Studying maligned thinkers helps future generations think critically

Professor José Filipe Pereira da Silva studies the underdogs of philosophy, who are often presented in an overly simplistic manner.

What are your research topics?

My research is mostly concerned with solving conceptual historical puzzles. I am interested in understanding the historical development of philosophical ideas, especially in the medieval period, about perception – how we have access to the world and which structures, amendments, powers and mechanisms make this possible – and rationality, that is, what makes us human.

I am particularly drawn to individual thinkers or philosophical traditions that are often maligned and dismissed. The subjects of my research are usually these underdogs, which in most cases are presented in an overly simplistic manner, and it is fascinating to bring the spotlight closer to those subjects and try to make sense of what is (and is not) accurately portrayed in traditional scholarly accounts.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

I understand societal impact in a very broad way, in the sense that contributions to academic discourse are contributions to society.

To bring new insights into a given topic or provide new understanding of the development of a certain concept in a given historical setting impacts society in two main ways: it shows that we must always be critical of traditional ways that things (theories, structures, etc.) are understood and that we must question the assumptions that underlie those traditional narratives.

New insights also help in educating a new generation of citizens who are going to have access to the best critical tools available, which they can then put to use as they wish and need to. In that sense, societal impact is about creating the conceptual resources that allow us to be critical of whatever subject we are considering and to make it as accessible as possible.

Not all scientific and academic fields can save lives, but those that cannot, may help to build the kind of society in which lifesavers can do their job because they, and others, understand the value of life.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

In history of philosophy, the dominant view was that perception was a passive process, meaning that the way we see (hear, taste, etc.) objects in the world was fully determined by the way those objects were made present to us. In the last few years, this view has changed and we now have a better understanding of the ways in which perception was thought to be active in historical sources.

The next big question is: How does this affect traditional accounts of action? If perception is active, what does it mean for the way that we behave vis-à-vis the world?

My own research will certainly move in that direction, trying to understand the impact of epistemology on philosophy of action from this ‘active perception’ paradigm.

José Filipe Pereira da Silva is a professor of medieval philosophy at the Faculty of Arts. 

Watch José Filipe Pereira da Silva's inaugural lecture as a new professor on the 9th of September on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors here.