Welcome to the Spotlight Series, where we put the focus on the talented individuals who contribute to the Department of Philosophy’s academic excellence here in Trinity College Dublin.
Each month, we sit down with a member of our research team to learn more about their areas of expertise, what the turning points have been in their career, and what inspires them in their daily lives…
Dr. Rachel Handley
Rachel teaches metaethics and ethics to undergraduate & postgraduate students in Trinity. Prior to joining TCD, Rachel was a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Code University, Berlin (2020), an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Liverpool (2020 - 2021), and a University Teacher at The University of Liverpool (2015 - 2020). She is also a poet and an author.
What is your current area of research?
I work on two research areas. The first is the philosophy of disability and how disability ties to transformative experience. The second is metaethics, where I defend a quasi-realist understanding of metaethics. In addition, much of my research in metaethics is concerned with the relationship between ethics and metaethics.
What question or challenge were you setting out to address when you started this work?
Philosophy of disability: what are the implications of mental health problems for transformative experience? Metaethics: What is the link, if any, between our ethical thinking and our metaethical views?
Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a philosophical researcher?
There have been a few, but the most prominent was when, toward the end of my PhD, my idea for a new version of quasi-realism (ideal quasi-realism) finally clicked into place. I felt like I had something original to say, something that would matter for future metaethical research.
Briefly, what excites you about your research?
Understanding mental illness and disability is not only philosophically intriguing, but deeply personal to me. So being able to explore something close to my heart naturally excites me. First, because uncovering truths, generally, is something which motivates me. Second, because the philosophy of disability has wide reaching and real world applications.
For metaethics, I’m deeply fascinated by how we come to make choices and why. So my research on the intersection between ethics and metaethics plays into this fascination perfectly. In addition, I feel as if metaethics, though very abstract, has much to tell us about our lives in the real world outside from the debates that philosophers may have in their philosophical armchairs. With this in mind, I wrote an article for a general audience for Aeon/Psych+ Magazine on Why Metaethics Matters>>
What do you like to do when you aren`t working?
I’m a fiction author and a poet. My short story collection, Possible Worlds and Other Stories, was released a few months ago. My book launch was held at Blackwell’s in the UK recently. My fiction and poetry have been published wildly and been shortlisted and longlisted for awards.
I also paint abstract art. So, when I’m not working on philosophy I’m usually working on something else. And when I’m not working at all you’ll find me reading in bed with a cup of tea.
What are you currently reading?
I read about 8 books at once because my mood for different genres changes often. I’ve just finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Eyes of the Void which was great. In fiction I’m reading Hard to Be a God by Akrady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky. In non-fiction I’m reading Red Comet by Heather Clark, Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism: A Biography by Mark Hussey, and a few others.
Do you have a favourite movie?
I really don’t. There are a few movies I like, of course, but I’ve never been much of a movie person.
Is there a work of art that inspires you?
So many. I’ll name artists rather than pieces so the list doesn’t get too long. I love Rothko, Pollock, Krasner, Kahlo, Picasso, Dali, Matisse and so many others. Mostly I love the abstract expressionist and surrealist painters, but I have my exceptions.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I’m honestly unsure, possibly that I write fiction or poetry. The problem is, I basically live online, so my twitter gives lots away. Here is one boring thing people might not know. I, like Darth Vader, hate sand. Walking barefoot on a beach, for me, feels awful. Though I can appreciate how others may enjoy it.