School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Humanities Academic Becomes UKZN Fellow

Professor David Spurrett.
Photos: Abhi Indrarajan
Professor David Spurrett.

Professor David Spurrett of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) was awarded a UKZN Fellowship during the University’s Spring Graduation Ceremony in recognition of his distinguished achievement as an academic and contribution to his field of philosophy.

‘This is the highest honour that UKZN can give to a senior scholar in recognition of their academic achievements and places me in the company of colleagues in a range of fields who I deeply respect and admire. Research is sometimes lonely work, and often focused on what is wrong or needs improving. It is also very focused on climbing over the rocks and obstacles right in front of you at the time,’ said Spurrett. ‘This award looks back at the view, tells me to look also at how high I’ve climbed already, and encourages me to keep going. This wouldn’t have been possible without many mentors and supportive colleagues along the way, and I’m especially grateful to them and my family.’

Having lectured philosophy since 1991, Spurrett studied philosophy at the former University of Natal (now UKZN) and at King’s College London, England.  He graduated with his PhD in Metaphysics in 2000 and since then, has co-edited and co-written several books and papers, mostly on topics in the philosophy of science, cognitive science and metaphysics.

His research has involved collaborations with linguists, psychologists, economists, psychiatrists, legal scholars, anaesthetists and other philosophers. His current research is largely focused on questions about agency, including human agency at the intersection of philosophy of biology and philosophy of cognitive science. His recent publications (listed below) give a sense of his current interests.

Among the awards and honours he has received are the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award (University of Natal, 2003), Distinguished Teacher’s Award (University of Natal, 2003), Colenso Scholarship (St John’s College, Cambridge, 2003), President’s Award (National Research Foundation, 2002), and an NRF ‘B’ rating (2010 and 2016).

In 2010, the National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded him a ‘B3’ rating indicating that his research enjoyed “considerable international recognition”. This rating was renewed for a further five years commencing in 2016, and raised to a ‘B2’ in late 2021.

Spurrett is also the author or co-author of over 60 articles, chapters, commentaries and editorials, including papers in leading journals such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Analysis, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Biology and Philosophy, and Synthese. He has presented his work at over 70 conferences in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Belgium, Estonia, England, Scotland, and the United States. He has also made numerous invited presentations around the country and the world.

He possesses many years of experience in university administration, having have been a member of the UKZN Council and Senate, and formerly serving as a Head of School and Dean of SRPC.

His current research concerns the evolution of action-selection mechanisms, specifically processes representing the expected utility of alternative actions and the environmental scaffolding of action selection. This work has been presented at leading conferences around the world.