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Meet a Fellow: Fiacha Heneghan

Posted by on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 in Robert Penn Waren Center.

Fiacha HeneghanFiacha Heneghan is a 2020-2021 Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities Graduate Student Fellow from the Philosophy Department. His dissertation concerns Kant’s conception of the good, its relation to the history of philosophy, and its significance for contemporary environmental issues. Before coming to Vanderbilt, Fiacha studied math and philosophy at DePaul University. His other interests and hobbies include history, languages, bread baking, and gardening.

What is your research about and why does it matter?

My research areas are in the history of philosophy, especially ethics, and environmental philosophy. I am interested in how philosophical ideas are shaped through history and come to inform our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. I argue that there is a prominent tradition of philosophical consolation with regard to achieving human aspirations and that Kant takes up and rejects significant aspects of this tradition. His pessimistic outlook on achieving the good absent divine intervention is partially a reaction to Classical and Hellenstic conceptions of the good, partially a reaction to the historical and intellectual circumstances of his own day. The rejection of philosophical consolation, I argue, must be an important component in orienting ourselves toward the threat of potentially catastrophic global environmental failure.

Describe a discovery or a moment in your research that excited you.

A formative moment in determining the direction of my dissertation was discovering the importance of the history of ethics to Kant’s thinking. I had planned initially on writing a straight Kant dissertation but, being interested also in Ancient Philosophy, was intrigued by his use of Epicurus and the Stoics as a foil for his own views in the Critique of Practical Reason. Digging into some of his lesser-known writings, but especially his students’ lecture notes and Kant’s own hand-written notes, revealed the extent to which Kant came to his own view through his exposure to ancient sources, something I noticed received relatively little attention from the secondary literature.

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn from it? 

My first real job out of college was as a contractor for the Chicago Housing Authority. My job was to interview Section 8 tenants to verify eligibility for rent assistance and to process their files for submission to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I learned mainly about the radical insufficiency of the American welfare system, the dysfunction of public-private partnerships, the indignity of means-tested aid, and the need for radical wealth redistribution and the abolition of the carceral state.