Learning from Fiction

Fully funded PhD positions in Philosophy

Applications are invited for two PhD positions in Philosophy, one at Birkbeck, University of London, and one at University of York. The successful candidates will join a three-year research project on "Learning from Fiction" funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant and led by Greg Currie (York), Stacie Friend (Birkbeck) and by psychologist Heather Ferguson (Kent). The project will begin in the autumn of 2018. Applicants are welcome to apply for one or both positions.

Project description

It is often said that fiction can be a valuable source of truth or insight. Philosophers have argued that literature enhances moral understanding and empathy, or that fiction helps us detect moral character. Others express scepticism about fiction’s capacity to convey knowledge or to illuminate cognitive virtues. Elsewhere, psychological studies have begun to investigate learning from fiction.

Most studies have examined short-term cognitive effects of brief narratives, while some try to measure the effects of longer-term commitment to fictional reading. Some studies suggest that exposure to fiction increases empathy; others cast doubt on this conclusion or warn that fictions too easily instil false beliefs. Some results have not been replicated. There has been little interaction between these two approaches. Philosophers continue to write largely a priori accounts, while empirical research often fails to acknowledge philosophical distinctions in designing and interpreting experiments.

Our project combines state-of-the-art experiments with a philosophical framework for thinking about learning from literature.

The applicants

Applicants should have a strong philosophical background to Masters level and an interest in the relation between philosophical argument and experimental inquiry. They will write philosophy dissertations on some aspect of learning from fiction. Applicants are welcome to apply for both positions. Some background in literature is desirable for the Birkbeck post.

The project is fully interdisciplinary and successful candidates will participate in designing and conducting the experimental programme. They will acquire advanced research skills, classroom training in empirical methods and hands-on empirical training. While working on their dissertations it is expected that they will contribute to the project’s programme of publications. We encourage women and candidates from other underrepresented groups to apply.

Application and appointment process

Further details of the positions and the application process are available here: Doctoral positions on Learning from Fiction (PDF  , 106kb). Applications for studentships must be received by Monday 26 March 2018 to be guaranteed consideration. After that we will accept applications until the places are filled.

Interviews are likely to be held in early to mid-April 2018 for applications received by 26 March 2018. Interviews for later applications will be arranged as necessary, if places are still available. Once selected for a studentship, successful candidates will be required to submit an application to either Birkbeck’s or York’s MPhil/PhD programme.

Team leaders in Philosophy are happy to discuss the posts and may be contacted at:

 Further particulars of each university department are here: