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Marusic awarded Sanders Book Prize

In early August of 2016, Professor Berislav Marušić (PHIL) was awarded the 2016 Sanders Book Prize for his book “Evidence and Agency: Norms of Belief for Promising and Resolving.” The prize is awarded to the best book focusing on philosophy of mind, metaphysics or epistemology published within the last five years. Along with the honor of the award comes a $7,000 reward.

Each year the prize is given to recipients by the American Philosophical Association, but the money is provided by the Marc Sanders Foundation. The goal of the foundation, a non-profit organization, is to encourage more interest in traditional philosophy by identifying and rewarding recent and outstanding works in all areas of philosophy. Marušić’s prize-winning book was the fourth to be recognized by the Marc Sanders Foundation, following publications written by professors at Florida State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Harvard University and the University of Toronto.

Marušić’s main interests in philosophy rest at the intercross section of ethics, epistemology and philosophy of mind. In an interview with the American Philosophical Association, Marušić explained his excitement with philosophy, saying, “Philosophy excites me when it identifies the seemingly incomprehensible and addresses it in a clear and principled fashion.”

His book runs along this same vein. “The book is about promising and resolving to do difficult things. It formulates a problem and then offers a solution,” noted Marušić about “Evidence and Agency.” The book draws on previous articles that Marušić has written in the past, the first having been written his first year at Brandeis in 2008. “Evidence and Agency” tackles a problem about belief and evidence and what one should believe when one promises to do something that evidence suggests is extremely unlikely.

One of the questions posed is: Can one responsibly promise against the evidence? “If you think that something maybe won’t happen, you can’t sincerely say that it will happen,” Marušić answered. He added that it would also be irrational to promise against strong evidence, yet people do it all the time in daily life.

“I think it’s a problem that we all face in one way or another. I think it’s a problem that has a connection to lived experience,” he explained. In the book, Marušić defends these seemingly irrational decisions by saying that those making the promises are in a unique position to change the outcome. “When considering matters that are up to us, we should look to our practical reasons, not to our evidence alone, to determine what we will do,” Marušić explained.

David Poplar, a graduate student in the philosophy department, has taken many classes with Marušić, his advisor in the program. “From my experience, he is an excellent teacher, both in terms of his teaching in the classroom and in how he works with students one on one,” Poplar said. His philosophical interests lie in ethics and epistemology, which are among Marušić’s specialties. “Admittedly, I’m a little biased, but I think the Sanders book award was very well deserved,” Poplar said.

Assistant Professor Jennifer Marušić (PHIL), wife of Berislav Marušić, assisted him in reading and editing the book before it was published. “We’ve always read each other’s work and talked about it, and his book was no exception,” said Jennifer Marušić. She often talked through the themes of his book with him while running. “We went on a lot of long, slow runs through various parks and forests around Berlin and often talked about the book and how the arguments in it should go,” she said.

“Evidence and Agency” was Marušić’s first book, but it will not be his last. “Having a book and having the space to address the different lines of thought, at some length, was actually really great.” Marušić has already began work on his next book, which he said will be a long project.

“The new topic is on the emotions, and on the temporal structure of emotions,” he noted. The example he used in a different interview to explain this concept is the passing of a loved one and how the sadness is immediately very strong, but over time it subsides even though the reason for sadness has never changed.

Until his next sabbatical leave, when he can make more progress on his next project, Marušić will continue teaching ethics, epistemology and philosophy of mind at Brandeis. “Look, I’m a philosopher. I really like philosophy, I really like doing my work, I really like teaching, and I really like writing the stuff that I write,” he remarked.

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