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Inaugural Professorial Lecture – Professor Stuart Brock

All University, Public
Event type
Inaugural professorial lecture

Overcoming imaginative resistance

About Professor Brock

Stuart Brock is the Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Academic). Prior to coming to Otago, Stuart held various senior roles at Victoria University Wellington including Head of the Philosophy programme, Deputy Head of the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, Associate Dean (Students, Postgraduate Research, and Academic Programmes), the Vice-Provost (Academic), and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). He has taught courses in critical thinking, epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of literature at both Victoria University of Wellington, and Princeton University, and has published important works on fiction and metaphysics.

Stuart’s research interests are in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of literature, and philosophy of the emotions. He received his PhD from Princeton University in 2002 and previously taught at Western Washington University in the United States.

About the lecture

One strand of Stuart’s research in recent years has been on what has become known as ‘the Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.’ Put simply, the puzzle is to explain the following curious asymmetry in human psychology:

  1. We easily imagine descriptive facts that deviate from those we believe when invited to do so in fiction; but
  2. We fail to imagine moral facts that deviate from those we believe when invited to do so in fiction.

So, for example, we have no difficulty imagining people jumping tall buildings in a single bound, plants and rocks conversing with one another, and agents travelling backwards in time and changing the past. But when asked to imagine that we are morally obliged to kill innocent children for our own amusement, our imagination gives out. The puzzle is to explain why our imaginative tendencies are so different in the moral case.

In this lecture, Stuart looks closely at what philosophers and psychologists have said about the puzzle. After motivating the claim that there is a genuine asymmetry here, he explores different hypotheses that have been put forward to explain it.

Stuart concludes the lecture by considering what practical lessons (if any) he might take from this discussion to inform his approach to the DVC (Academic) portfolio. He argues that positive changes in higher education should capture the imagination of our University whānau – but that is not easy. Success in the portfolio requires imagining how things might be different in a way that is sensitive to the values and aspirations of our students and staff (rather than imagining a future that is likely to be resisted because it doesn’t resonate with them). It also requires us to keep our focus on the ideal and not take our eye off the prize because of practical limitations, policy barriers and financial constraints that make it so difficult to achieve the ideal.

To help inform the discussion, Stuart invites you to provide your advice on these topics by email to:

Email (put ‘First 90 Days’ in the subject line)

Stuart looks forward to reflecting on your contributions in the lecture.

This lecture will be followed with light refreshments, tea, coffee and juice.


This event will be livestreamed from 5:25pm, Thursday 18 April 2024, at the following web address:

Streaming link for Professor Stuart Brock's IPL



Anna Poole



+64 22 652 1335

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