Owen Flanagan (Ph.D. 1978, Boston University) taught at Wellesley College, Wellesley MA for 16 years where he was Class of 1919 Professor of Philosophy. He came to Duke in 1993 where he is the James B. Duke University Professor. He co-directs Duke's Center for Comparative Philosophy and also holds appointments in Psychology and Neurobiology and is a Faculty Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience and a steering committee member of the "Philosophy, Arts, and Literature" (PAL) program, and an Affiliate of the Graduate Program in Literature.
In 2015-2016, he was Rockefeller Fellow at the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC. In 2016-2017, he is Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
He has had visiting positions at Berkeley, Brandeis, Princeton, Harvard, and La Trobe in Australia, University of Vienna, City University of Hong Kong, as well as several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1993-94 Flanagan was President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. In 1998, he was recipient of the Romanell National Phi Beta Kappa award, given annually to one American philosopher for distinguished contributions to philosophy and the public understanding of philosophy.
He has lectured on every continent except Antarctica, where however he has been.
His new book The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility (2017) is published by Oxford University Press:
THE GEOGRAPHY OF MORALS is a work of extraordinary ambition: an indictment of the parochialism of Western philosophy, a comprehensive dialogue between anthropology, empirical moral psychology, behavioral economics, and cross-cultural philosophy, and a deep exploration of the opportunities for self, social, and political improvement provided by world philosophy.
We live in multicultural, cosmopolitan worlds. These worlds are distinctive moral ecologies in which people enact and embody different lived philosophies and conceive of mind, morals, and the meaning of life differently from the typical WEIRD -- Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic -- person. This is not a predicament; it is an opportunity. Many think that cross cultural understanding is useful for developing a modus vivendi where people from different worlds are not at each other's throats and tolerate each other. Flanagan presses the much more exciting possibility that cross-cultural philosophy provides opportunities for exploring the varieties of moral possibility, learning from other traditions, and for self, social, and political improvement. There are ways of worldmaking in other living traditions -- Confucian, Daoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Amerindian, and African -- that citizens in Western countries can benefit from. Cross-cultural learning is protection against what Alasdair MacIntyre refers to as being "imprisoned by one's upbringing."
Flanagan takes up perennial topics of whether there is anything to the idea of a common human nature, psychobiological sources of human morality, the nature of the self, the role of moral excellence in a good human life, and whether and how empirical inquiry into morality can contribute to normative ethics. THE GEOGRAPHY OF MORALS exemplifies how one can respectfully conceive of multiculturalism and global interaction as providing not only opportunities for business and commerce, but also opportunities for socio-moral and political improvement on all sides. This is a book that aims to change how normative ethics and moral psychology are done.
"Flanagan offers a compelling and richly textured account of what it means to take human moral diversity seriously. He shows that there is more than one way to lead a good human life and that, whatever the natural, cultural or historical sources of any particular 'way,' it is always possible to have morally enlightening conversations that transcend cultural boundaries. He also reminds us that the best moral inquiry will draw on a variety of sources, including the empirical sciences and the study of history and culture, as well as familiar and unfamiliar traditions of philosophical inquiry.”
-- Michele M. Moody-Adams, Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory, Columbia University
“In his readable tour de force the renowned philosopher Owen Flanagan draws our attention in Geography of Morals to the huge gaps in our understanding of morality in a diverse, interdependent and rapidly globalizing world. Drawing on both moral psychology and comparative moral philosophy allows Flanagan to point to the huge deficits in our public discourse and schooling in morality and ethics. Flanagan’s elegant and inclusive intellectual toolkit drawn from a diverse tableau of lived experiences enables us to retrieve life worlds we had ignored as resources for our common good and will undoubtedly spark much needed debate.”
-- Ebrahim Moosa Professor of Islamic Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame