Campus & Community

Sean Dorrance Kelly named professor of philosophy

3 min read

Currently assistant professor at Princeton


Sean Dorrance Kelly, who draws upon both philosophy and neuroscience in his analysis of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive aspects of sensory perception, has been appointed professor of philosophy in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, effective July 1.

Kelly, 38, comes to Harvard from Princeton University, where he is currently assistant professor of philosophy and neuroscience.

“Professor Kelly is an extraordinary philosopher,” says William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “His work brings together empirical work in psychology with two very different traditions in philosophy, as he seeks answers to some of the newest and oldest questions about human thought and perception. It is a pleasure to welcome him to Harvard.”

Kelly merges analytic philosophy of the mind and cognitive neuroscience into a broader analysis of perceptual experience, including its links to action and thought. He has written on the perception of color as well as how the brain perceives parts of three-dimensional objects that cannot be directly observed.

Kelly’s interests also include classical phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. His clear, concise, and keen analysis of these notoriously difficult writers has garnered Kelly praise for his ability to get to the heart of what is most exciting and relevant to contemporary philosophers. Kelly’s wide-ranging work in both analytic philosophy of the mind and phenomenology has earned him a solid reputation among practitioners of the two very different traditions of analytic and Continental philosophy.

Kelly is author of “The Relevance of Phenomenology to the Philosophy of Language and Mind” (Routledge, 2000) and is currently working on a second book, tentatively titled “Wonder in the Face of the World: Classical Phenomenology for Philosophers of Mind.”

Kelly received his Sc.B. in mathematics and computer science and his M.S. in cognitive and linguistic sciences from Brown University in 1989, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998. The following year he joined the faculty at Princeton, where he is also a faculty associate of the neuroscience program and an affiliated investigator at the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior.

Kelly held a senior fellowship with the James S. McDonnell Project in Philosophy and the Neurosciences from 2000 to 2005. In 2004, he was a visiting professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and a visiting researcher at the Institut Jean Nicod, both in Paris, and he was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2004-05.