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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Michael Levine

“I have held many 'prestigious' fellowships and visiting professorships and my experience at Durham has to rank as among the very finest and most productive.”

Professor Michael Levine, University of Western Australia

IAS Fellow at University College, Durham University (October - December 2013)

Michael Levine is Winthrop Professor of Philosophy at the University of Western Australia. His scholarly interests are diverse and often interdisciplinary, and he has taught a wide range of philosophy courses (e.g. Utopia/Disaster and Imagining the City in the Faculty of Architecture). Current projects include research in aesthetics, philosophy and architecture; catastrophe, ethics and the built environment; the academic virtues and their place in the modern university; regret and other emotions of self-assessment; and philosophy and museums for which he presented a paper at the Royal Institute of Philosophy conference in Glasgow (2013) on ‘Museums and the Nostalgic Self.’

Professor Levine has taught at the University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College and has been Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Baruch College and the University of Colorado. He was a Fulbright fellow in Russia and has received numerous fellowships and grants including support from the Rockefeller Foundation; the Mellon Foundation; the Japan Foundation; Indian Council for Cultural Relations Fellowship; Hugh Le May Fellowship, Rhodes University; Australian Academy of Humanities/Social Science; Chinese Academy of Social Science, Institute of Philosophy; and the Australian Research Council. Other awards include the American Philosophical Association, Baumgardt Memorial Fellowship in Ethics.

He is widely published in journals and edited volumes and is the author of Hume and the Problem of Miracles (Kluwer 1989) and Pantheism: A Non theistic Concept of Deity (Routledge 1997). He is co-author of Prospects for an Ethics of Architecture (Routledge 2011); Thinking Through Film: Doing Philosophy, Watching Movies (Blackwell 2012); Politics Most Unusual: Violence, Sovereignty and Democracy in the ‘War on Terror’ (Macmillan 2009); Integrity and the Fragile Self (Ashgate 2003); and Engineering and War (2013 forthcoming). He is co-editor of Racism in Mind (Cornell 2004); The Analytic Freud (Routledge 2000); and Leadership and Ethics (forthcoming).

While at the IAS Professor Levine will be working on a project on catastrophe, ethics and the built environment. The destruction of cities by various means and the representation of urban ruin have given historical, visual and narrative form to discourses about moral conduct, collective responsibilities and individual freedoms. This project provides a framework for the re-evaluation of civil society in relation to the built environment. By examining urban planning and architecture, the perceptions that define them, and the catastrophic risks that attend them, we can both better understand the relation between ethics and architecture as well as the place of the urban environment in the world. Expanding upon recently completed work on the ethical dimensions of the built environment, and helping to define the field, this project maps a vital dimension of civil society. It discovers how cities, urban planning and architecture engage values and practices aimed at insuring inclusiveness, egalitarianism and freedom of choice. Taking its cue from media reactions to recent catastrophic events, the project identifies broad concerns for our cities and civic institutions. What becomes of inclusiveness, egalitarianism, freedom of choice and a range of other democratic or Utopian ideals in the face of catastrophe?


IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Catastrophe, Disaster, Darkness: Susan Sontag’s “The Imagination of Disaster,” 50 Years On

22nd October 2013, 20:00 to 21:00, Senate Suite, University College, Professor Michael Levine (University of Western Australia)

It has been nearly half a century since the appearance of Susan Sontag‘s landmark essay “The Imagination of Disaster.” She described the public fascination with science fiction disaster films, claiming that, on the one hand “from a psychological point of view, the imagination of disaster does not greatly differ from one period in history to another [but, on the other hand] from a political and moral point of view, it does” (224). Even if Sontag is right about aspects of the imagination of disaster not changing, their representation in media and popular culture suggest that dynamic conditions prevail on both counts. The political and moral point of view is, after all, bound up with the psychological. Disaster has become a significantly urban phenomenon, and highly publicised “worst case” scenarios highlight various demographic, cultural, and environmental contexts for visualising cataclysm. The 1950s and 60s science fiction films that Sontag wrote about were filled with marauding aliens and freaks of disabused science. Since then, their visual and dramatic effects have been much enlarged by all kinds of disaster scenarios. Partly imagined, these scenarios are grounded in real threats from terrorism and the war on terror, pan-epidemics, global climate change—and more generally—political ineptitude, and the many forms of human frailty and fragility.

This paper revisits Sontag‘s “The Imagination of Disaster,” fifty years on in view of the changing face of disasters and their representation in film media, including more recent films. The paper then considers disaster recovery and outlines the difficult path that architecture, urban planning, and politics generally should tread when promising a vision of rebuilding that provides for such intangible outcomes as “healing and reconciliation.” Hopes for the seemingly positive psychologically- and socially-recuperative outcomes accompanying the prospect of rebuilding risk a variety of generalizations akin to wish- fulfilment that Sontag finds in disaster films.

Professor Michael Levine Publications

Levine, M.P. (2018) 'The ‘Self’ in Indian Philosophy: Questions, Answers and Issues' in Bilimoria, P (ed.) History of Indian Philosophy. London: Routledge, pp. 81-90.

Levine, M.P (2016) 'Museums and the Nostalgic Self', Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 79, pp. 77-94.

Levine, M.P.
(2015) 'Hume on Miracles: It's Part 2 that Matters' in Russell P (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Hume, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 591-606.

Taylor, W.M., Levine, M.P (2015) 'Investigating catastrophe: commemoration, accountability and records of disaster', National Identities, 17, 2, pp. 105-116.

Levine, M.P., Boaks, J (2014) 'What Does Ethics Have to do with Leadership?', Journal of Business Ethics, 124(2)

Cox, D., Levine, M (2014) 'Diagnosis without Treatment: responding to the war on terror', South African Journal of Philosophy, 3, pp. 19-33.

Blue, E., Levine, M., Nieusma, D Engineering and War: Militarism, Ethics, Institutions, Alternatives. Morgan & Claypool Publishers