Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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  • Bennett W. Helm

    Elijah E. Kresge Professor of Philosophy
    Office: LSP
    Office Hours: On leave 2012-14
    Summary: Moral Psychology, Autonomy, Concept of a Person, Philosophy of Mind


    PhD in Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1994

    MA in Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1990

    BA in Philosophy, Carleton College, 1988

    Research Interests

    My research interests have centered around developing a solution to the mind-body problem that is adequate to a serious moral psychology. To this end I have developed a theory of emotions and their rational interconnections with other emotions, desires, and evaluative judgments that provides the basis for an account of how we can motivate ourselves by accepting normative reasons to act and how we can deliberate about value.

    My Emotional Reason is to a large extent individualistic: focused on personal values and on how we can, largely in isolation of other people, deliberate about personal values. Indeed, this emphasis on the individualistic strand in our understanding of persons at the expense of the social strand is pervasive in philosophy: we generally think of persons as self-determining and autonomous, where these are understood to be capacities we exercise most fully on our own, apart from others, whose influence on us tends to undermine that autonomy.

    My second book, Love, Friendship, and the Self, argues that we must reject a strongly individualistic conception of persons if we are to make sense of significant interpersonal relationships and the importance they can have in our lives. It presents a new account of love as intimate identification and of friendship as a kind of plural agency, in each case grounding and analyzing these notions in terms of interpersonal emotions. At the center of this account is an analysis of how our emotional connectedness with others is essential to our very capacities for autonomy and self-determination: we are rational and autonomous only because of and through our inherently social nature. By focusing on the role that relationships of love and friendship have both in the initial formation of our selves and in the on-going development and maturation of adult persons, I hope to alter our understanding of persons and the kind of psychology we persons have as moral and social beings.

    Currently I am working on extending this account of emotions and values to include something approaching properly moral values, a task I am undertaking by focusing on what Strawson calls the reactive attitudes: emotions like gratitude, resentment, approbation, indignation, trust, and guilt.

    A brief CV can be found here.

    Grants & Awards

    • Templeton Foundation Grant (2012–15): Love and Human Agency: An Interdisciplinary Investigation (with Agnieszka Jaworska and Jeffrey Seidman), $640,317
    • NEH Fellowship (2012–13): "Defining Moral Communities: Respect, Dignity, and the Reactive Attitudes", $50,400
    • Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow (2012–13), Princeton University Center for Human Values, $47,000
    • Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship (2012), Franklin & Marshall College
    • Brocher Foundation Award (2011) for a workshop on “The Neuroethics of Caring” (with Agnieszka Jaworska), $36,000
    • NEH Fellowship (2005–06): "Love, Friendship and the Self: The Emotional and Interpersonal Grounds of Autonomy", $40,000
    • NSF-CCLI Grant (2001–04): Creation of Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (with Tony Chemero), $173,281
    • ACLS Fellowship (1998–99): "Emotion, Judgment, and Practical Reason: How to Deliberate about Value", $20,000
    • NEH Summer Stipend (1998): “Reason, Emotion, and Evaluative Judgment: How to Think about the Meaning of Life”, $6,000



    1. Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimate Identification and the Sociality of Persons, Oxford University Press, 2010. (Chapter 1: "Introduction")
    2. Emotional Reason: Deliberation, Motivation, and the Nature of Value, Cambridge University Press, 2001. (Chapter 1: "Two Problems of Practical Reason")

    Recent Articles (Links to published articles are to late drafts. See the relevant journals or volumes for the definitive versions.)

    1. “Rationality, Authority, and Bindingness: An Account of Communal Norms”, in David Shoemaker (ed.), Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
    2. "Emotions and Recalcitrance: Reevaluating the Perceptual Model".
    3. "Truth, Objectivity, and Emotional Caring: Filling in the Gaps of Haugeland's Existentialist Ontology", in Mind, Meaning, and Understanding: The Philosophy of John Haugeland, ed. Zed Adams (forthcoming).
    4. "Trust as a Reactive Attitude", in Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, ed. Neal Tognazzini and David Shoemaker (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
    5. “Emotional Communities of Respect”, in Collective Emotions, ed. Christian von Sheve and Mikko Salmela (Oxford University Press, 2014), 47-60.
    6. “Accountability and Some Social Dimensions of Human Agency”, Philosophical Issues 22 (2012), 217-32.
    7. “Paternalistic Love and Reasons for Caring,” in Autonomy and the Self: Norms, Free- dom, and Commitment, ed. Michael Kühler and Nadja Jelinek, Philosophical Studies Series (Springer, 2012), 253–71.
    8. "Responsibility and Dignity: Strawsonian Themes", in Morality and the Emotions, ed. Carla Bagnoli (Oxford University Press, 2011), 217–34.
    9. “Affektive Intentionalität: Holistisch und vielschichtig,” in Affektive Intentionalität: Beiträge zur welterschließenden Funktion der menschlichen Gefühle, ed. Jan Slaby et al. (Paderborn: mentis, 2011), 72–99. (The original English version, before translation, can be found here.)
    10. "Love as Intimate Identification"Philosophic Exchange40 (2010), 20–37.
    11. "Self-Love and the Structure of Personal Values", in Emotions, Ethics, and Authenticity, ed. by Verena Mayer and Mikko Salmela, John Benjamins, 2009.
    12. "The Import of Human Action", in Philosophy of Action, ed. by Jesus Aguilar and Andrei Buckareff, Automatic Press/VIP, 2009, 89-100.
    13. "Emotions as Evaluative Feelings"Emotion Review1 (2009).
    14. "Emotions and Motivation: Reconsidering Neo-Jamesian Accounts", in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotions, ed. by Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
    15. "Love, Identification, and the Emotions"American Philosophical Quarterly, 46 (2009), 39-59.
    16. "Plural Agents"Noûs42 (2008), 17-49.
    17. "Love"The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer, 2005 edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), revised Fall, 2009.
    18. "Friendship"The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer, 2005 edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), revised Fall, 2009.
    19. "Felt Evaluations", American Philosophical Quarterly39 (2002), 13-30.
    20. "Emotions and Practical Reason", Noûs35 (2001), 190-213.
    21. "Emotional Reason: How to Deliberate about Value", American Philosophical Quarterly37 (2000), 1-22.

    Of course, comments on any of these would be appreciated.

    Student Collaborations

    • Dan Kaplan (Hackman Scholar, 2011): "Joint Caring about Truth"
    • Kathryn Kutz (Hackman Scholar, 2009): "Truth, Emotion, and Shared Commitment"
    • Neal Swisher (Coutros Scholar, 2004): "Artificial-Life Learning in Mobile Robotics"
    • Yaroslava Babych and Aleksandra Markovic (Hackman Scholars, 1998), "Moods as a Sense of Priorities"

    Course Information

    PHI/SPM 250: Philosophy of Mind. This class is designed as a general introduction to the philosophy of mind (and, consequently, as an introduction to the philosophical side of the Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind major). Most fundamentally, we will examine the mind-body problem, a problem which arises out of our differing conceptions of the natural world and of our minds. Thus, the body, science tells us, is just a hunk of physical matter that obeys the laws of nature mechanistically -- mindlessly. The mind, of course, is anything but mindless. So what's the connection between the two? -- How do we conceive of the mind in relation to the body? We will critically examine several different purported solutions to this problem: dualism, identity theory, functionalism, eliminative materialism, and intentional systems theory. We shall then apply these theories to help us address three other questions that have been raised about minds: Is it possible to build an intelligent machine? Is free will compatible with determinism or mechanism? and Can we give a materialist account of consciousness? In addressing these questions, we shall gain a clearer understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of the various theories about what the mind is and its relation to the body.

    PHI/SPM 360: Concept of a Person. We persons think we are special. Although we are animals, we find it insulting to speak of ourselves as "mere" animals, as if the other animals are somehow importantly different from ourselves. Well, how are they importantly different, and what difference does this make?

    Philosophers tend to understand the concept of a person in two ways: as a metaphysical notion and as a moral notion. Moral personhood is roughly an understanding of ourselves as the subjects of moral rights and responsibilities. If I, through reckless disregard, end up smashing your computer, I am held morally accountable for having wronged you and so am subject to censure or blame. But if a dog does the same thing, we do not blame the dog, at least not in the same way. Moreover, we feel it is appropriate, at least in many cases, to keep animals like dogs or rabbits in cages, but we would feel it a gross violation of a person's rights to do the same to her (at least without some very special justification for doing so). Part of we want to understand in thinking about moral personhood is what it means to have these special rights and responsibilities that differentiate us from mere animals. By contrast, to understand personhood as a metaphysical notion is to understand it as delineating a special category of being---as having or being a soul, for example. Typically, the metaphysical notion of personhood is thought to somehow underwrite our status as moral persons: to understand why we are moral persons but dogs are not requires appeal to the kind of creatures we but not dogs are---to the metaphysical notion. (Indeed, it is precisely because of this explanatory link between them that many philosophers think it is appropriate to understand the concept of personhood not as having two senses but as a univocal concept with two aspects.)

    In this course, we will begin, roughly, with the metaphysical notion of personhood, in an attempt to understand the differences between ourselves and ``mere" animals. As the course develops, this discussion of metaphysical personhood will begin to shade into moral personhood as well, as we consider the nature of values and how we can deliberate about the meaning of life.

    PHI/SPM 361: Moral Psychology. Moral psychology is a relatively new field---so new, in fact, that there's still little consensus about precisely what its subject matter is. As I understand it, moral psychology is the study of the kind of psychology necessary in order for a creature to be moral---to be subject to moral assessments of blame and responsibility, for example. Some philosophers engaged in moral psychology take the scientific discipline of psychology to be very important; others think that how we conceptualize the relevant psychological states (concepts which are presupposed by the design and interpretation of psychological experiments, for example) are too confused for the scientific discipline of psychology to be helpful at this point. We'll do some of both, though my own views tend towards the latter, and our focus will be almost entirely philosophical.

    PHI/SPM 373: Love and Friendship. Love and friendship are undoubtedly important in our lives ... but why? Although we commonly say that we “love” both chocolate cake and philosophy or that we are “friends” with people on Facebook, these seem to be thin surrogates for the potentially deep, rich, intimate, and rewarding attitudes and relationships we develop towards and with other persons. Clearly it is the latter that we interested in here: forms of love and friendship that apply paradigmatically to intimate relations among persons. In investigating personal love and friendship, we will encounter several problems concerning their justification, their bearing on the autonomy and identity of the individual, and the place their value has within a broader system of values, including moral values.

    PHI/SPM 374: Philosophy of Emotions. Long neglected in philosophy, the emotions have recently—and increasingly—come to be seen as important both in their own right and for the way they bear on a wide variety of issues, from the mind-body problem and the nature of consciousness and intentionality to the nature of reason and reasoning to aesthetics to interpersonal relationships to moral psychology and metaethics. In this class we will focus on the first three; other topics are covered in other classes. In particular, we will consider the connections between emotions and other mental states, such as beliefs, desires, and bodily sensations. Can emotions be reduced to complexes of other mental states? Are emotions beneficial aspects of our mental lives, or might we be better off without them? If they are beneficial, what contributions do they make? Are emotions in some sense commitments to the world’s being a certain way, or are they more like mere appearances? And how can we understand the (rational? causal?) interconnections between emotions and other mental states like beliefs and desires?

    PHI/SPM 375: Respect, Responsibility, and Ethics. Recently many philosophers have argued that certain interpersonal emotions, such as resentment, indignation, guilt, gratitude, and approbation, are fundamental to a host of interconnected issues in ethics, including the nature of respect, dignity, responsibility and freedom, and the origins of moral values. This class will closely examine these claims and arguments with the aim of understanding more clearly how moral psychology and metaethics intersect.

    (Many of these courses are cross-listed with SPM [Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind], an interdisciplinary program concerned with the mind, broadly construed.)