Mellon Foundation award to fund Lear’s ongoing work on human imagination

Jonathan Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in Social Thought and Philosophy, has received a 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The awards are intended to highlight the "decisive contributions the humanities make to the nation's intellectual life," according to the Mellon Foundation. Although the awards honor individual achievement, the funds are granted to the recipients' institutions. This year, recipients' institutions were allotted $1.5 million, which will be used to support the research efforts of recipients and their collaborators. Since the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Awards were established in 2001, six Chicago faculty members have received them.

"The news came as a complete and utter surprise," Lear said of the award. "I am honored and I feel very humble."

Lear, one of the nation's leading philosophers, focuses his work on the ethical significance of human imagination. He currently is working on the forthcoming Irony and Identity.

Lear has examined the works of Freud and the ancient Greek thinkers as well as other topics such as the structure of human subjectivity and the value of irony in therapy. He has received numerous awards for both his philosophical work and contributions to the study of psychoanalysis.

His honors include the 1993 Heinz Hartmann Award from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute for his book Love and Its Place in Nature. He has written extensively on Aristotle and Plato, as well as the books Aristotle and Logical Theory and Aristotle: The Desire to Understand.

He discussed his 2000 book, Happiness, Death and the Remainder of Life in an interview with the University of Chicago Chronicle, in which he criticized Aristotle and Freud for their attempts to systematize the activity of human life according to a single, unifying principle.

In Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006), Lear looks into the lives of members of the Crow Nation as they faced the end of their way of life. In his 2005 book, Freud, Lear analyzed the lasting impact of the psychoanalyst's philosophy of mind, free will and determinism, rationality, the nature of the self and subjectivity, and ethics and religion.

Lear received a B.A. in history from Yale University in 1970 and a second B.A. in philosophy from the University of Cambridge in 1973. He received his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 1978. He also is a graduate of the Western England Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Lear said he plans to use the funds from the award to support several long-term projects, including his ongoing research on the role of dreams and visions in the Crow Nation. He also hopes to host a series of seminars on the ethical significance of imaginative activity.

"I am grateful to the University of Chicago community, which has given me constant support to pursue my studies as I see fit," he said. "I hope to put these funds to excellent use."

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