Specialising in the Philosophy of Emotion and Philosophy of Action, I am a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I completed my undergraduate degree at Wits, before heading to the UK for a PhD at King’s College London. There, I wrote a dissertation titled ‘Feeling Reasons: How emotions explain action’, supervised by Dr Maria Alvarez and Prof. Bill Brewer. My PhD was awarded in 2015. I returned to Wits as a Postdoctoral Researcher from 2015-2016, before joining Thumos, the Genevan Research Group on Emotions, Values and Norms, at the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences (CISA), University of Geneva, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from 2016-2017. Now, from January 2018, I am back home at Wits.

You can contact me via email: mary.carman[at]

Emotions and action

My Ph.D. thesis focused on the role of emotions in explanations of action and I defended the claim that we can act rationally when acting on the basis of an emotional experience. My continuing work fine-tunes (and fixes!) these ideas from my thesis. In my work, I aim to contribute towards developing a robust conception of rational agency, one that acknowledges our emotional nature and that is able to incorporate emotions into an account of how we do indeed act in many of the cases when we act rationally.

Here’s a post I wrote for the blog Imperfect Cognitions in 2016 that gives a bit of a sense of my work. Please note that the arguments alluded to in this post changed quite substantially and can be found in a more developed form in my paper Emotionally guiding our actions (2018).


Through my interest in how emotions may or may not contribute to rational action, I started focusing on the emotion of anger as a case study. I am particularly interested in the effects of anger on decision-making and how these may affect the rational status of anger in political contexts. Examining anger has allowed me to draw together my philosophical interest in emotions with my general engagement with politics.

For a taste of the kind of approach I take with regard to anger, please see the posts from the successful conference on ‘Negative Emotions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, which Tristram Oliver-Skuse and I organised in May 2017 at CISA. The History of Emotions blog kindly showcased our conference during their #BadFeelings week. You can see the posts, here. Thank you to Thomas Dixon and the History of Emotions blog for recording our conference, as well as to our speakers and respondents!


While my primary research focus has been on emotions and action, as part of my postdoctoral position at Wits in 2015-2016, and working with Prof. Lucy Allais, I expanded my focus to topics in Bioethics. I was the principal investigator on a collaborative study between the Wits Centre for Ethics (WiCE) and the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) on informed consent in clinical research settings, and managed the South African HIV Clinicians Society Ethics & Policy mailing list for almost four years. Now that I am back at Wits, I plan to pick up these collaborations and topics again.