About the project

Across cultures, the importance of attention is widely recognized, from Buddhist meditative traditions, to William James’ emphasis on attention as “the very root of judgment, character, and will”, to recent research on the importance of attention self-regulation in “willpower” and positive life-outcomes.

The Virtues of Attention project investigates the role of attention in ethics, agency, and mind. The project is based methodologically in the emerging field of cosmopolitan philosophy, in which insight into philosophical questions is derived by careful investigation of ideas from a plurality of distinct cultural locations. If one’s ambition is to discover a fundamental theory true of the human mind as such, it is methodologically essential to consider theories from a plurality of cultural locations. This is because theories of mind developed exclusively within individual scholarly communities will inevitably be prone to narrowness and provincialism. Our research program will demonstrate by example why rigorous investigation into the nature of ethics, agency, and mind should not be limited to any one community of thinkers, but rather should strive to learn from diverse cultures of investigation.

The benefits of such a cosmopolitan philosophical approach are especially evident in three areas:

  • The question of whether attention is a single psychological kind
  • The relation between attention and agency
  • The ethical implications of habits of attention

The Virtues of Attention project successfully competed for initial funding, through 2018, from a Global Seed Grant from New York University. The project will bring together research expertise from the three campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai that collectively constitute NYU’s Global Network University, unified under a common research theme. The emphasis will be on the creation of a nucleated network, drawing regional talent into a broader structure of collaboration. To this end, we will hold workshops in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, and New York, bringing to together researchers investigating attention in Arabic, Chinese, Indian, and European philosophical traditions, as well as in contemporary Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science.

We are currently soliciting further funding and collaborators to extend our research on attention from cross-cultural philosophical perspectives, including the indigenous traditions of Australian, Polynesia, the Americas, and Africa.

Please get in touch using the Contact page if you would like to be involved!

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