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Graduate Wins Fellowship


UCR Graduate Wins Second Prestigious Fellowship

Philosopher Neal Tognazzini receives second grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to further moral responsibility research.

(August 12, 2009)

Neal A. TognazziniEnlarge

Neal A. Tognazzini

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Neal A. Tognazzini, who graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside in June, has won a second fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies.

Tognazzini, 28, won an Early Career Fellowship Program Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2008. His dissertation, “The Conceptual Foundations of Moral Responsibility,” explores the ways in which we respond to those who have done wrong or right, particularly how we praise and blame ourselves and others; how much our lives are subject to luck; and how we may be able to strike a balance between luck with respect to how the world unfolds around us and control with respect to our own actions.

The 2009 fellowship, awarded to recent doctoral recipients, will enable Tognazzini to continue his research and write a book that investigates the ideas on freedom, love and truth advanced by American philosopher Harry Frankfurt. Tognazzini will postpone the fellowship for one year while he begins teaching as an assistant professor of philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“Neal Tognazzini is a remarkable young philosopher, as well as a wonderful, thoughtful, and conscientious person,” said John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy and Tognazzini’s advisor at UCR. “That Neal has won two prestigious and highly competitive fellowships from the Mellon Foundation is testimony to the fact that he is one of the few top young philosophers in the Anglo-American world. We are very proud that he did his graduate work here at UC Riverside.”

Tognazzini was raised in Issaquah, Wash., east of Seattle, and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Western Washington University. He said he chose UC Riverside for graduate school because of the high regard in which the university’s Department of Philosophy is held nationally in the study of free will and moral responsibility.

“Some aspects of philosophy grab you more than others,” he said of his research into free will, blame, and whether blame is justified. “It’s something we do all the time. There are also reasons for thinking about how severely we blame and punish people who break the law. We throw them in jail. We need a foundation, a justification for that.”

Tognazzini said he is excited about teaching philosophy to undergraduates. “It’s usually not difficult to get them interested,” he said. “Teaching techniques vary, but I favor an approach that focuses on trying to make the issues vivid and relevant rather than one that requires memorizing what old dead guys had to say. Students seem to get more excited when they see how what they are studying might apply to real life.”

For example, discussions about criminal justice systems or how to respond to a friend when you are angry lead to consideration of how much individuals are responsible for being who they are, given life circumstances such as who your parents are, the schools you attend and whether you have enough to eat.

“I think we are responsible,” he said. “Just because we are formed in circumstances beyond our control doesn’t mean we can’t control who we are now.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants in six core program areas, among them higher education. The American Council of Learned Societies is a private, nonprofit federation of 70 national scholarly organizations focused on American scholarship in the humanities and related social sciences.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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