Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Tracy Llanera


What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

After completing my BA and MA in the Philippines, I moved to Sydney, Australia to do a Ph.D. in philosophy at Macquarie University in 2012. I wrote a thesis on the American pragmatist Richard Rorty and the idea of redemption in modernity. My degree was awarded in Apr 2016. At present, I am affiliated with Macquarie University and teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the Department of Philosophy and Department of Anthropology.

This Fall, I’ll be a residential fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute for the project Humility & Conviction in Public Life. After my fellowship at UCHI, I’ll be a visiting research fellow in philosophy at Keele University, United Kingdom in Winter 2018.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I’ll be working on a project entitled “Combating Egotism: Intellectual Humility as Self-Enlargement” at UCONN. I aim to develop the concepts of egotism and self-enlargement as ways of understanding what the virtue of intellectual humility might mean in the healthy functioning of a modern liberal democracy. In particular, I’d like to fashion the idea of self-enlargement in a manner that is indebted to the pluralist conception of intellectual humility. This is an exciting turn for me since it serves as my first attempt to take my research toward the direction of virtue theory. If successful, I’d like to next work on exploring the relationship between the concept of irony and the virtue of intellectual humility.


As a separate project, I’m also working on a book entitled Outgrowing Modern Nihilism. In this work, I challenge the orthodox view that human culture should overcome the malaise of nihilism. In contrast, I argue that it should instead outgrow the problem. It’s going to be tough to defend this argument — good thing I don’t have a deadline!


How did you arrive at this topic?

Egotism and self-enlargement are important concepts in my Ph.D. thesis, a thesis that generally belongs in the area of philosophy of religion and the philosophical problems of modernity. Applying for the fellowship made me realize that these concepts could be potentially useful in social and political philosophy as well, especially if read through the lens of intellectual humility. I’m really glad that I could explore this new phase of my research at UCONN, where there are so many philosophical experts on virtue theory.


In terms of nihilism, well, I like the irony behind the fact that there is so much to talk about nothing!


What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

I’ve set three practical goals for the fellowship project. First, I hope to articulate a philosophically workable concept of egotism. While egotism is Richard Rorty’s trope, the concept has room for stronger analysis from a conceptual and historical perspective. Egotism is already familiar and adaptable to different disciplines (philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis). It has family resemblances to socially recognizable traits and conditions (e.g., narcissism, egocentrism, megalomania) which interest audiences both in the academia and the general public. The conceptualization of egotism I offer retains its fundamental link to the metaphysical frameworks of religion and science, which the language of philosophy (especially Rorty’s) can effectively articulate. Second, I try to explore how egotism could be overcome. My project recommends cultivating a deep commitment to self-enlargement in a liberal democracy, which in my view challenges deep-seated and implicit biases about what it means to pursue projects of self-authenticity and good citizenship in a liberal democracy. Third, this fellowship project develops some of my work for public engagement on egotism. In terms of engaging a broader audience, my essay “Seeking Shelter in a Terrifying Father Figure” published in The Indypendent profiles two political egotists: United States President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In the future, I hope to write more incisive pieces for better public understanding of egotism as a result of my research at UCHI.