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


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