School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

David Spurrett

David Spurrett


Dean & Head of School, Professor




Contact Number



Howard College Campus

Office Address

MTB 316

External Research Profile

Degrees Held

  • BA,
  • BA(hons),
  • MA,
  • PhD (natal)

Who am I?

David Spurrett studied philosophy at the former University of Natal, and at King’s College London, and has taught philosophy since 1991. He graduated with his PhD in metaphysics in 2000, and since then has co-edited and co-written several books, and many 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 even other philosophers. His current research is largely focused on questions at the intersection of philosophy of biology and philosophy of cognitive science.

Among the awards and honours he has received are the Vice Chancellor’s Research Award (Natal, 2003), the Distinguished Teacher’s Award (Natal, 2003), the Colenso Scholarship at St John’s College, Cambridge (2003), a President’s Award from the National Research Foundation (2002), and an NRF ‘B’ rating (2010 and 2015).

He’s had many years of experience in University administration, including membership of the Council and Senate of UKZN, and formerly serving as a Head of School. His term as Dean of SRPC commenced in mid 2017.


  • 2006- Philosophy, University of KwaZulu-Natal: Professor.
  • 2004-2005 Philosophy, University of KwaZulu-Natal: Associate Professor.
  • (The University of KwaZulu-Natal was created through a merger between the University of Natal, and the University of Durban Westville, effective from January 2004.)
  • 2002–2003 Philosophy Programme, University of Natal, Durban: Senior Lecturer.
  • 1999–2001 Philosophy Programme, University of Natal, Durban: Lecturer.
  • 1992–1998 Department of Philosophy, University of Natal, Durban: Part-time lecturer, leave substitute lecturer and tutor, including three years on contract as a Junior Lecturer.
  • 1993 Department of Philosophy, University of Durban-Westville: Guest lecturer for one module at honours level (part time).
  • 1991–1992 Department of Philosophy, University of Durban-Westville: Leave substitute lecturer (part time).
  • 1990 Department of Classics, University of Natal, Durban: Assistant Curator, Museum of Classical Archaeology (part time).


  • 2009 and 2016 National Resarch Foundation ‘B3’ research rating.
  • 2003 Distinguished Teacher’s Award, University of Natal (two awarded annually); Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award, University of Natal (one awarded annually); Colenso scholar, spending one term (Easter 2003) at St John’s College, Cambridge.
  • 2002 National Research Foundation President’s Award (three awards nationally for 2002).
  • 1998/9 Three year Visiting Research Fellowship in Philosophy at King’s College, London; Association of Commonwealth Universities split-site Doctoral Scholarship; Centre for Science Development (South Africa) Overseas Doctoral Scholarship.
  • 1994 University of Natal Doctoral Research Scholarship (two awarded annually).
  • 1989 Notcutt Prize for Philosophy.

Research Interests

  • Areas of Specialisation: Philosophy of Science, Cognitive Science, Metaphysics.
  • Areas of Competence: Philosophy of Mind, Epistemology, Behavioural Economics, Early Modern Philosophy (especially Descartes), Postmodernism and Science, History and Philosophy of Early Modern Science, Critical Reasoning, Health Policy.

Teaching Areas

  • History of Modern Philosophy, Epistemology, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Biology.


  • PhD and Masters supervision in epistemology, philosophy of cognitive science, and metaphysics.


Electronic preprints of some of these papers are available from the CogPrints archive ( and the Philosophy of Science archive (

  • Spurrett, D. (2019) The Descent of Preferences. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, axz020 (advance article).
  • Spurrett, D. (2018) Affording Affordances. Teorema, 37(3), pp187-202.
  • Spurrett, D. (2017) Physicalism as an empirical hypothesis. Synthese, 194, pp3347-3360.
  • Spurrett, D. (2017) Agreeing to Disagree, in Christopher Ballantine, Michael Chapman, Kira Erwin & Gerhard Maré (eds), Living Together, Living Apart: Social Cohesion in a Future South Africa, UKZN Press, pp29-37.
  • Spurrett, D. (2016) Common currencies, multiple systems and risk cognition: Evolutionary trade-offs and the problem of efficient choices, Journal of Cognition and Culture, 16, pp437-457.
  • Kaye, B. & Spurrett, D. (2016) Robots in Casinos, South African Journal of Philosophy, 35(3), pp325-335.
  • Spurrett, D. (2016) Does Intragenomic conflict predict Intrapersonal conflict? Biology and Philosophy 31(3), pp313-333.
  • Spurrett, D. (2015) The Natural History of Desire, South African Journal of Philosophy, 34(3), pp304-313.
  • Govender, P., Spurrett, D. & Biccard, B.M. (2015) Predictors Of Peri-Operative Risk Acceptance By South African Vascular Surgery Patients at a Tertiary Level Hospital. Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia and Analgesia, 21(3), pp70-76.
  • Bellengère, A. & Spurrett, D. (2015) A discordant note: Kievits Kroon Country Estate v Mmoledi. The South African Law Journal, 132(3), pp483-493.
  • Spurrett, D. (2014) ‘Philosophers should be interested in ‘common currency’ claims in the cognitive and behavioural sciences’, in The South African Journal of Philosophy.
  • Dellis, A.M., Sharp, C., Hofmeyr, A., Schwardman, P.M., Spurrett, D., Rousseau, J.M. & Ross, D. (2014) ‘Criterion-related and construct validity of the Problem Gambling Severity Index in a sample of South African gamblers’, South African Journal of Psychology. 44(2), pp 243-257.
  • Dellis, A., Spurrett, D., Hofmeyr, A., Sharp, C., and Ross, D. (2013) ‘Gambling Participation and Problem Gambling Severity among Rural and Peri-Urban Poor South African Adults in KwaZulu-Natal’, Journal of Gambling Studies,29(3) pp417-433.
  • Spurrett, D. (2011) ‘Hooray for Babies’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 30(2), pp197-206.
  • Spurrett, D. and Cowley, S. (2010) ‘The Extended Infant: Utterance-activity and distributed cognition’, in R. Menary (ed.) The Extended Mind, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, pp 295-324. (Parts of this paper overlap with Spurrett and Cowey (2004) listed below.)
  • Spurrett, D. (2010) ‘Why ‘Appeals to Intuitions’ might not be so bad’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 29(2), pp156-166.
  • Spurrett, D. and Murrell, B. (2010) Measuring Dispositions to Bundle Choices. In: Ross, D., Kincaid, H., Spurrett, D. & Collins, P. (eds.) What is addiction?, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Spurrett, D. (2009) Need there be a common currency for decision-making?, South African Journal of Philosophy,28(2), pp210-221.
  • Spurrett, D. (2009) Inaugural Lecture: Philosophy Enough, South African Journal of Philosophy, 28(1), pp 47-68.
  • Spurrett, D. (2009) How to semanticize science, and sell it short – review article of The Semantics of Science by Roy Harris, Language Sciences, 31, pp 97-110.
  • Spurrett, D. (2008) Why I am not an Analytic Philosopher, South African Journal of Philosophy, 27(2), pp 153-163
  • Ross, D., Ladyman, J. & Spurrett, D. (2007) In Defence of Scientism, in Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. with Spurrett, D. & Collier, J. Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 1-65.
  • Ross, D., Ladyman, J. & Spurrett, D. (2007) Causation in a Structural World, in Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. with Spurrett, D. & Collier, J. Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 258-297. (Overlaps partially with Ross & Spurrett 2007.)
  • Ross, D. and Spurrett, D. (2007) Notions of Cause: Russell’s thesis revisited, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 58(1), pp45-76.
  • Spurrett, D. (2006) ‘Reductionisms and physicalisms’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 25(2), pp. 163-174.
  • Spurrett, D. (2005) ‘Computer Supported Development of Critical Reasoning Skills’, in the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, 1(2),
  • Spurrett, D. (2004) ‘Computer Supported Development of Critical Reasoning Skills’, in H Griesel (ed), Curriculum Responsiveness: Case Studies in Higher Education. SAUVCA: Pretoria (ISBN # 0-620-33085-6), pp159-183.
  • Ross, D. and Spurrett, D. (2004) ‘What to Say to a Sceptical Metaphysician: a Defense Manual for Cognitive and Behavioral Scientists’, target article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27(5), pp 603-627. Reprint: This paper was anthologised in Henderikus J. Stam (ed) Theoretical Psychology – Contemporary Readings (volume 1), Sage 2012.
  • Ross, D. and Spurrett, D. (2004) ‘The cognitive and behavioral sciences: Real patterns, real unity, real causes, but no supervenience’, response to commentaries in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27(5), pp 637-645.
  • Spurrett, D. and Cowley, D. (2004) ‘How to Do Things Without Words: Infants, utterance-activity and distributed cognition’ Language Sciences, 26(5), pp 443-466.
  • Dellis, A. and Spurrett, D. (2003) ‘Real Patterns and Distributed Cognition’, AlterNation, 10(1), pp 105-131.
  • Spurrett, D. (2003) ‘Why think that cognition is distributed?’, AlterNation, 10(1), pp 292-306.
  • Cowley, S. and Spurrett, D. (2003) ‘Putting apes (body and language) together again’, a review article of Savage-Rumbaugh, S., Taylor, T. J., and Shanker, S. G. Apes, Language, and the Human Mind (Oxford: 1999) and Clark, A. Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again (MIT: 1997), in Language Sciences, 25 (3), pp 289-318.
  • Spurrett, D. (2002) ‘The Human Self as a Coalition of Distributed Agencies’, in C W du Toit (ed) Brain, mind and soul: Unifying the human self; Pretoria: Research Institute for Theology and Religion, pp. 191-223. [Chapter in Book.]
  • Spurrett, D. (2001a) ‘Cartwright on Laws and Composition’, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 15 (3), pp. 253-268.
  • Spurrett, D. (2001b) ‘What Physical Properties Are’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 82 (2) pp. 201-225.
  • Spurrett, D. and Jackson, C-A. (2001). ‘Virtually incomprehensible: pros and cons of WWW-based communication and education’, South African Journal of Information Management, volume 3, Number 1.
  • Spurrett, D. (2000) ‘Bhaskar on Open and Closed Systems’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 19 (3), pp. 188-208.
  • Spurrett, D. (1999a) ‘Fundamental Laws and the Completeness of Physics’, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 13 (3), pp. 261-274.
  • Spurrett, D. (1999b) ‘Lyotard and the Postmodern Misunderstanding of Physics’, Theoria93: Science and Civilisation, pp. 29-52.
  • Spurrett, D. (1999c) Review article of Cilliers, P. 1998. Complexity and postmodernism (London: Routledge), South African Journal of Philosophy, 18 (2), pp. 258-274.
  • Spurrett, D., and Papineau, D. (1999) ‘A Note on the Completeness of ‘Physics’’, Analysis, 59 (1), pp. 25-29. 10.1111/1467-8284.00144
  • Spurrett, D. (1998) ‘Transcendental Realism Defended: A Response to Allan’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 17 (3), pp. 198-210.
  • Spurrett, D. (1997) ‘Beyond Determinism’, South African Journal of Philosophy, 16 (1), pp.14-22.
  • Ross, D., Kincaid, H., Spurrett, D. & Collins, P. Eds. (2010) What is addiction?, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Ross, D., Vuchinich, R., Sharp, C., and Spurrett, D. (2008) Midbrain Mutiny: The Picoeconomics and Neuroeconomics of Disordered Gambling, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Ross, D., Spurrett, D., Kincaid, H., and Stephens, L. Eds (2007) Distributed Cognition and The Will: Individual Volition and Social Context, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. with Spurrett, D. & Collier, J. (2007) Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Spurrett, D. (2014) ‘Cui bono? Selfish goals need to pay their way’ (Commentary on Huang and Bargh), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(2), pp155-156.
  • Spurrett, D. (2014) ‘A map of where? Problems with the ‘transparency’ dimension’ (Commentary on Bentley et al), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1), pp 100-101.
  • Spurrett, D. (2013) Dis-integrating Galileo: A Commentary on Pablé, Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, 3(1): pp. 23-27.
  • Spurrett, D. (2013) “Reduction and the Unity of Science” (Encyclopedia entry) in Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences (Edited by Byron Kaldis), SAGE.
  • Dellis, A. and Spurrett, D. (2013) ‘An eye for an eye: Reciprocity and the calibration of redress’ (Commentary on McCullough et al), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(1), p.20. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X11002160
  • Spurrett, D. (2012) ‘What is to be done? Why reward is difficult to do without’ (Commentary on Clark in Behavioral and Brain Sciences), Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 3: 142. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00412
  • Spurrett, D. (2011) ‘Reason is normative and should be studied accordingly’ (Commentary on Elquayam and Evans), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(5), pp 267-268.
  • Collins, P., Stein, D.J., Pretorius, A., Sinclair, H., Ross, D., Barr, G., Hofmeyr, A., Sharp, C., Spurrett, D., Rousseau, J., Ainslie, G., Dellis, A., Kincaid, H., & Bak, N. (2011) ‘Addressing problem gambling: South Africa’s National Responsible Gambling Programme’, South African Medical Journal, 101(10), pp. 722-723.
  • Spurrett, D. and Martin, J. (2010) ‘“Very like a whale”: Analogies about the mind need salient similarity to convey information’ (Commentary on Knobe), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (33), pp 350-351.
  • Meadon, H. and Spurrett, D. (2010) ‘It’s not only the subjects – there are also too many WEIRD researchers’ (commentary on Henrich et al), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (33), pp 44-45.
  • Baker, D-P., Beck, S. & Spurrett, D. (2006) Editorial: New Developments at the SAJP, South African Journal of Philosophy, 25(2), pp. 89-90.
  • Ross, D. and Spurrett, D. (2006) ‘Evolutionary psychology and functionally empty metaphors’, (commentary on Lea & Webley) in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(2), pp. 192-193.
  • Ross, D. and Spurrett, D. (2005) ‘Behavioral (pico)economics and the brain sciences’, (commentary on Ainslie), Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(5), 659-660.
  • Baker, D-P., Beck, S. & Spurrett, D. (2005) Editorial, South African Journal of Philosophy, 24(2).
  • Baker, D-P., Beck, S. & Spurrett, D. (2004) Editorial, South African Journal of Philosophy, 23(4).
  • Spurrett, D. & Dellis, A. (2004) ‘Putting infants in their place’ (Commentary on Falk), in Behavioral and Brain Sciences27(4), pp. 524-525.
  • Spurrett, D. (2004) ‘Distributed Cognition and Integrational Linguistics’, Language Sciences 26(6): 497-501. [Editorial in special issue containing papers from the first (2003) conference of the mind AND world working group.]
  • Spurrett, D. (2003) ‘What about embodiment?’ (Commentary on Anderson and Lebiere), in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26(5), p 620.
  • Spurrett, D. (2002) ‘Information Processing and Dynamical Systems Approaches are Complementary’ (commentary on Shanker and King), in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25 (5), pp. 639-640.