Dr Andrew Kirton

Dr Andrew Kirton


My background is in philosophy with a focus on ethics and philosophy of action. I did my BA, MRes and PhD at University of Manchester, where I also worked as a teaching assistant in philosophy for several years. After that I worked as a research assistant on a British Academy funded project, based at Blavatnik School of Govt. in Oxford, researching the crisis of trust in institutions, and the duties on businesses to be trustworthy. I joined IDEA in Sept 2018 as that project was finishing its first phase.

Before pursuing a PhD, I did a few things including working at an online record shop (a playground for obsessiveness), and several years in local government HR, at the start of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition program of austerity circa 2010. One of my roles was helping administrate severance packages of public sector workers in e.g. youth programmes and homelessness; an upbeat start to being a UK taxpayer.

Research interests

My main ongoing research interest is in understanding what morality is and how it comes from our basic social / emotional wiring. I think about this by exploring the nature of interpersonal trust, and normative ‘tools’ like promises and obligations. Exploring these seems to me to open up the question of why other people and their actions matter to us in the way they do, and why we tend to think/feel it really important that others will basically be consistent, reliable, helpful parts of our lives. I usually take an approach that uses insights from psychology, neuroscience and psychotherapy / counselling, especially e.g. attachment theory.

I have written about and think about this kind of question as it plays out at the level of social groups, organisations and communities. I’m curious about how our need to assimilate into bigger social structures with symbolic meaning, roles and narratives – playing social games – reflects, channels and expresses impulses stemming from our underlying social psychological nature. So for example, how the world of work (/the economy itself) and our public and private institutions are solutions to a kind of collective social emotion / impulse management problem, relating to our need for a sense of purpose and meaningfulness to our lives, which itself relates to our need for belonging, acceptance and connection with others. I also think we’re living in a fascinating (and turbulent) time where we’re seeing technological progress and wealth inequality short circuiting and thereby exposing these underlying needs in various – maybe worrying but nonetheless enlightening – ways, with our social fabric tearing along various in-group/out-group lines that people are seeking sanctuary in. I’m also more broadly interested in how ongoing developments in things like Artificial Intelligence will impact society (if we don’t crispify the world too soon). I’m interested in supervising any PhD projects that touch on the above kinds of issue directly or indirectly. I’m currently supervising two PhD students working on the responsibilities on institutions in relation to being trusted, and trust and algorithms on social media platforms.

I think about a lot of other non-social/societal things too, e.g. what consciousness and perception is (why am I me and not someone else?), where maths comes from (what *is* a number?), how bodies of knowledge develop from the interaction of imagination and rigour (what is rigour? what makes science different from storytelling?), among other stuff I’ve probably got a bunch of indecipherable notes written about in my phone. I also love to chat about these things but I probably have wilder thoughts about them (in the sense of not developed in captivity of the relevant ongoing philosophical / academic discourse) than the social emotion / morality / society topics.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • 2009 - BA (Hons) Philosophy
  • 2014 - MRes Philosophy
  • 2018 - PhD Philosophy
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Student education

I’m on research leave from Feb 2023 – Sept 2023.

I mainly teach on the following topics:

  • Philosophy and ethics of science (Is science better than non- /pseudo-science? Should scientists be activists? Issues around trust in science, ethics of pharmaceutical companies and recreational drugs)
  • Ethics of privacy, confidentiality, consent and autonomy
  • Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, data ethics
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>