Monthly Archives: March 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hi everyone, our big Department news this week was our wonderful PGSA graduate student conference!  More details about that in a bit; first I have a few other things to tell you.

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Jason West

First, I pass along an alum update from Jason West, who completed his PhD in our Department in 2003.  Jason says “after completing the PhD, I taught at St. Jerome’s for a year and then came to Edmonton to teach philosophy at Newman Theological College. I’ve been here for 8 years. After a year as Academic Dean I was appointed President in November of 2012. Hope all is well at Waterloo.”  Congratulations on your appointment, and thanks for keeping in touch!

Also, I happened to be corresponding with Wendy O’Brien, who is in the last stages of completing her PhD thesis with us, and she mentioned this — I thought it might be of general interest.  Wendy says, “I became involved as a founding member and co-ordinator of an organization that is putting on conferences in interdisciplinary studies at sites in Canada, Spain, France and Mexico ( and it looks like we might be going to India.) Not sure if you have students or colleagues who might be interested in the themes we are exploring. Our next conferences are in May (13th – 27th) co-hosted with Humber here in Toronto and then in Barcelona in June. They can be found at http://alternative-academia.net/ocs-2.3.5/

In more general Department news, some of our members have been having a reading group on structural realism in the philosophy of science.  The group meets every Thursday afternoon in the lounge and consists of half a dozen grad students and faculty members.  Graduate student Nathan Haydon explains:

“Structural realism claims that our best scientific theories tell us about the structure of the world. But what is meant by structure? And does the apparent retention of structure across theory change really provide a connection to what the world is like?  In our reading group, we began with John Worrall’s paper “Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds” that led to the modern resurgence of structural realism. By appealing to the continuity of structure across theory change, Worrall argues that the realist can account for the success of science while giving credit to the radical theory change that seems to occur on the level of theoretical entities.

While Worrall lays the groundwork for such a position, the job remains for the structural realist to fill in the details. We continued by looking at several articles that offer more specific accounts of what is meant by structure. These included “The Intelligibility of the Universe” by Michael Redhead and “Remodeling Structural Realism” by Steven French and James Ladyman. Both argue for structure as a type of shared mathematical relation, either shared at a more abstract level between scientific theories or shared between theory and data models, respectively.  Following concerns raised while reading some of Doreen Fraser’s current work, however, it is not clear that a shared mathematical structure can necessarily be given the same physical interpretation in different applications and thus provide a unique account of how the world is. Is this something the structural realist can agree with? If not, can the structural realist offer a response? The group is now focusing on responding to these questions.”

Finally, the PGSA conference!  The PGSA held its 20th annual Graduate Student Conference on Friday March 22 and Saturday March 23.  PGSA president Rosalind Abdool and co-organizer Nathan Haydon write “The quality of the papers submitted and accepted this year was outstanding and the presentations were philosophically engaging and thought-provoking. There were lively discussions on various philosophical topics, including the role of desires in decision-making, a new account of weakness of will and different kinds of moral responsibility, just to name a few. Attendance and participation from our graduate students, faculty, retired professors, guests, keynote speaker and others made this conference a huge success.

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Avery Archer and Kian Mintz-Woo engage in some philosophical discussion at the PGSA conference.

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Christa Johnson delivers her paper at the PGSA conference.

The keynote address was by Dr. Nomy Arpaly from Brown University. Her talk on “strong will” was philosophically stimulating and Dr. Arpaly had a wonderful charm and humor that captivated the audience. Dr. Arpaly discussed concerns about controlling our will and our ability to be responsible for our wills, especially in light of studies that reveal how “willpower” can be manipulated by external factors.

While an important part of a philosophy conference depends on the quality of  presentations, the PGSA also provides a rich social experience. Events during the conference included group meals for attendees on both Friday and Saturday and a conference dinner that took place at Masala Bay, an excellent local Indian restaurant. PGSA members also provided places for speakers to stay (even including a few home-cooked meals), transportation to and from the airport, and were always around to discuss philosophy over a few drinks in the evening. We heard nothing but good things from the speakers.”

In case you missed it, the full conference booklet has some great photos in which the organizers attempted to recreates photos from the past, in honor of this being the 20th year.  You can check it out here:  2013 Conference Program Booklet.  You can also see more great photos.

Rosalind would like to extend a huge thank you to both Nathan Haydon and Benjamin Nelson for their very hard work organizing this year’s conference, and thanks to everyone else involved in the conference who made it an overwhelming success!

Don’t forget, as always, you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website.

Have a great week,

–Patricia Marino

Wednesday March 20, 2013

Another great campus photo by Vicki Brett.

Another great campus photo by Vicki Brett.

Hi everyone, lots of news this week.

Heather Douglas spent Friday March 15 at the University of Guelph, talking to students in Maya Goldenberg’s graduate seminar on science and values and then giving a talk to the department on “The Moral Terrain of Science.”  Heather says that the talk induced a great discussion, especially about science-society relations and collective responsibility.

Brian Orend now has a lecture up on iTunes.  Brian says, “if you search “Orend” on iTunes, you can down-load for free a 30-minute interview with me regarding my book The Morality of War (second edition forthcoming this Fall).  Also, in the past few weeks, I delivered lectures on “War and Memory” and “Post-war Reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan” at Texas A & M University, and spoke at the University of Guelph on the question: “Did the European Union Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?”

On Friday March 15, graduate student Ben Nelson gave a talk in the grad student colloquium series:  The Indeterminacy of Hunches: A Non-Standard Account of Intuitive Contents.”  Ben says, “In the talk, I gave a short primer on one contemporary debate in meta-philosophy on the subject of intuitions. I then introduced a new way of thinking about how to use intuitions in philosophy.”

Sharon Lee

Sharon Lee

Hoping to start a trend of posting updates from alums, I wrote to ask Sharon Lee, PhD UW 2008, what she’s been up to over the last few years.  Sharon writes:  “Immediately following graduation, I returned to the publishing industry to work on the development and delivery of resource support materials and textbooks for both Oxford University Press and Pearson Publishing.  I discovered an industry facing some deep and transformative questions regarding the role of print resources in Canadian schools. Questions such as: what should students learn, what is the best way for them to learn this information, which technological advancements are pedagogically sound, and how can an entire industry embrace radical change when it has been doing the same thing for a hundred years. I had the opportunity to participate in many focus groups and product development meetings aimed at trying to find innovative solutions to these questions. And through this experience my own academic exploration of these questions was reignited. So in 2011 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a lecturer at UW again and also at WLU and Western. Teaching courses like children’s rights, social foundations of education, theories of justice, and political theory enabled me to readdress my dissertation and the research I started during my time in the philosophy department at Waterloo. My paper titled “Education as a Human Right in the 21st Century” was recently published as a feature article in the journal Democracy & Education. And my paper titled “Gender and Education: Of what are humans made?” was included in the course book for the Social Foundations of Education course which all teacher candidates must take at Western’s Faculty of Education. I continue to be a member of Wilfrid Laurier’s contract academic staff and my current research project is looking at sustainable teaching practice.”  Nice to hear from you Sharon!

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Katie Plaisance

Kathryn Plaisance

Carla Fehr and Kathryn Plaisance just got back from the Advancing Public Philosophy Conference in Atlanta Georgia, sponsored by the Public Philosophy Network.  Together with their collaborator, Kyle Whyte, from Michigan State University, they developed and ran a panel discussion on “Socially Relevant Philosophy of Science.”  Carla says,  “all three of them gave papers about ways that philosophers of science can improve scientific research by helping knowledge move smoothly among different groups of researchers and among groups of researchers, and various public groups including journalists and policy makers.”

Finally, Shannon Dea writes to tell us: “the past week was a busy one for me as a public intellectual. Last Monday evening at Kitchener City Hall, I served as the invited delegation on women’s issues to the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Waterloo Region “People’s Budget” consultation session. This was one of seven regional consultations being held around the province to highlight the adverse effects of austerity budgeting on the most vulnerable Ontarians. I adduced evidence that women are disproportionately disadvantaged both by government service cuts and by tax breaks for high income earners. A couple of days later, I did an interview with CKCO News (the local CTV affiliate) about a controversy in Guelph around Pro-Life advertisements on public buses. Friday, I gave a guest lecture on freewill and determinism to eighty public health students studying the social determinants of health. Finally, Tuesday afternoon, I joined local poverty activists and labour leaders on a local cable talk show (Rogers Talk Local) to discuss the People’s Budget consultations, and the effects of austerity budgeting. Again, my emphasis was on the particular harm that austerity budgeting does to women, especially racialized women, disabled women, and newcomer women. I love having opportunities like these to talk to the broader public about matters of consequence, but last week was an embarrassment of riches!

Don’t forget our grad student conference is coming up this Thursday and Friday!As always, you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website.

— Patricia Marino

Wednesday March 13, 2013

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Campus photo by Vicki Brett.

Hi everyone,

Last Friday, March 8, was the Second Annual Science and Technology in Society Day, timed to celebrate International Women’s Day.

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Women and Physics 2013 conference participants

Organizer Carla Fehr says, “this was a truly stellar event, featuring one of the foremost scientists in the world. One might be forgiven for describing Adriana Ocampo—NASA’s Program Executive for the Science Mission Directorate, and lead scientist for US, European and Japanese exploration projects on Venus—as a great woman scientist, but such a qualifier is entirely beside the point. And that was sort of the point of the event. Women and Physics: Past, Present, and Future, held at Perimeter Institute, brought together students and faculty from University of Waterloo and Laurier University to discuss the role of women in science, how that role has changed through history, and where the future will take it.” Check out the full description of the event at our Department website.

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Heather presenting “Science, Values, and Democracy.”

On Wednesday, March 6, Heather Douglas gave a presentation in our series of faculty lunchtime-research-in-progress talks.  Her topic was “Science, Values, and Democracy.”  Heather says, “I attempted to describe the value of science to democratic societies, the reasons why democratization of science might be needed, and social mechanisms to achieve such democratizition.  Clearly this was too much to discuss in one talk, but a lovely discussion ensued.”

First-year PhD student Sara Weaver has had a paper accepted for presentation at The Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS) conference in June.  Sara says, “I will be presenting my paper ‘Two Approaches to the Integration of Feminism with Evolutionary Theory.’ I’ve been wanting to go to this conference for a couple years now, so I’m glad I finally went out on a limb and sent an abstract in.”  Also, recent alum and current instructor Rachel McKinnon has just had a paper accepted in Metaphilosophy on the metaphysics of luck, and how luck ought to impact our normative evaluations of actions.  The title is “Getting Luck Properly Under Control.”   Nice work, Sara and Rachel!

Last Wednesday I presented my paper “Sexual Use, Sexual Autonomy, and Adaptive Preferences” to the Southwestern Ontario Feminism Reading Group, which met at Brock University.  This paper is a follow up to some previous work I had done on sexual objectification, and will hopefully form part of a book I’ll write on this subject.  There was an excellent discussion and I’m most grateful to the participants.

Recent new faculty publications:

Tim Kenyon’s paper, “The Informational Richness of Testimonial Contexts,” has  appeared in The Philosophical Quarterly 63.250: 58-80.

As always, you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website.

Hope everyone is having a pleasant week,

Patricia Marino

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hi everyone, it’s week eight of Winter term and finally it’s March.  The equinox can’t be too far away.  Welcome to our first instalment of real news.

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The view from Hagey Hall on a sunny March day.

First, our heartiest congratulations to our recent alum and current instructor Rachel McKinnon, who was just awarded a SSHRC post-doc!  Rachel writes, “My SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship was awarded to help me with my research on the norms of practical reasoning, which is a natural extension of my work on the norms of assertion. There’s a parallel debate between what norms may govern the practices of assertion and practical reasoning: must we assert only what we know, and must we decide based only on premises that we know? I think that reasons for rejecting a knowledge norm of assertion also motivate rejecting a knowledge norm of practical reasoning. I also think that there are good reasons to suppose that while the norms of both practices will be related, they won’t be unified (i.e., the same norm governs both practices). I plan to take up this research with Jeremy Fantl, at the University of Calgary. My goals of this fellowship are to produce at least two refereed journal articles, to finish my book manuscript on the norms of assertion, and to finish the research for my next book manuscript on the norms of practical reasoning.”

Congratulations also to current post-doc Wesley Buckwalter for having his paper, “Knowledge, Stakes, and Mistakes,” co-authored with Jonathan Schaffer (Philosophy, Rutgers), accepted for publication in Noûs.  John Turri says that “the paper makes a major contribution to our understanding of knowledge and knowledge ascriptions.”

On Thursday Feb 28, Shannon Dea gave a talk at the Stratford Public Library as part of the Waterloo Lectures Series.  Shannon explains: “My talk, ‘Socrates in Nanjing,’ concerned the new teaching methods I experimented with last summer when I taught Philosophy in China, and how Waterloo students of all kinds would benefit from the broad application of those methods. The audience of 34 — mostly local seniors, but also a few folks who drove all the way from Waterloo — were splendid. They were enthusiastic, smart and engaged. The question period went on way longer than it had any right to, and then some audience members hung around afterwards to chat further with me. I would highly encourage other colleagues to give talks at Stratford. It was a really wonderful experience!”

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Doreen uses cool things in class.

Last week Doreen Fraser gave an informal presentation on using physics experiments in the philosophy classroom in the local Pedagogy Picnics series that our colleague and Arts Teaching Fellow Shannon has been organizing.  “In the fall term,” Doreen says, “I taught a seminar which was inspired by conceptual issues in nineteenth century physics (which was inspired by my work in conceptual issues in contemporary physics).  I borrowed equipment from the physics department to demonstrate experiments in electromagnetism and the conservation of energy which were described in the readings.  The talk was a great opportunity to discuss how I used experiments and history of science to bring my research into the classroom with other teachers, and also to use some cool equipment.”

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This year’s visiting Humphrey Chair in Feminist Philosophy, Anita Superson.

Finally, last Friday, March 1, a packed room saw this year’s visiting Humphrey ProfessorAnita Superson, of the University of Kentucky, deliver the final talk in her series of public lectures.  David DeVidi says, “The talk, Honky Tonk Women, was a response to Martha Nussbaum’s argument, in her paper ‘American Women,’ that prostitution is stigmatized because such work challenges men’s control over women’s sexuality—and that the work is no different in kind than other, unstigmatized work women do with their bodies that may be to varying degrees unpleasant and alienating.  Superson argued that while such work may pose such a challenge, it remains morally problematic because it perpetuates different, harmful sexist stereotypes that women are sex objects.  At its heart, her case was a Kantian claim that the right to bodily autonomy is incompatible with prostitution.  A lively discussion ensued in the question period.”

Anita’s previous two lectures were “Moral Bindingness” and “The Right to Bodily Autonomy and the Abortion Controversy.”  Anita is also teaching a seminar this term on Bodily Autonomy.  We’ve been thrilled to have Anita around this term, for her course, for her lectures, and just to talk philosophy with.  Thanks Anita!