawked souvenirs for the 6-feet-wide-by 60-feet-deep Aquarium gift shop on Coney Island's boardwalk, devoted two summers as a camp counsellor with brain-damaged and severely autistic children, washed pots and pans in the hot summer kitchen of Old Ebbit's Grill, endured the all-night, clean-up shift at the Sheraton Park Hotel, managed a non-profit 'radical' bookstore, founded a child-rearing commune, stuffed envelopes for the Washington Monthly, handled (albeit poorly) an off-set printing press for Tyler Buiness Services, set-up sherry-hour and searched the marijuana infused, back-stacks of the Library of Congress for the scholars (and political insiders) of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars when it was still housed in the Smithsonian's Castle on the Federal Mall, mixed bacterial media and autoclaved its finished fruit for San Francisco State University, and clocked-in for two and a half years with a former military intelligence officer named Carlton C. Crook ('It takes a Crook to catch a crook, Ma'am') collecting evidence of corporate collusion amongst major oil companies for the California State Attorney's office (until a Republican was elected governor and shut it down).