Monthly Archives: October 2016

October 13, 2016

Our department is overflowing with news this month, including publications, awards, and the retirement of one of our most eminent faculty members.

First, a big congratulations to John Turri, who has received one of Canada’s highest academic honors: induction into the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.  The honor is intended as “recognition for the emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership,” and it is open to scholars within fifteen years of completing their doctorates who have demonstrated “a high level of achievement.”  Dave DeVidi remarks, “In John’s case this is a considerable understatement, who I have seen referred to as ‘setting a record for productivity for the discipline’ and whose work is consistently praised for its insight, depth, and its rare combination of both experimental and philosophical sophistication.”  Congratulations, John!

As of September, two department members hold new research chairs.  John Turri has been appointed to a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, where Tier 2 CRC’s are awarded to “exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their fields.”  The appointment is for five years and is renewable once.  Chris Eliasmith, who just completed his second term as a Tier 2 CRC, has been appointed to a Tier 1 CRC in Theoretical Neuroscience.  The Tier 1 Chairs are “for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields.”  Congratulations, John and Chris!

Heather Douglas recently traveled to Brussels, where she was invited to participate in a workshop on principles for science advice and to speak at the 2nd International Network for Government Science Advice Conference, “Science and Policy-Making: Towards a New Dialogue.”  At the meeting of over 600 people from 72 countries hosted by the European Commission, she gave a talk on “Citizens and Science Advice.”  Slides for the talk can be found here.

For more details about the principles for science advice discussion, fellow participant Paul Cairney wrote a summary of all the different directions one could go with such principles, as well as ideas about principles (including Heather’s own perspective) here.


Heather Douglas in Brussels

Before going to Brussels, Heather was interviewed by Jim Brown for the CBC radio program the 180 on science literacy.  The interview can be found here.

Jackie Feke gave a colloquium talk at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto.  She spoke on “Ptolemy’s Philosophy of Geography.”  The abstract is available here.

Doreen Fraser’s article “The Higgs mechanism and superconductivity: A case study of formal analogies,” which she co-wrote with undergraduate alumnus Adam Koberinski (now a Ph.D. candidate at Western) came out in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics.

Vanessa Lam had an article come out this week in Philosophia:On Smilansky’s Defense of Prepunishment: A Reply to Robinson.”

This past summer, Kathryn Morrison wrote an op-ed on the issue of medical assistance in dying and mature minors.  It was published in late September in the Kitchener Record.  She developed the piece while at her applied research placement at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, working with their ethics director, Sally Bean, on policy for medical assistance in dying.

Catherine Gee successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis titled “Authenticity and Enhancement,” which explores the question of whether psychological enhancements aimed at improving an individual’s personality or character traits are compatible with authenticity.  Catherine argues that in many cases these enhancements are incompatible, as they are authenticity-undermining and this is an independent reason not to use these types of enhancements, even when there are other costs, or other benefits.  Catherine’s Ph.D. committee included her supervisor, Matt Doucet, as well as Shannon Dea and Chris Lowry.

On September 22, the Women’s Studies Student Society and members of Katy Fulfer’s Women’s Studies 101 class marched with other University of Waterloo students and organizations in the Kitchener-Waterloo “Take Back the Night” March to end gender- and sex-based violence.  Here is a short video about it.


Women’s Studies Student Society at “Take Back the Night”

On September 16, the Faculty of Arts hosted a Rape Culture Teach-A-Thon, which featured 14 short talks by Arts faculty.  Shannon Dea spoke about rape culture and trans people, Tim Kenyon discussed rape culture and ignorance, Katy Fulfer analyzed rape culture in HBO’s Game of Thrones television series, and Trevor Holmes spoke on rape culture and vampire fiction.

Dave DeVidi presented a workshop at the 40th annual staff retreat of KW Habilitation, one of the largest organizations in the region that provides support to people with developmental disabilities.  The workshop was called “Citizenship, Decisions, Advocacy…Supporting good lives,” and it involved trying to come to grips with the implications of the reframing of the goals behind social services in terms of a cluster of philosophically contested concepts such as citizenship, autonomy and belonging.  Dave says, “The session was great fun. It was attended by about 75 people, and the participants offered up a lot of interesting reflections, many arising from their daily experience of trying to do values-based work in situations involving time-pressure and other constraints.  A nice surprise was the number of former Waterloo students I had a chance to chat with, including a student I remembered well from when he took several courses with me when I first arrived here two decades ago, and someone recently graduated from Arts and Business who had some really nice things to say about Brian Orend.”

Last but far from least, our long-time department member Paul Thagard retired on October 1.



Paul Thagard

Paul received his Ph.D. in 1977 from the University of Toronto, having written a thesis titled “Explanation and Scientific Inference.”  His first full-time academic job was at the University of Michigan—Dearborn, and he moved to work as a cognitive scientist at Princeton University in 1986.  He was hired into the Philosophy Department at the University of Waterloo in 1992 at the rank of professor.

Dave DeVidi shares the details of Paul’s immense achievements: “A short blog post cannot reflect all the important contributions of a dedicated faculty member over a long career, but the important contributions Paul made during his 25 years at Waterloo include the creation of the Cognitive Science Option (now the Cognitive Science Minor) and serving for over two decades as the Director of the Cognitive Science Program.  He was also a successful teacher, having been nominated for the Distinguished Teacher Award, and having supervised four Ph.D. students and eleven M.A. students.

“But it is as a scholar that Paul Thagard has really made his mark.  For three decades he has been recognized internationally for his profoundly influential research.  His most important work occurs at the intersection of philosophy, psychology and cognitive science, with the result that he can truly be said to have made an outstanding research contribution to both the humanities and the social sciences.  He is enormously prolific (author or co-author of eleven books, all published either by MIT Press or Princeton University Press), editor or co-editor of three more, and author of over 250 articles, chapters, reports and reviews.  According to Google Scholar, his citation count is currently approximately 20,000, an unheard of number for someone with a primary appointment in a philosophy department.”

The quality of Paul’s work is attested by the numerous awards he has won.  To name a few: in 1997 he won a Killam Research Fellowship; in 1999 he was named to the Royal Society of Canada; in 2005 he was appointed University Research Professor; in 2007 he won the Canadian Council for the Arts Molson Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities, in recognition of “a substantial and distinguished contribution over a significant period of time;” and in 2013 he won the Canada Council Killam Prize for Humanities, which is widely regarded as Canada’s most distinguished research award.

Paul’s publications cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from the problem of induction, to topics in the history of science, to questions of how brains encode meaning, to decision-making by the jury in the O.J. Simpson case.  Dave DeVidi explains, “A closer look reveals a striking internal coherence: it is organized around the idea that the many different approaches to understanding the nature of the mind and thinking have essential lessons to teach one another.  One of Thagard’s most profound contributions has been enabling such conversations across disciplinary boundaries, in large part by being an early role model for how such conversations can be successfully done.  As such, his research can accurately be described as exemplifying the insight that was the basis for founding the new interdisciplinary field of Cognitive Science—that the various disciplines investigating the nature of thought and mind, including philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, logic and others might well have useful things to teach one another if only they could develop the tools that would allow them to work together.  Small wonder that Paul has been an influential figure in this new field from its inception.”

Several of our faculty members share their reflections on Paul’s illustrious career and the impact he has made on us:

“Since my earliest days in graduate school, Paul has been a constant source of inspiration for finding interesting areas of study.  For instance, he provided me with an unpublished copy of what became a seminal paper on dynamic systems theory of mind, paving the way for my Master’s thesis (and my first publication, which was a commentary ready immediately after the publication of that seminal paper).  This special foresight into the ‘hot topics’ of cognitive science is a special gift of Paul’s that I’ve taken advantage of many times and will continue to do so far into the future.  But this is really just one small part of the many ways in which Paul has made my research career fun, exciting, and rewarding.  The department won’t be the same without him.” – Chris Eliasmith

“A focus on Paul’s publications, citations, influence, and awards may well distract us from what really matters, and what is not obvious from Paul’s C.V.: that he is a very funny guy.  Paul sees the humor even in difficult situations, and over the years that we’ve been colleagues, he has many times dissolved the room with a keen and well-timed witticism.  Probably my most-worn nanophilosophy shirt bears one of Paul’s contributions to the genre (“Why do bad things happen to bad people?”).  His good humor is only one of the reasons he will be missed as a colleague, but it is a significant reason.” – Tim Kenyon

“As a colleague, what I have most admired about Paul is the breadth of his work and his willingness to collaborate.  His research in philosophy of science spans the field, from analogies to conceptual change in scientific revolutions to creativity to mechanistic explanation.  His favorite case studies are drawn from cognitive science, the social sciences, and beyond (including urban planning!).  Since Paul has had such a large influence on the field, it is no surprise that he has influenced my own thinking.  I have used his account of analogies to think about the Higgs boson and I teach his oft-anthologized explanation of why astrology is a pseudoscience in my introductory philosophy of science course.  Paul’s work is so wide-ranging in part because he has welcomed collaboration.  His collaborators have included philosophers, psychologists, political scientists, statisticians, and engineers.  Moreover, he is open to working with everyone, from undergraduate students to research chairs, from graduate students to fellow faculty members in the department, which is one reason why his regular presence in the department will be missed.” – Doreen Fraser

Congratulations, Paul! We look forward to helping you celebrate this next stage of your career in the coming months.