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Kristina GehrmanKristina Gehrman

Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy
804 McClung Tower
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TNĀ  37996

Phone: 865-974-3255
Curriculum Vitae

I received my Ph.D. from UCLA in 2011. Before joining the Department in 2014, I was an Assistant Professor at Miami University of Ohio.

I think of human life as a struggle to interact well with the world. Deliberating, evaluating, valuing, and acting are different facets of this struggle: they are different ways a person has of interacting with the world, and of trying to sort out what the world calls for from her, here and now. This interactive picture of the human condition is fundamental to my work in value theory, ethics, and action theory. Thus for example I develop an interactive conception of action and the norms of action in “Action as Interaction” (2014). I explore the developmentally and experientially contingent nature of character in “The Character of Huckleberry Finn” (2017). I discuss the sense in which practical wisdom does (and does not) involve perception and response to affordances in “Absorbed Coping and Practical Wisdom” (2016). And in “Tragedy and the Constancy of Norms” I develop an account of ethical ideals and norms that is suited to a generally interactive picture of human deliberation and action.
My current work continues this theme by addressing a number of related questions in value theory. As a Fellow at the University of Tennessee Humanities Center (2015-2016) I developed a series of papers addressed to the question of whether ordinary facts about human nature might provide a secular, objective basis for the differences between right and wrong. If so, then ethics would have a substantial, common core; something we all share simply in virtue of our shared humanity. Not long before her death in 2010, philosopher Philippa Foot drew on Aristotle’s ethics to defend precisely this view. But Foot, by all accounts, did not succeed in making her case. My current work in value theory attempts to make make a fresh case in favor of an Aristotelian, human-nature-based approach to ethics, in the spirit of Philippa Foot but with some important amendments.

As an important preliminary step in this project, the paper “Ethics and the Great Chain of Being” discusses the continued influence on ethical theory of an ostensibly-rejected ancient, medieval, and early modern picture of the world as a Great Chain of Being. The assumption that the world is “disenchanted”, intrinsically devoid of value and meaning, is a widely-accepted starting point of contemporary ethics. But I argue, first, that the metaphysics of disenchantment itself owes its plausibility and its seeming-inevitability to the sheer continued dominance of the Great Chain worldview in contemporary ethical thought. I consider two particular remnants of the Great Chain in detail: its anthropocentrism, and its hierarchical structure. I trace the influence of these elements of the Great Chain paradigm in the ethical thought of Christine Korsgaard and Bernard Williams, whom I treat as representatives of neo-Kantian constructivism and neo-Humean materialism, respectively. The overall argument is parallel in structure to the argument that Elizabeth Anscombe makes concerning what she refers to as “peculiarly moral” concepts in her 1958 paper “Modern Moral Philosophy”. I conclude that while some, one, or all of our current ethical theories may turn out to be very well suited to the human phenomena they aim to capture, we will not be in a position to know this until we have first developed a theory of value and of humanity’s place in nature that is less constrained by illicit survivals from the Great Chain worldview.

Recent, representative publications

  • “The Character of Huckleberry Finn,” forthcoming in Philosophy and Literature, 2017.
  • “Twain’s Last Laugh,” forthcoming in Mark Twain and Philosophy, edited by Alan M. Held, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.
  • “Absorbed Coping and Practical Wisdom,” The Journal of Value Inquiry 50:3 (September 2016): 593-612.
  • “Action as Interaction,” American Philosophical Quarterly 51:1 (January 2014): 75-84.
  • “Review of Michael H. Mitias, Friendship, a Central Moral Value (New York: Rodopi Press, 2012),” Teaching Philosophy 37:4 (December 2014): 543-6.


Recent, representative presentations

  • “Ethics and the Great Chain of Being”
    Inaugural Rice Workshop in Humanistic Ethics, Rice University, March 2017
    UCLA History Workshop, UCLA, March 2016 and Spring Symposium: Ethics and Humanity’s Place in Nature, University of Tennessee, February 2016
  • “The Character of Huckleberry Finn”
    Neglected Virtues: A Conference in Honour of Rosalind Hursthouse, University of Auckland, August 2015
  • “Why ‘I Think’”
    “Inclusive Philosophy Pedagogy: What Is It and How Do We Achieve It?” Meeting of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, February 2015
  • "Justice and Love for Huckleberry," Pacific University, Northwest Philosophy Conference, October 2013.
  • "On Inter-Species Empathy," Miami University, Thinking Interspecies (Altman Program in the Humanities Conference), April 2013.
  • "Characteristics and the Roots of Value," University of Illinois Chicago, Department Colloquium, January 2013.
  • "Action as Interaction," Northwestern University Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics, May 2012.


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