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Alumnus Pioneers Dominican-Jesuit Collaboration at Oxford

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Questions like “who are we” and “what are we” have always intrigued and plagued philosophers, theologians and everyday people. Dr. Daniel De Haan, University of St. Thomas-Houston alumnus and first-ever Frederick Copleston Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at Oxford University, has challenged himself to seek answers to these complex and nearly impossible questions through a new collaboration.

As the first person in this role at Oxford University, American-born Dr. De Haan sees his unique position as a great privilege and opportunity for participating in the communities of both Blackfriars and Campion Hall, which exhibit their own distinctive Dominican and Jesuit academic cultures.

“I am especially looking forward to finding ways to bridge conversations between these two Catholic Halls within the university, as well as finding ways to share with the wider University of Oxford our common Catholic approach to intellectual enquiries,” he said.

Dr. De Haan operates in the space where the theoretical meets the practical. He says this role fits perfectly with his own enquiries, which focus on philosophical anthropology.

“Campion Hall’s research mission has a clear theoretical vector, but it also encompasses the existential and practical dimensions of human life, and it challenges our theoretical enquiries to take seriously the vocation to serve others,” he said. “Catholic philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor have provided clear examples of how to conduct our enquiries in ways that attend to the complex relationships between theoretical and existential questions. My work on developmental moral psychology, our discovery of the natural law and the virtues, and common goods for commonsense aim to keep in view the ways these theoretical subjects of enquiry arise from everyday life and must ultimately shed some light on our daily pursuit of human goods.”

This exploration into overarching themes of life itself is in opposition to hyper-specialized areas of research that are most prevalent today in philosophy. Dr. De Haan comments that reality doesn’t break up into isolated domains; different modes of being are interconnected with each other, so they are worth studying together.

“Enquiries concerning the nature of human persons cannot be conducted adequately without drawing on the biological sciences, psychology, cultural anthropology, ethics, phenomenology and metaphysics,” he said. “My own enquiries in philosophical anthropology continue to be enriched by my critical engagement with neuroscience and psychology as well as investigations into human flourishing and the normative aspects of human life.”

Of course, the rubber meets the road in this regard when it comes to teaching – shaping young minds to understand the interconnectedness that Dr. De Haan is describing. He will also teach seminary students at Blackfriars Studium[AR1] .

“It is a wonderful thing to have the opportunity to teach these young men and contribute to their philosophical and theological formation as they prepare for the priesthood,” he said. “At some point in their future ministry, they will likely encounter any one of the challenging topics concerning neuroscience, evolution, natural theology and ethics that we take up in our courses. I hope that my research helps prepare them to develop their own future enquiries and responses to these challenges as they encounter them in their priestly ministry.”

Dr.  De Haan is currently working on research that explains why developmental psychology is important for distinguishing our intentional and voluntary actions, which is important for thinking about responsibility, accountability and moral autonomy. Secondly, he’s looking at the importance of developmental psychology for understanding moral psychology and how humans come to discover, imitate and sometimes act in accordance with the virtues and the precepts of the natural law. From there, he argues that human voluntary action and natural normativity are crucial for informing our understanding of free agency and the powers of practical reason and free will which enable our intentional and voluntary actions. He then shows how this account of free human agency can respond to purported challenges to human freedom from the discoveries of neuroscience.

In his research, Dr. De Haan says he tries to articulate a Thomist philosophical anthropology which incorporates facets of human life. He also intends to interrogate and challenge rival traditions of philosophical anthropology, which seem incapable of addressing basic, more humble aspects of human persons.

“It is an exciting time for Catholic philosophy,” says Dr. De Haan. “There are lots of us working on interesting interconnections between Thomism and the sciences. Some of these developments are having an impact on the wider undergraduate university audiences throughout the United States and Europe, especially through work organizations like the Thomistic Institute. One hopes there will be a trickle-down effect as these students go out into the world, either as working professionals and academics or in the pursuit of religious vocations.”

He was one of those students who did just that, went out into the world with these burning philosophical questions in mind.

“My graduate work at the Center for Thomistic Studies was indispensable for my Catholic and intellectual formation,” he said. “I had singularly excellent professors and mentors both from among the Center faculty, like Drs. Houser, Osborne, Jensen, Martin, Hittinger, and from others at UST like Drs. Rebard, Brand, and Wilkins. At the Center for Thomistic Studies, I received a truly unique education. The courses I took provided me with a strong philosophical foundation and deep intellectual source of wisdom to sustain the intellectual enquiries I have been pursuing ever since my time at UST.”

Dr. De Haan said his most significant memory of his time at UST was his first experience of the Catholic community on campus, which was integral to his conversion to the Catholic faith during his first year of graduate school.

“Besides everyday philosophical conversations with my classmates and professors, I especially learned a lot from the many presentations and discussions of the colloquia of the Center for Thomistic Studies,” he said. “As my passion for philosophical wonder increased, so too did my inclination to turn to Thomas Aquinas’ work for guidance in my questions and pursuit of the truth. Eventually, it was my developing commitment to the truths revealed by Aquinas’ questions and arguments that led me—by the grace of God—to convert to Roman Catholicism and to pursue academic philosophy as a vocation.”

To learn more about Dr. De Haan and his new fellowship, visit the Blackfriars Hall website.

About the Author — Bridget Richardson

AvatarA producer with MAX Studios, Bridget Richardson loves to engage in conversations with just about anyone. A sports fan and homebody, Bridget enjoys spending time with her family, watching baking shows, and traveling to understand different cultures and eat delicious food.

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