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SPURRETT WINS RESEARCH AWARD (article first published : 2003-03-11)

Ground-breaking philosophy scholar David Spurrett has won the coveted University of Natal Vice-Chancellor's Research Award for his innovative work in bringing together the seemingly disparate fields of science, psychology and philosophy.

"Through his achievements, his levels of productivity and engagement, he has set a new standard not just for philosophers, but for all academics within this institution," said Vice-Chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba.

The Vice-Chancellor's Research Award includes a little over R90,000 for research purposes and Dr Spurrett, Director of the Philosophy Programme at the University of Natal, plans to use this to “help him engage with other philosophy researchers”.

"It's too easy to be convinced by one's own arguments, and the best way of finding the limitations of one's position is to seek out top quality, critical engagement," he says.

Dr Spurrett's publications on the Philosophy of Mind and Science – which are described by his peers as 'stellar' - have won him an international reputation as a leading young scholar and an authority in his field. He is described as one of the best philosophers in South Africa and among the top 5% of his age group in terms of international reputation.

He has written with professional authority and deep insight on a range of issues which include attempts to teach language to apes, education on the Internet, philosophy of the mind, causation in physics, post-modern interpretations of science, metaphysics, theoretical issues in developmental psychology, and the 17th century worldview. His papers have been published in a range of philosophy journals, specialist philosophy of science journals, and he has presented papers in several countries at exclusive international conferences where only the best people in the field are invited to appear.

And, he believes, it is crucial that his work continues to be regularly presented at top-level international conferences where he can learn from the latest work in related areas. The youthful academic (33) is a popular and engaging teacher who has attracted a set of highly gifted honours and masters students to his Programme, which is rapidly becoming a “centre of excellence” in the domain of his interests.

His considerable body of work spans a number of areas classified under three broad headings: Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Science, and Metaphysics. His research in the philosophy of science is devoted mainly to working out how to understand the relationships between different sciences, including physics, psychology, evolutionary theory, and biology. Dr Spurrett's new degree programmes at the University in cognitive science at undergraduate and postgraduate level have sparked the interest of overseas partners, creating an opportunity for teaching and research collaboration between a broad range of disciplines.

His innovative approach recognises the need for a multi-disciplinary embracing of Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology. Dr Spurrett's PhD thesis, entitled The Completeness of Physics which is under development as a significant book, has drawn high praise for its advancement of contemporary Philosophy of Mind and Science. In bestowing the award, Professor Makgoba commended Dr Spurrett as a leading young scholar of intellectual and visionary note who is also admired for “having the courage and energy to tackle thorny issues and expose hidden assumptions in existing philosophical works”.

"We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have Dr Spurrett among our staff members," he said, adding that the Research Award paid tribute to his sustained commitment to his academic field and acknowledged his passionate interests, his enthusiasm, his intellectual ability and innovative thinking. Prof Makgoba added that the award “reminds us all of the unassailable status of research and knowledge production in the University”.




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