Foundation History

Marc Sanders (1939-2011) was a philanthropist, businessman, and writer who spent the last forty years of his life learning, writing, and working on systematic philosophy.

In the late seventies, Sanders formed and funded The Institute for Natural Philosophy. Its aim was to encourage theoretical and epistemological inquiries in the physical, natural and social sciences. In particular, The Institute sought to promote inquiries that could not be adequately supported within the confines of a single scientific discipline or via a traditional funding source, because of their unusual scope or method. The Institute’s motivating concern was to mitigate the crippling specialism that marred the intellectual development of so many scientists, and to facilitate the integration of scientific results into a more inclusive philosophical framework. The interdisciplinary board of the Institute for Natural Philosophy consisted of physical scientists, social scientists, and philosophers. Among its board members and supporters were B.F. Skinner, Stephen Jay Gould, Thomas Kuhn, Freeman Dyson, Jerome Lettvin, Dean Montgomery, Ashley Montagu, and Jerry Fodor. Part of the inspiration behind The Institute for Natural Philosophy reappears in Sanders’ later work as an attack on scientism, the idea that science alone can deliver a comprehensive worldview.

The Institute for Natural Philosophy was a precursor of the Ammonius Foundation, a non-profit foundation, created and funded by Marc Sanders for the promotion of traditional metaphysics and philosophy of religion. During the twelve-year life of the Ammonius Foundation, two prizes for young scholars (one in metaphysics, one in philosophy of religion) both administered by editors from Oxford University Press were founded and awarded annually.

Upon Marc Sanders’s death, Senior Academic Advisor, Mark Johnston, Henry Putnam University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, updated the Marc Sanders Foundation prizes for young scholars to include additional prizes in the areas of philosophy of mind, epistemology, political philosophy, history of early modern philosophy, and metaethics. Johnston also expanded the presence of MSF to include a book prize, an annual conference, and a regular interview series, and instituted the funding of programs to expand the reach of philosophy and increase its diversity.

Marc Sander’s son, Eric Sanders, was the the Chair of Board of Trustees of the Marc Sanders Foundation from its inception. He stepped down in June of 2023. Jeffrey Pasek, a member of the Board of Trustees since the beginning, was elected the new Chair of the Board of Trustees in June of 2023.

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, has served as the Executive Director of the Sanders Foundation since 2019.

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Barry Lam

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