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.


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

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.


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


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


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