Philosophy of Transformative Experience

Transformative experiences have an epistemic dimension and a personal dimension. An epistemically transformative experience is an experience that provides knowledge that is epistemically inaccessible to the knower until he or she has that experience. As one might put it, the content of the proposition describing the experience is graspable only by having the experience itself. The paradigmatic cases of such experience involve cognitive phenomenological states, such as the state of knowing what it’s like to see color or the state of knowing what it’s like to hear music. A personally transformative experience involves an experience that transforms the self, the subjective preferences, or the epistemic states of a knower in some deep and perhaps even unpredictable way.

Transformative experiences raise distinctive philosophical questions about individual decision-making, because a transformative experience that is both epistemically and personally transformative can change, in a way that is epistemically inaccessible to the decision-maker before the experience, one’s preferences concerning the acts that can lead to the new outcomes. Transformative choices, then, ask you to make a decision where you must manage different selves at different times, with different sets of preferences, but where the proposed changes are epistemically inaccessible to you before you choose whether to become the new self.

The "Philosophy of Transformative Experience" is a $450,000 research initiative intended to support work in philosophy and related areas on the nature and varieties of transformative experience. During the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years, we will offer up to three non-residential fellowships per year over the course of two years to philosophers. Full proposal requests for Philosophy only would range between $40,000 and $100,000 for projects not to exceed one year in duration, and Interdisciplinary projects submitted under multiple Experience Project RFPs may request an amount equal to the sum of the maximum award amount for each RFP individually (and may exceed one year in duration).  Any two year proposals submitted jointly to multiple Experience Project RFPs must be submitted in the first funding cycle and submit a Letter of Intent in accordance with the application process in the Psychology and Sociology RFPs (Letters of Intent due October 1, 2014). We expect to make approximately 6 awards.

The Templeton Research Fellowships in Transformative Experience Program will offer one residential fellowship per academic year (2015-2017) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for projects devoted to transformative experience and its applications. Fellowships are aimed at research on a host of big questions surrounding the nature and varieties of transformative experience.


The Philosophy of Transformative Experience Timeline

February 15, 2015: Philosophy residential and non-residential applications due

Spring 2015: Funding decisions for Philosophy competitions

February 15, 2016: Philosophy residential and non-residential fellowship applications due

Spring 2016: Funding decisions for Philosophy competitions


For more details, please visit the project website: