EXRE consists of a group of philosophers who are based at the philosophy department of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), and who work together on phenomena and ideas linked to two central aspects of our lives – consciousness and normativity.
The main aim of the discussions among the members and affiliates of EXRE – whether at local meetings or in the online forum – is to collaboratively improve the research work of each other. The finished results will then be made public on the EXRE website.
Below you find a more detailed description of the specific topics of EXRE and the philosophical traditions in which it stands.
Please also have a look at the people involved in the group, their particular research output in response to the discussions within EXRE, the various research projects of the members of the group, and the upcoming events linked to EXRE.
What unifies the research interests and activities of the members and affiliates of EXRE thematically is their philosophical engagement with consciousness and normativity. They do not only study the nature of each of the two phenomena, but also aim to understand better their complex interrelation. Apart from the questions of what consciousness or normativity amount to, two important sets of issues are concerned with our conscious awareness of normativity (e.g., of the presence of reasons or values, or of our subjection to norms and requirements) and with the normativity of the mental (e.g., the rational role of mental episodes, their subjection to norms, or their intentionality).
One particular guiding thought is that consciousness and normativity cannot really be studied independently of each other: normativity without the possibility of conscious access to it could not exist, while consciousness is at least partly a matter of normative intentionality. Indeed, consciousness and normativity can be understood as essential – and as essentially related – aspects of our subjective perspective onto the world. It is here where conscious experience and the demands of reason meet.
This close link between mind and normativity raises important metaphysical questions and, at the same time, determines the way in which they should be answered. A proper grasp of the status of, and the relationship between, experiences and norms profits from a proper grasp of their nature. But is also contributes to a better understanding of the possibility of, and the need for, an epistemologically informed metaphysics.
The resulting picture stands stands in a tradition of views which – starting notably from the writings of Locke, Hume and Quine, and answering to challenges from philosophers like Kant, Husserl, Frege or Wittgenstein – have recognised the limits of empiricism in its attempt to answer epistemological, metaphysical and normative questions, and which have tried to overcome them by adding rationalist elements.
EXRE’s outlook on consciousness and normativity is both analytic and phenomenological in nature. One important thought is that analysis and argumentation are not the only ways to support philosophical views. The provision of examples and the detailed description of phenomena, for instance, should enjoy equal standing. Adequate phenomenological descriptions, on the other hand, require again theoretical reflection and cannot simply be based on pre-theoretical opinions or observations. EXRE is accordingly commited to what may be called analytic phenomenology.
Part of this is to value understanding as much as to value truth. While the latter should always be one of the aims of philosophical inquiry, one cannot assess the truth of ideas and positions without having grasped them properly. And coming to a good understanding of different sophisticated answers to a single question may shed more light on an issue than learning which of the answers comes closest to the truth. However, grasping what a view says is always partly a matter of grasping the conditions under which it would be true.
This focus on the close link between truth and understanding informs also EXRE’s approach to and engagement with historical texts – whether they are ten, hundred or thousand years old. Again, making sense of what a philosopher wrote in the past is intimately connected to assessing whether he or she might have been right.
For the members and affiliates of EXRE, the systematic dimension of philosophy cannot be separated from its historical one. Not only does the history of philosophy start with the texts written on the day before, but what counts as a distinctively philosophical question or approach is determined by the tradition – that is, by the relationship in which it stands to what philosophers have been doing in the past. It is in this sense at least that philosophy has something of an art about it.
Our postal address is:
Department of Philosophy
University of Fribourg
Avenue de l’Europe 20