Changes in Rationality through History

Immanuel Kant
Maya Krishnan
Maya Krishnan

What is political creativity? This was the question Maya Krishnan (Philosophy, ’15) asked during her sophomore year. Her passion for politics, history, and philosophy inspired her to pursue this question with the help of a UAR Chappell Lougee grant. She spent that summer on campus doing in-depth research on early American history with the guidance of Professor Jack Rakove, and became deeply intrigued by the methods used to study history.

Without the opportunity for focused and in-depth research during her Chappell Lougee project, Maya’s research interests would not have evolved into where they are today. Instead of finding an answer to the question “What is political creativity?”, Maya was left with more questions. Did different historical figures make the right moral choices? Which historical figures were successful, and what defines their success?

Thanks to a UAR Major Grant the following summer, Maya was able to explore these questions further. She realized her research was leading her to a more philosophical understanding of history, and switched her major from history to philosophy and turned to one of her favorite philosophers, Immanuel Kant, for inspiration. Kant was one of the first philosophers to work on the philosophy of history, though that is not his most famous field of study. He is famous for writings on rationality, which Maya also delved into. This led her to the question “What was considered right and rational at different periods in history?” and this grew into her honors thesis, which focuses on how rationality has changed over time through the lens of historical figures.

In addition to combining history, philosophy, and logic in her research, Maya has also worked on the Spatial History Project at Stanford. This innovative research team is made up of faculty researchers and student research assistants from various humanities disciplines that collaborate on spatial, textual, and visual approaches to studying history using digital technology.

Whether in the Spatial History Project, her classes, or her individual research, Maya attributes much of her evolving ways of thinking to the opportunities her UAR grants offered her – the time and campus resources for deep, profound reflection on the questions she is excited about. Students who were past grant recipients as well as her advisor, philosophy professor and Kant specialist, Allen Wood, provided Maya with the help and inspiration to take advantage of the grants. She has embraced the development of her ideas and research, and advises everyone interested in research to expect major changes to their focus and ideas. These changes can open doors to unexpected ideas and discoveries.

Maya embodies the creativity and open-mindedness that makes research an exciting and invigorating experience. To answer the question, “What is research creativity?”, look no further than Maya and her thought-provoking research throughout her time at Stanford.