Monthly Archives: April 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hi everyone,

It’s end of term! To start things off, here’s a great picture graduate student Rosalind Abdool took last weekend, of some Department grad students finishing up papers, grading and working on their dissertations for the busy end of term.  Excellent : )


We’ve been doing some celebrating around here. On April 11, the department held a colloquium and reception in honour of recently retired department member Joe Novak. You can read all about Joe Novak in an earlier blog posting when we announced his retirement last August.

Dept. Chair Dave DeVidi writes, “For the colloquium, we invited one of our PhD alumni who worked closely with Joe, Paul Rusnock of the University of Ottawa. Rusnock proved an ideal choice.  His talk, “Mathesis universalis in Bohemia: Bolzano on collections” was very well adapted to the likely audience for a retirement event for someone like Joe. Joe has friends all over campus and so the audience could be predicted to include everyone from specialists on the topic to academics who are not philosophers to people from outside the academy entirely.  Rusnock was especially impressive during the question period, wearing his vast learning in the field very lightly and—something I always appreciate when I see it—demonstrating the ability to find something interesting in every question from the floor.  The timing was also good in that Rusnock’s monumental translation of Bolzano’s Theory of Science, in four volumes, has just been published by Oxford University Press. This is joint work with another emeritus member of the department, Rolf George. After the talk, there was a lively reception.  The occasion brought back many familiar faces. As usual at such events, there was much reminiscing, and everyone got a chance to chat with Joe and wish him well. Entirely appropriately for an event devoted to Joe, much chocolate was consumed. Thanks, Joe, for all you’ve done for the department.”  Yes, Joe, Thank you!!

The Department is also very pleased to announce that Greg Andres will be joining us as a permanent faculty member, at the rank of Lecturer, beginning July 1.  Chair Dave DeVidi writes, “His work will include coordinating the department’s business ethics offerings for the various “X and Business” programs on campus—which we teach to over 1000 students per year—and mentoring grad students who are just beginning their careers as teachers. Greg completed a PhD at the University of Western Ontario in the philosophy of logic, but his research interests have since moved in the direction of philosophy of economics and business ethics. He has been an extremely successful sessional teacher on campus for several years, and in 2013 was the inaugural winner of the Faculty of Arts Teaching Award.  His is currently an Instructor and the Instructional Support Developer with the Professional Development program on campus.” Welcome, Greg!

In graduate students news, Ben Nelson successfully defended his dissertation proposal and is now ABD! His title is tentatively:  On Unwritten Laws: a Treatise on the Concept of Implicit Legal Norms.” Congratulations, Ben!

Heather Douglas has been busy traveling and conferencing. She says,  “I had a 2-talk trip to St. Louis April 10 and 11. First, I gave a talk at Washington University on Scientific Integrity, where I explored the pluses and minuses of going with a narrow or a broad interpretation of the concept. The audience was a torn as I was between the two views. I also got to have great conversations with Anya Plutynski and Carl Craver, and Eric Hochstein sent a big shout out to the department here! Then on April 11 I gave a talk about Responsible Science in Democratic Societies at St. Louis University. That talk argued that while scientists have certain prima facie freedoms, those were not unlimited, and, further moral responsibilities set additional standards for their work. Kent Staley was a great host. Sadly I had to missed Joe’s party while in St. Louis.

“More recently, I spent Friday April 25 at the University of Guelph, engaged in a conversation about the relationship between psychology and STS, and what a psychological perspective could bring to science studies. The short answer was, quite a lot. Here is a picture of the group convened by Kieran O’Doherty and Jeff Yen, including people as far away as Lisa Osbeck from Western Georgia and Hank Stam from Calgary:


Shannon Dea has also been busy with talks, including three recent ones. She writes, “First was “On Harm Reduction.” This was my keynote talk as guest speaker for Bristol University’s annual student philosophy conference. It’s held every year at Cumberland Lodge, a swanky academic retreat operated by one of the Queen’s foundations. The buildings date to the 17th century, and sit on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Definitely the best linens I’ve ever slept in while attending a philosophy conference! My most British talk ever. Second was “Beyond Choice: An Ecological Approach to Abortion.” This was part of the Cardiff University Departmental Seminar. And finally, I presented “Towards a Peircean Metaphysics of Sex” to the Applying Peirce 2 Workshop, Nordic Pragmatism Network, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia and the University of Helsinki, Finland.”

More informally, Shannon also writes to tell us of a philosophical excursion. She says, “Recently I got to fulfill one of my dreams by undertaking a walking journey from, as it were, one end of 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s life to the other. I walked approximately 75 kilometres — from Spinoza’s birthplace in Amsterdam to his home in Rijnsburg (a little town near Leiden), to his later homes in Voorburg and the Hague, and finally to his grave, also in the Hague. The walking itself took about 19 hours over the course of two days, these days broken up by other days in which I visited the various Spinoza sites So, the whole pilgrimage occupied five days — two days of walking, three days of exploring Spinoza’s places. Retracing Spinoza’s biography the slow way and seeing first-hand the places he lived reconnected me to what I love so much in Spinoza’s thought — his patience, his rigour, his humility, his conviction that we are deeply connected to the natural world, and his insistence that the divine is immanent in that world, not transcendent. I expect that I’ll be doing some semi-scholarly writing about this journey in the future. For now, here’s a short blog post I wrote about my walk (, and here it is again, reblogged in Dutch (
Matt Doucet’s been traveling as well, and is currently in Amsterdam at a workshop at VU University on ‘Responsibility: The Epistemic Dimension’ that explores the question of whether ignorance is an excusing condition for moral responsibility. Matt says, “I presented a paper on ‘Moral responsibility and the limits of self-assessment’, got some excellent feedback, and took in some great talks.”
Matt also wrote to tell us about his grad seminar: “The students in my Responsibility and Punishment graduate seminar presented their papers at a day-long mini-conference on Monday, April 14th. The papers were uniformly excellent, and covered a wide range of topics, from punishing the innocent to the the ethics of slur appropriation to the cognitive science of emotional regulation.”
Finally, I have a bit of news myself. A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation to the Joint Centre for Bioethics Seminar series on “Dilemmas and Disagreement: Moral Coherence and Justification in Pluralistic Contexts.” It was wonderful discussing abstract philosophical issues with some ethics practitioners. I am also recently back from the Pacific APA, where the Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love put on two sessions — you can read more about them here.
Finally, we had a wonderful awards ceremony honoring prize winners and others! Since we’re still getting the pictures developed (ha ha, just a little joke for all you non-millenials out there) we’ll tell you all about it next time.
Don’t forget, as always, you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website.

Thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino

Wednesday April 2, 2014

Hello everyone! Did you know? This blog is now over a year old. A big thank you to all the readers and followers and contributors!

I’m excited to say: lots of news today.


But first, a cardinal. Vicki Brett says, “I have been chasing this bird (or ones like it) around for nearly 5 years trying to get a picture of it! Every time I would bring my camera out he would disappear; finally, this past Sunday, Mr. Cardinal decided to pose for me.” Lovely!

We’ve had some great events over the past couple of weeks. Elijah Millgram (University of Utah) visited for a couple of days and spent lots of time meeting with students and faculty and also giving a colloquium talk , “Who Was the Author of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” We were very happy to get to spend some time with him; Heather Douglas, who hosted the visit, says he had a great time in Waterloo as well.

An even bigger event was the annual PGSA conference! Ben Nelson, one of the organizers, says “the 21st annual Graduate Student Conference on Thursday March 27 and Friday March 28.  The papers submitted and accepted this year were excellent and the presentations were no less so. Many philosophical topics were up for discussion, from the philosophical analysis of recalcitrant emotions, to the politics and morality of authority and deference. Attendance and participation from our graduate students, faculty, retired professors, guests, keynote speaker and others made this conference a success.

“The keynote address was by Dr. Jamie Dreier from Brown University. His talk on ‘the normative theory of normativity’ was both stimulating and entertaining. Dr. Dreier discussed the problem of grounding our explanation of normativity, and the puzzles that arise when one adopts a deflationist approach to the truth of moral sentences.

“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 Thursday and Friday and a conference dinner that took place at My Thai, a local Thai restaurant. And, as always, the students of the department came out in full force to discuss philosophy over drinks each evening.”

Jonathan Vanderhoek (University of Texas at Austin) presents at this year's PGSA conference.

Jonathan Vanderhoek (University of Texas at Austin) presents at this year’s PGSA conference.

Dave DeVidi asks a question as keynote speaker Jamie Dreier looks on at this year's PGSA conference.

Dave DeVidi asks a question as keynote speaker Jamie Dreier looks on at this year’s PGSA conference.

In case you missed it, the full conference booklet has a recap of the schedule of the conference.  You can check it out here:  2014 Conference Program Booklet.”

I’ll add to that, a big thank you to all the people who worked to make the conference possible!

We have quite a bit of news from graduate students, including some papers accepted at conferences. Sandie Devries writes, “I will be giving a paper titled  “Of Scales and Bridges: the Naturalization of Feminist Neurophilosophy” at the Philosophy, Knowledge and Feminist Practices conferences in Alcala de Henares, Spain. I will also be presenting at the upcoming FEMMSS Science, Technology and Gender conference [here at UW] where I will be presenting a paper entitled: “Hardwired for Prejudice? A Neuro-ethical Account of Perceptual Preference.”

Graduate student Jamie Sewell will also be presenting at the FEMMSS Science, Technology and Gender conference, a paper on “Commercial Surrogacy and the Capabilities Approach.”

Graduate student Ramesh Prasad writes, “I’m happy to inform you that I have been appointed to the Ethics Committee of the Canadian Society of Transplantation for a two-year term. My structured philosophical training at Waterloo has greatly helped in contributing much more meaningfully to debates and discussions at the CST’s Annual Scientific Meetings, and to share my new-found knowledge and thinking methods (although I still have along way to go!) with my colleagues and peers at both departmental and national levels. Thanks to all the faculty at Waterloo for helping to make this possible.”

John Turri passes along this news: “Graduate student Peter Blouw co-authored a paper that was recently accepted at Philosophical Studies, which is one of the best generalist journals in the field. The paper documents and explains an interesting pattern in people’s normative judgments. In particular, it documents people’s tendency to engage in “excuse validation,” whereby judging that someone blamelessly broke a rule leads many people to claim, paradoxically, that no rule was broken at all! Excuse validation has implications for recent debates in normative ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of language, which rely on thought experiments that are perfectly designed to trigger excuse validation.”

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool is just back from Windsor where she co-organized and participated in National Health Ethics Week (NHEW) at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. “NHEW is a time during which everyone, including healthcare providers, patients, families and community members take part in educational events and other sessions aimed at raising awareness of health ethics issues across Canada,” Rosalind says. “Health ethics is about reflecting carefully on actions and decisions to determine what one ‘should’ do given particular circumstances. Some of the issues raised in health ethics include, and are certainly not limited to, patients choosing to live at risk, deciding between competing values, moral distress and burnout, the withdrawal/withholding of life sustaining treatment and the use of covert medication. Rosalind co-presented with her CCE colleagues at daily Ethics Grand Rounds on various topics, attended ‘meet and greet the ethicists,’ visited various units across the organization, and participated in town hall sessions.”

Awesome work, everyone, these all sound great!

We also have some faculty updates.

A big congratulations to Tim Kenyon on his promotion to full professor! Some of Tim’s seminar students organized a small surprise party! Philosophy undergraduate A. Y. Daring (third from right in the picture below) made some cupcakes and a beautiful cake that we all enjoyed.


Tim Kenyon also gave a talk recently, “Uptake, Testimony, and Content Preservation,” to the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University on March 21. Tim says “The faculty and students were excellent hosts, and the discussion session after the talk was really helpful.”

Paul Thagard just got back from Geneva where he attended a conference on the Ethics of the Human Brain Project, and next week is going to Leiden to discuss the Social Simulation of Science.

Last weekend Fraser attended a grad conference and a Foundations of Gauge Theories workshop at the University of California Irvine. “Gauge theories,” Doreen explains, “are a species of mathematical representation that have found applications in theories across physics, from electromagnetism to general relativity to quantum field theory in particle physics.  For philosophers, gauge theories complicate the project of interpreting physical theories because they typically introduce redundant mathematical structure.  A further complication is that informal mathematical presentations of gauge theories can make it difficult to sort out mathematical representations of the physical world from mere ‘descriptive fluff.’  The workshop was an excellent opportunity to get a snapshot of current philosophical work in this area.  I participated in a panel discussion with two mathematicians (Arthur Jaffe and Michael Muger) who offered their perspectives on the progress that has been made on formulating rigorous mathematical models of quantum field theories which are gauge theories and the obstacles—both mathematical and conceptual–standing in the way of completing the project.”

Don’t forget, we have an upcoming retirement celebration for Joe Novak this Friday April 11, including a colloquium talk by UW alum Dr. Paul Rusnock, University of Ottawa. Check out the details here.

Recent faculty publications include:

Heather Douglas, “Pure Science and the Problem of Progress,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A (2014). Heather says “The article is about the pure vs. applied science distinction, how it developed historically, and how it became canonical by mid-20th century.  I argue that despite its canonical status, there is no good conceptual basis for the distinction, and we can have a clearer sense of scientific progress if we reject the distinction.  And I talk about Kuhn.”

Tim Kenyon, “False polarization: Debiasing as applied social epistemology,” Synthese (2014): 1-19.

Paul Thagard (2014). “The self as a system of multilevel interacting mechanisms.” Philosophical Psychology, 27, 145-163.

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

Best wishes to all, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino