Charles Lowney

Charles Lowney

I received my master’s at Boston College, where I studied Continental Philosophy, and my doctorate at Boston University, where I studied Analytic Philosophy. I have taught courses at Boston University, Stonehill College, Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute, and I am now pleased to be teaching at Hollins. Students here are interesting and interested, and class sizes are small enough to make learning an enjoyable collective experience.

Because of my desire to bring moral theory into engaged action, I especially enjoy teaching applied ethics courses like “Environmental Ethics,” “Poverty and Human Capability,” and “Art and Authenticity.” Philosophy is about discovering the best way to live, and here is where the rubber meets the road. Not only do students learn moral theory, they develop tools of inquiry that can help them make important decisions and improve the quality and direction of their lives and this, to me, makes teaching worthwhile.

Areas of Expertise

  • Post-Critical Epistemology and Emergentism
  • Theoretical and Applied Ethics
  • History of Philosophy
  • Core Analytic Philosophy (Epistemology, Metaphysics, Logic, Language & Mind)

Courses Taught

  • PHIL 181 Contemporary Ethical Issues
  • PHIL 253 Biomedical Ethics
  • PHIL 182 Environmental Ethics
  • PHIL 207 Philosophy of Art: Art and Authenticity
  • PHIL 272 Philosophy of Religion
  • PHIL 202 Early Modern Philosophy
  • PHIL 250 Poverty and Human Capability (special topics)


  • Boston University, Ph.D. in Philosophy
  • Boston College, M.A. in Philosophy
  • Boston College, B.A. majors in Philosophy, Theology, English

Publications & Articles

  • Charles Taylor, Michael Polanyi and the Critique of Modernity: Pluralist and Emergentist Directions, Charles Lowney (ed.), Palgrave Macmillan Press (2017
  • “Four Ways of Understanding Mysticism" in Mysticism, Ineffability and Silence, Laura Weed (ed.), Palgrave Macmillan Press (forthcoming).
  • “Ineffable, Tacit, Explicable, Explicit: Qualifying Knowledge in the Age of ‘Intelligent’ Machines” Tradition and Discovery, 38:1, 2011-2012, 18-37.
  • “Rethinking the Machine Metaphor since Descartes: The Irreducibility of Bodies, Minds and Meanings” Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 31:3, June 2011, 179-192.
  • “From Science to Morality: A Polanyian Perspective on the Letter and the Spirit of the Law” Tradition and Discovery, 36:1, Fall 2009, 42-54.
  • “Morality: Emergentist Ethics and Virtue For Itself” Tradition and Discovery, 36:3, Summer 2010, 52-65.
  • “From Morality to Spirituality: Society, Religion and Transformation” Tradition and Discovery, 37:1, Fall 2010, 19-38.
  • “Authenticity and the Reconciliation of Modernity” The Pluralist, University of Southern Illinois Press, vol. 4:1, Spring 2009, 33-50.
  • "The Tacit in Frege” Polanyiana, Budapest, 17:1-2, 2008, 19-37.
  • "Seeing, Saying and Being the Gestalt” Appraisal, Journal of the Society for Post-Critical and Personalist Studies, 7:1, 2008, 21-38.
  • The Tacit and the Ineffable: Frege and Wittgenstein on the Distinction between Language as a Calculus and Language as the Universal Medium, Boston University, 2005, 722 pages; Proquest 3186521.


  • Invited to the editorial board of the journal Tradition and Discovery, and to the Board of Directors of the Polanyi Society (2012 to present)
  • First graduate student to be invited to speak at the prestigious Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science, May 1999
  • Junior Fellowship at Die Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna, Austria, 1996
  • Fourth Degree Blackbelt in Kempo Karate, seasoned with Wing Chun.

Research Interests

I am primarily interested in understanding tacit knowing (in epistemology) and emergent being (in metaphysics), and in developing what I call “emergentist ethics” (in moral philosophy).

This post-critical approach builds on the work of Michael Polanyi, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Aristotle (among others), and corrects for a 400 year emphasis in Modern philosophy on atomistic analysis and ontological reduction, but it does so without veering into the postmodern pitfalls of extreme skepticism, uncritical dogmatism or unrestrained relativism.

Some of my work gets into the nuts and bolts of tacit knowing, some gets directly into the mechanics of emergent being, and some looks at how tacit knowing and emergent being relate to each other; but extending these conceptions from the philosophy of science to other areas of knowledge is where the real benefits of the approach best show. My most exciting research extends tacit knowing and emergentism into ethics, aesthetics, political society, and religion, and it adds new ways of understanding basic conceptions in those fields.

I am happy to be finishing a book project that brings together and develops two important postcritical perspectives: Charles Taylor, Michael Polanyi and the Critique of Modernity: Pluralist and Emergentist Directions (Charles Lowney, ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). The goal of the volume is to show new directions for a post-Modern modernity, and it features two chapters by Charles Taylor. Here is what one reviewer has written:

“There are two main paths to the task of critiquing modernity, the deconstructive and the reconstructive paths. The authors of the essays comprising this book have wisely chosen the latter, and they do so with clarity, thoroughness, and insight. Professor Lowney should be commended for putting this collection together, as well as for writing several of the essays himself. Readers of this collection will be well rewarded.”

-Jerry Gill, author of Deep Postmodernism: Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty and Polanyi