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Philosophy

Paul Knights

I studied for my philosophy PhD at Manchester between 2008 and 2012.

My research interests lie in the areas of ethics, human welfare and aesthetics as they apply to questions concerning the human relationship to the natural environment. My PhD thesis argued that virtue ethics and objective theories of human welfare are best placed to articulate and defend two kinds of arguments advanced by the environmental movement for reducing personal consumption of natural resources, namely, that doing so is our moral obligation to future generations and to nonhumans, and that doing so would also improve the quality of our lives.

There were various aspects of the Manchester philosophy discipline area that were indispensable for me. Firstly, the process of crafting my thesis out of the amorphous ideas with which I started was expertly guided by my two supervisors, John O'Neill and Michael Scott. Secondly, you can regularly present your work and get feedback at the friendly PhD seminars, while the high quality speakers from other philosophy departments in the UK and overseas that come to Manchester for the weekly research seminars keep you inspired as well as abreast of areas of philosophy away from your particular research interests. Thirdly, the opportunity to teach undergraduates provides invaluable experience and also a welcome break from your own research. Lastly, since the postgraduate researchers at Manchester philosophy share a large open-plan office, with the faculty's offices on the same floor, there is always someone on which to try out a new idea or argument, as well as a friendly face to keep your morale up at the times it inevitably flags. I cannot imagine developing and writing a PhD thesis without the kind of stimulating and supportive intellectual environment as I enjoyed at Manchester.

Within a week of passing my viva I was lucky enough to start a postdoctoral research position at Manchester, working with my PhD supervisors, on an interdisciplinary, international project that perfectly combines all of my research interests. I work with sociologists, psychologists and economists, as well as other philosophers, from countries all across Europe, on analysing existing policy arrangements for environmental protection and proposing ways to improve them. I am researching and developing criticisms of features of economic environmental valuation, such as the assumption of value commensurability; the elimination of the role of practical judgement in decision making; and the assumption that nature is only to be valued in ade dicto and not also a de re sense. In addition, I have had the opportunity to develop new skills in my contribution to other parts of the project, such as conducting interviews and using qualitative research methods, as well as travel to places such as Sicily, Slovenia and Finland.

From September 2015, I will start a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, on 'Environmental values and ecosystem services: an investigation into the concepts and policies of the new economic arguments for nature protection', also to be held in Philosophy at Manchester.

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