Alice Crary

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Alice Crary
ACrary Kreutzberg 2017-2.jpg
Alice Crary, Berlin, 2017
Alma materAB, Philosophy, Harvard University, 1990; PhD, Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1999[1]
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Moral philosophy, philosophy and literature, epistemology, feminist philosophy, disability studies
Notable ideas
All human beings and animals are inside ethics

Alice Crary (/ˈkrɛəri/; born 1967) is an American philosopher who is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford and also at the Graduate Faculty, The New School for Social Research in New York City, where she was the Philosophy Department Chair 2014-17 and founding Co-Chair of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program. For the academic year 2017-18, she was a Member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In the summer 2018 she was LFUI-Wittgenstein Guest Professor at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

Crary has influenced a generation of philosophy students at both graduate and undergraduate levels, and was named one of the three "most inspirational" professors at The New School, above all for "path-breaking Chair to bring about greater inclusiveness among populations traditionally under-represented in philosophy."[2]


Over the last 20 years, Crary has explored the basis for and implications of the moral dimension of language. She is best known for her writings on philosophy and literature (addressing specifically the writings of J.M. Coetzee, W.G. Sebald, and Leo Tolstoy),[3][4] animals,[5][6] critical theory and political thought,[7][8] and cognitive disability;[9][10] her critiques of philosophical method in "analytic feminism";[11][12] and her two monographs on ethics: Beyond Moral Judgment (Harvard, 2007) and Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought (Harvard, 2016), an Association of College and Research Libraries Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2016. In addition, she has edited collections on Wittgenstein,[13] Cora Diamond,[14] and Stanley Cavell.[15]

Beyond Moral Judgment "defends a version of moral objectivism which turns on the idea that participation in moral life involves sensitivities, affective responses, and acquired proclivities: subjective capacities which nevertheless allow us to be receptive to objective features of the world,"[16] and has been influential in recent discussions on ethics in aesthetics, film theory, feminism, and metaethics.[17]

Crary's second book, Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought (January 2016, Harvard University Press), discusses the nature and difficulty of moral thought about human beings and animals, addressing topics ranging from moral development to cognitive disability. As noted in a contemporary review,

Most contemporary ethicists assume that any objective representation of human and animal life must be developed outside of ethics, using the normatively neutral methods of, for example, the natural sciences. Crary, in contrast, argues that humans and animals have empirically observable moral characteristics, recognition of which is crucial to moral thought, but which are inaccessible to us when we limit ourselves to neutral methods. Good, "world-guided" moral thought, according to Crary, requires the use of capacities such as moral imagination, the exercise of which is elicited by methods (including various narrative techniques) that are characteristic of the arts and humanities. Works employing such methods contribute directly to moral understanding by drawing us into the imaginative exploration of other moral perspectives ... Crary embarks on a radical re-visioning of objective reality as including, rather than excluding, moral values. The idea that reality includes objective moral values combines objectivism (the idea that moral judgments are essentially concerned with how things are) with internalism (the idea that moral judgments have direct bearing on our reasons for acting). The dominant stance in philosophical ethics, she points out, is to embrace a hard metaphysic that rejects one or both of these ideas. Crary identifies, as the unquestioned starting point for such a metaphysic, the "familiar and allegedly scientific worldview" (31) according to which the natural sciences have exclusive authority to tell us what reality is objectively like. A central part of [the book] is devoted to showing how both Peter Singer and Christine Korsgaard accept this starting point and embrace, in different ways, the hard metaphysic to which it leads.

— A.C. Westlund, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2016.07.13

Another review summarizes the main claims of Inside Ethics as follows:

Among the theses that Crary propounds in service of her ultimate goal are: there are observable and essentially practical moral properties, objectively describing humans and animals requires an ethical sensitivity to those moral properties, being a human and being an animal are by themselves morally significant properties, and literature is an irreplaceable vehicle of moral reflection for grasping the moral significance of humans and other animals....She proposes what I would call a post-Romantic perspective that takes our possibilities for moral response to be equally affective and rational. Crary encourages us to take more seriously the moral thought of those engaged with the most vulnerable humans and animals. This seems to me of the highest importance and part of an expansive program for moral thought that demands further philosophical exploration.

— John Hacker-Wright, Hypatia Online Reviews 292

While finishing her doctorate in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1990s, she co-edited and wrote the introduction to The New Wittgenstein, which continues to influence debates over Wittgenstein's philosophy.[18][19][20][21] She was a Humboldt Foundation Scholar in 2009–10 at Goethe University in Frankfurt and a Rockefeller Fellow in 2003–4 at Princeton University. Crary has lectured and taught widely in the U.S. and abroad in academic and public fora, including the University College Dublin Center for Ethics in Public Life, International Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg Austria, the Columbia University Society of Fellows in the Humanities, the Center for Philosophy, Art, and Literature at Duke University, the University of Stavanger, Queen's University in Kingston Ontario, Colgate University, and Brooklyn Public Philosophers in NYC.

Crary is a member of a number of international research groups devoted to subjects such as feminist philosophy, ordinary language philosophy, and critical theory.

Graduate students and teaching[edit]

Crary currently directs eleven PhD theses in the Department of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research, where she inaugurated and has led both the Wittgenstein Workshop and a graduate student-oriented Works in Progress series. She received The New School's University Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005.

Crary's international educational activities have focused on the intersection of philosophy with critical theory and political philosophy. In the summer of 2014 she co-organized and taught the summer philosophy workshop at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. In July 2016, she served on the faculty of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies at the 25th anniversary New School for Social Research Europe Democracy and Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, Poland. In 2017 and 2018 she co-organized (with Rahel Jaeggi) the Kritische Theorie in Berlin Critical Theory Summer School (Progress, Regression, and Social Change) in Berlin, Germany.

She will be the Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy and Christian Ethics, Regent's Park College, University of Oxford as of Fall, 2018.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Crary was a 1983-4 exchange student with Youth for Understanding in the southern German town of Achern. She was also a national champion rower at the Lakeside School (Seattle) in Seattle, Washington and placed 6th in the Junior Women's Eight at the 1985 World Rowing Junior Championships in Brandenburg, Germany.

In the 1980s, after studying liberation theology with Harvey Cox at Harvard Divinity School, Crary researched Christian base communities in southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the early 1990s, she was a teacher at the Collegio Americano in Quito, Ecuador.


Books – monographs
Books – edited volumes
  • Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in Honor of Cora Diamond (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2007).
  • Reading Cavell (New York, Routledge, 2006 (co-edited with Sanford Shieh)).
  • The New Wittgenstein (New York, Routledge, 2000 (co-edited with Rupert Read)).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alice Crary - Professor of Philosophy". Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  2. ^ Ryan Gustafson, quoted in McCall M. 10 of The Most Inspirational Professors at The New School. College Magazine, December 5, 2016. URL:
  3. ^ "Does the Study of Literature Belong in Moral Philosophy? Some Reflections in the Light of Ryle's Thought," Philosophical Investigations, vol.23, no.4 (October 2000), pp. 315–350.
  4. ^ "W.G. Sebald and the Ethics of Narrative," Constellations, Vol. 19, no. 3, (Spring 2012), pp. 494–508.
  5. ^ "Dogs and Concepts," Philosophy, vol.87, no.2 (April 2012), pp. 215–237.
  6. ^ "Humans, Animals, Right and Wrong," in Alice Crary, ed., Wittgenstein and the Moral Life (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2007), pp. 381–404.
  7. ^ "Wittgenstein's Philosophy in Relation to Political Thought" in Alice Crary and Rupert Read, eds. The New Wittgenstein (New York, Routledge, 2000), pp. 118–145.
  8. ^ "Wittgenstein Goes to Frankfurt (and Finds Something Useful to Say)", Nordic Wittgenstein Review 7(1):7-41, June 25, 2018.
  9. ^ "Cognitive Disability and Moral Status", The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Disability (David T. Wasserman and Adam Cureton, Eds.). (Oxford University Press, Online Publication Date Jun 2018) DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190622879.013.40.
  10. ^ Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought. (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2016)
  11. ^ "The methodological is political. What’s the matter with ‘analytic feminism’?" Radical Philosophy, RP 2.02, June 2018.
  12. ^ "What Do Feminists Want in an Epistemology?" in Peg O'Connor and Naomi Scheman, eds., Re-Reading the Canon: Feminist Interpretations of Wittgenstein (University Park, PA, Penn State Press, 2002), pp. 97–118.
  13. ^ The New Wittgenstein (New York, Routledge, 2000 (co-edited with Rupert Read)).
  14. ^ Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in Honor of Cora Diamond (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2007).
  15. ^ Reading Cavell (New York, Routledge, 2006 (co-edited with Sanford Shieh)).
  16. ^ M. Abbott. The Look of Silence and the Problem of Monstrosity. Film-Philosophy, Volume 21 Issue 3, Page 392-409, Sept 2017.
  17. ^ A. Srinivasan. Feminism & Metaethics
  18. ^ P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein, Carnap and the New American Wittgensteinians, Philosophical Quarterly 53 (2003), pp. 1 –23.
  19. ^ "Is The New Wittgenstein Really New". 2000-12-09. Retrieved 2014-03-06.
  20. ^ "Ian Proops, The new Wittgenstein: A critique". PhilPapers. 2009-01-28. doi:10.1111/1468-0378.00142. Retrieved 2014-03-06.
  21. ^ Stokhof, Martin. "The quest for purity. Another look at the New Wittgenstein". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Appointment of Fellow in Philosophy and Christian Ethics - Regent's Park College". 6 October 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2018.

External links[edit]