Research excellence in global issues recognised

03 May 2018
Dr Julie MacArthur receives her Early Career Excellence Award
Dr Julie MacArthur receives her award from Chancellor Scott St John

Professor Tim Mulgan of Philosophy and Dr Julie MacArthur of Politics and International Relations were recognised for the calibre of their work at the recent Celebrating Research Excellence event.

Tim was awarded a University of Auckland Research Excellence Medal He Tohu Taumata Tiketike for his work in developing a new understanding of our place in the universe.

Julie received an Early Career Research Excellence Award for her work examining the politics and development of local renewable energy, making non-traditional actors such as women and indigenous entities visible within the energy sector.

Two familiar worldviews dominate Western philosophy: materialist atheism and the benevolent God of the Abrahamic faiths. In his 2015 book Purpose in the Universe: The Moral and Metaphysical Case for Ananthropocentric Purposivism, Tim explored a third option.

'Ananthropocentric purposivism' claims that there is a cosmic purpose, but human beings are irrelevant to it. Tim has developed a philosophical case for ananthropocentric purposivism that it is at least as strong as the case for either theism or atheism.

He argues that this position gives "our obligations to future people a new urgency, because safeguarding the future of humanity is our only hope of achieving anything of cosmic significance". And this in turn has consequences for approaching global issues such as climate change.

The originality and importance of this research have seen Tim recognised as one of the world's preeminent contemporary moral philosophers, and his work has been the subject of a number of international workshops and symposia.

Peers have called his work "audacious", "ambitious", "provocative" and "brave and exhilarating philosophy" while one eminent scholar noted that the book expanded his "philosophical horizons in substantial ways", and said he would not view debates about cosmology and about ethics in the same way again.

Julie's 2016 monograph Empowering Electricity: Co-operatives, Sustainability, and Power Sector Reform in Canada was very positively reviewed as providing "essential information that should influence future discussions about climate change mitigation".

Her current Marsden Fast Start project builds on the foundation of this Canadian study and will add a new and important dimension to New Zealand energy scholarship. Her research is internationally recommended as insightful and essential reading on local energy transitions.

Dean of Arts, Professor Robert Greenberg said "I am delighted at these results. These awards reflect the very high quality of the research undertaken by staff in the Faculty of Arts. Tim asks impactful questions on the future of humanity and is a leader in the field of moral philosophy. Julie's work is groundbreaking in its focus on the energy sector with potential influences on climate change policy and implications for international development."

The Faculty of Arts is now the only faculty to win at least one medal every year since they were established in 2014, and the only faculty to have won two medals in the same year.

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