Mary Carman

Mary Carman


Personal profile

Research interests (short)

Emotions, Philosophy of Mind and Psychology, Philosophy of Action

Research interests

There is a growing body of literature across disciplines emphasising the way in which emotions are not straightforwardly opposed to reason, as was once typically supposed. In particular, it is often argued that emotions give us evaluative information about the world around us and that they are crucial for the good-functioning of our rational decision-making capacities. Despite this enhanced understanding of the functional role of emotions, however, the extent to which it has implications for our conception of rational agency has yet to be comprehensively addressed. My doctoral thesis fills some of that gap.

Part of our conception of ourselves as rational agents is that we guide our actions by reasons, and part of our conception of rational action is that it is action done in light of reasons. In my thesis, I examine what implications an enhanced understanding of emotion has on our conception of rational agency and argue that we can act rationally when acting on the basis of an emotional experience. By examining our concept of ‘emotion’ and how we explain action via emotion, I argue for four main claims. First, by looking at the role of emotions in explanations of action, I argue that there is conceptual space for emotions to be involved in rational action. Second, I argue that emotions provide access to reasons which could be the reasons in light of which an agent acts and, third, the agent can indeed act in light of them and guide her action when acting on the basis of an emotional experience. Finally, I argue that such action is reasonable, understood as being subjectively rational. My arguments contribute towards a robust conception of rational agency, one which acknowledges our emotional nature and which is able to incorporate emotions into an account of how we do indeed act in many of the cases when we act rationally.

Biographical details

I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature and Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa. I then went on to complete a BA Honours in Philosophy in 2007. Still at Wits, I completed an MA in Philosophy in 2009 (with distinction). In my dissertation, I defended a dispositionalist account of sensuous properties, and it is this work that lead to my current interest in the emotions. In 2010, I completed an MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the London School of Economics with a dissertation focusing on risk assessment of emerging technologies.

Awards and grants for postgraduate study

  • 2013-2014: Royal Institute of Philosophy Jacobsen Studentship
  • 2010-2013: Mind Association Foreign Doctoral Studentship in Philosophy
  • 2013: Department award
  • 2013: King's College London Small Research Grant 
  • 2009-2010: University of the Witwatersrand Merit Scholarship for Overseas Study
  • 2009-2010: Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Grant for Overseas Study
  • 2008: University Masters Merit Award, University of the Witwatersrand
  • 2007: University Honours Merit Award, University of the Witwatersrand

Education/Academic qualification

Master of Science, Assessing the (unknown) risks of synthetic biology, LSE London School of Economics & Political Science

Award Date: 1 Jan 2009

Master of Arts, What's really disgusting, University of the Witwatersrand

Award Date: 1 Jan 2009

Bachelor of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand

Award Date: 1 Jan 2006


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