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Whitney Schwab wins NEH grant to trace origins of the philosophical study of knowledge

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced funding for highly competitive grants in 43 states around the country to support a range of humanities-based research and programs.

Whitney_SchwabWhitney Schwab, assistant professor of philosophy, won a prestigious fellowship to research the origins of philosophical study of knowledge in the Western tradition. His project will involve writing a book manuscript to examine his central argument that thinkers didn’t start focusing on the concept of knowledge until the Stoics, succeeding Plato and Aristotle.

“The Stoics attempt to determine the conditions that must be met for someone to have a well-formed belief, and the state they claim one is in when he or she has a well-formed belief is katalêpsis,” explained Schwab. “In examining what threshold a belief has to cross to count as katalêpsis, the Stoics are engaging in a project much more similar to modern day attempts to characterize knowledge than anything we find prior to the Stoics.”

Schwab’s grant is funded for one year beginning in August. His ultimate goal is to produce a book, as well as, likely, articles that result from the research.

“It is certainly very flattering to receive this award early in my career,” explains Schwab. “It is also very encouraging. Over the course of completing a long-term project, a lot of doubt can creep in about the value of the work. So, the fellowship provides a lot of motivation to keep working.”

Schwab’s fellowship is part of $16.3 million in funding for humanities research ranging from a preservation grant for Xavier University of Louisiana to protect its special collections which include one of the few remaining original copies of the first anthology of African-American poetry published in the United States to the study of Kurdish nationalism by Southern Methodist University.

“The humanities help us study our past, understand our present, and prepare for our future,” said NEH Chair William D. Adams in a news release announcing the awards. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support projects that will benefit all Americans and remind us of our shared human experience.”

Schwab’s research focuses on ancient philosophy with specific interests in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Read more about his work on the philosophy department website.

Header image: Students study outside of the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.