Category Archives: News

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hi everyone and welcome to week 12, OMG. Vicki Brett aptly suggested her photo of the statue in front of Modern Languages would sum up how everyone feels by the end of Fall term:

ML Fountain 2

We have some exciting graduate student news. Natalie Evans had a successful defense of her thesis on November 14th. Natalie’s dissertation, “Agency and Autonomy: A New Direction for Animal Ethics,” examined the obligations we owe to animals in virtue of respecting their agency and autonomy, a departure from the more typical considerations of welfare. As her supervisor, I am so happy to say, Congratulations Natalie! Since we didn’t take pictures, I’ll put here a photo from Wikipedia of a cute dog doing the famous mirror test:


In faculty and admin news, Tim Kenyon says, “I gave a presentation ‘Research measures and rankings’ at the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators in Fredericton on November 22.”
Our far-flung correspondent Shannon Dea, now on leave, writes to say, “On Nov. 4, I gave a plenary address on “Peirce and Spinoza’s Pragmaticist Metaphysics” in at the 15th International Meeting on Pragmatism at the Catholic Pontifical University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. (The talk was part of the book I’m working on while on sabbatical.) Here’s a photo of me at what might just be the world’s best samba bar with Argentian scholars Horacio Hector Mercau (Universidad Nacional de La Plata) and Catalina Hynes (Universidad Nacional de Tucuman):
Shannon Dea with colleagues in Sao Paulo
The conference drew participants from throughout the Americas and Europe. I’m delighted to report that by the end of the conference, my thesis that Spinoza was, for Peirce, an important early pragmatist had taken hold. The two final plenary speakers both included nods to my view in their own talks. It was great to get to exchange ideas with members of South America’s very active community of Peirce scholars, but also to spend time with my fellow plenary speakers, who are all distinguished scholars of American pragmatism. And, to my delight, some of that time involved samba dancing and drinking caipirinhas (Brazil’s distinctive cocktail).”
Heather Douglas gave a plenary keynote talk at an international conference at the University of Copenhagen on “The Special Role of Science in a Liberal Democracy.”  Heather says, “The conference was very interesting and brought together political philosophy, philosophy of science, and ethical perspectives on science, and showed the complexity of this terrain very well.  The conference website is here:  It was great to see old friends there and to make new ones!
Finally, we asked an alum of our undergraduate program, Adam Jensen, for an update on what he’s been doing lately, and here’s his interesting story:

“Since graduating from UW’s philosophy program in 2007, I have been working at various locations of Conestoga College. I began as a part-time employee working a few hours a week, but with determination, grit, and well-timed retirements of colleagues, I am now a Professor and Program Coordinator at the Guelph campus. I work in the Preparatory Programs, a little-known area which helps students gain courses needed for admission to college programs (I mainly teach English, and we also offer math and sciences) or helps students prepare for the GED test (high school equivalency). Our programs are free for students since we receive funding from the provincial government, and our mandate is to improve our students’ short- or long-term employment prospects. As you might imagine, it can be very rewarding to help individuals improve their situation in life, often helping them move from monotonous work (or no work at all) to a satisfying new career path. The way I see it, our role will only become more significant because more and more jobs require a post-secondary education; we can help those who are not prepared for that education.

“Although I do not use philosophy directly in my work, I find the strategies and thinking skills I developed at UW invaluable to my role and hope that I am able to impart some of these to my students as well. Students will not leave our programs with knowledge of Plato or Kant, but I feel that if we can help them to improve their reading, writing, and thinking skills, we can not only aid their transition to employment or further education but also foster more engaged citizens.

“I encourage those studying philosophy to consider adult education as a future career field. After all, there are only so many philosophy professor positions out there, and it is much easier to explain subject-verb agreement and essay structure than logical positivism and incompatibilist theories of free will.

Sound great, Adam!

Don’t forget, as always, you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website.
And thanks for reading!
— Patricia Marino

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hi everyone and welcome to week 10, when everyone’s saying “There are only two weeks left! … Wait! There are only two weeks left?”

More great wildlife photographed by Vicki Brett. Thank you Vicki, for brightening our day with these.

Maybe you remember that several of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell presented a poster at the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa, on “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust”? Well guess what: their poster won second prize! Congratulations all!

Tim Kenyon gave a paper, “Research impact measures for the humanities, social sciences and creative arts,” at the World Social Sciences Forum in Montreal on Thanksgiving weekend.

One of our senior graduate students, Rosalind Abdool, co-presented with Kevin Rodrigues, clinical ethicist at Providence Health Care, at Ethics Grand Rounds at St. Michael’s Hospital last week. The topic was on the ethical implications of the Rasouli case, for which the Supreme Court of Canada made a ruling in late October. The presentation was attended by numerous hospital staff, physicians, patients and community members interested in the impact of the case on questions such a informed consent, the definition of treament and futility, the decision-making autonomy of physicians and patients, as well as the “elephant in the room” of resource allocation. It was a fantastic discussion and they will be presenting at Providence Health Care, St. Joseph’s Health Centre Toronto and Hamilton later this month.

Rosalind also taught a class for the Masters of Health Science program through the Joint Centre for Bioethics – University of Toronto. The subject was on social contract theory and justice for healthcare providers. Rosalind remarks: “Teaching this class was a wonderful opportunity to discuss political philosophy and ethical theory with incredibly engaging students. It was fun being able to take interesting theories, such as utilitarianism, Kantianism, socialism and so forth and apply them to everyday clinical experiences, including mandatory flu shots, jumping wait lists, various forms of difficult behaviours from incapable patients and health equity.”

Rosalind adds, “The graduate students decided to take some time off on Saturday and go rock climbing! For many of us, it was our first time bouldering and rock climbing, but it was lots of fun and a great way to spend time together outside of the department!”


And finally, maybe you remember that Chris Eliasmith is going to be hosting a TV show on the Discovery channel, an episode of Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World? Well that will be showing this Friday, on Discovery World, channel 245 on Rogers. Here are some pictures!

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

Thanks for reading and stay warm.

— Patricia Marino

Wednesday October 30, 2013


Thanks to Vicki Brett for this wonderfully autumnal photo of a crow in a tree on campus.

Hi everyone, as Vicki’s picture attests, we are in full autumn-mode here in the Waterloo area. It’s incredible that there are only four more weeks of classes!

First up in graduate student news, Jim Jordan writes, “I presented a paper called “Closing a Route to Logical Pluralism” at the 50th Western Canadian Philosophical Association conference held from October 18th to 20th in Winnipeg. My paper looks at Gillian Russell’s presentation of two arguments that appear to be valid or invalid depending on whether their premises and conclusions are understood as natural language sentences or formalizable propositions. She suggests that this might be a route to some kind of logical pluralism; I argue that the difference is already made before the logical judgement of validity comes into play. This isn’t enough to settle the question of logical pluralism–we need to figure out what we want and are willing to accept as “logical” before we can answer the question of a plurality of logics.

Incidentally, in the conversation after one of the sessions, I found out that professor emeritus Rolf George and alumnus Paul Rusnock have finished translating over 3000 pages Bolzano’s writings into English. (Rolf, if you’re reading this, can you tell me where can I get a copy, and will you autograph it?)  The conference was also an opportunity to talk a bit about the two positions we have open here, meet a couple of people from Calgary where I got my start into philosophy, and make a few other introductions. There are a few other informal reflections on the conference over on the department friends’ Facebook group.” Very nice work, Jim!

Graduate student Cathy Gee has also been traveling. Cathy says, “I went to the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics conference on “Reason, Reasons, and Reasoning” in Flint, MI. I had an amazing time full of great people, great papers, and great food!” I’ll add that Cathy presented a new version of a paper she wrote for a seminar she took with me a couple of years ago! Great news, Cathy.

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool recently co-presented with colleagues at both Providence Health Care and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto for the Centre for Clinical Ethics’ monthly Ethics Grand Rounds. The topic was on the ethics of a mandatory flu vaccination and the presentation explored commonly held philosophical reasons against and reasons in favor of a mandatory flu shot. The presentation also aimed at encouraging deeper reflection on the value of getting the flu shot in light of scientific evidence. Rosalind remarks: “Staff were highly engaged in this topic and appreciated an in-depth analysis of the ethics of a mandatory flu shot. There continues to be much debate surrounding this issue, and this was a wonderful opportunity to provide an overview of the arguments on both sides and to facilitate a fascinating discussion.” Very nice job, Rosalind!

Over at his blog at Psychology Today, Paul Thagard wrote a parody of the extended mind hypothesis. “The extended mind hypothesis claims that it is a mistake to identify thinking with brain processes. Analogously, we argue that breathing should not be identified with lung processes…” check it out here!

Shannon Dea writes, “I’m really fortunate that my sabbatical year at the University of Sheffield coincides with the first year of a three year Leverhulme Trust funded project on Idealism and Pragmatism ( headed by Bob Stern and Chris Hookway. They’ve both been really supportive of my research and have welcomed me to all of the Idealism and Pragmatism activities. We’ve had a great reading group, and a visiting post-doc, and we’ve got a new blog and a Twitter feed (I even got to invent the hashtag for the first workshop in the project). And, this past weekend saw the first of three international workshops Bob and Chris are hosting under the umbrella of the project. The workshop focused on historical connections between idealism and pragmatism — an oddball topic for many scholars but one squarely at the centre of my research. I was one of seven speakers at the workshop — the only one from Canada. My talk was entitled “Peirce, Spinoza and Absolute Idealism.” The other talks variously considered aspects of Kant’s, Hegel’s, James’s and Brandom’s (inter alia) thought. The talks were all well-attended and the discussions were both lively and productive.In a couple of days, I head to Sao Paulo to give a keynote address at the 15th International Meeting on Pragmatism hosted by the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo under the umbrella of the Centre For Pragmatism Studies. It’s a huge treat to get to share my research with so many pragmatists and historians of philosophy! (And it’s a great help to get to do so now whilst writing my monograph Peirce and Spinoza.)”

Heather Douglas has lots of different kinds of news. Heather says, “First, Alan Richardson came for a great visit! He met with lots of graduate students, including my PHIL 674 seminar students (who are reading some of Alan’s work), as well as faculty. His talk was very well attended– standing room only– and presented an interesting picture of what drove concerns over objectivity (and against what kind of subjectivity the objectivity was to defend) among the logical empiricists. His talk emphasized the role of the will in establishing a responsible epistemic attitude and the need for conventions in knowledge creation for which the epistemic subject must be responsible. Thanks to Alan for visiting!”


Alan Richardson at Heather’s house, after his talk.

Heather also says, “I had a very interesting trip to Ottawa this past week, which involved both a day-long meeting on the continuation of the Situating Science cluster grant, which has fostered efforts in Canadian science studies for the past seven year. (For more info on that project, see: Then, the Science and Society 2013 conference began, where I spoke on “Science, Expertise, and Democracy.” I described both how science is valuable to democratic societies and how the public can legitimately critique specific scientific studies, either because of concerns over how a study was framed (which questions did it ask? Which did it not?) and over whether the assessment of evidential sufficiency is acceptable. My session included talks by Frederic Bouchard (Universite de Montreal) and Patrick Feng (University of Calgary), which I later tried to amalgamate into a summary given at the lunch plenary (with our own Carla Fehr). The meeting was a wide-ranging interdisciplinary effort to grapple with the complex issues of science and society, and lots of good connections were made. There was also a stunning reading of excerpts from Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen.

“Also, a paper on “The Moral Terrain of Science” has been published online in Erkenntnis. The paper describes how to think about all the moral considerations that arise in the practice of science, and considers the case of H5N1 as an illustrative example. The paper is part of a collection of papers on socially engaged philosophy of science arising from an October 2012 conference organized by Angela Potochnik at the University of Cincinnati. The entire collection can be viewed here.

“Finally, late last week, I spoke at the Canadian Association for American Studies Conference in Kitchener on the problem of loyalty among science advisors in the Nixon administration. This is the story of how Nixon disbanded his presidential science advising system and how Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires science advising bodies and their conclusions be a matter of public record. Although the US political system is quite different than the Canadian, there are important lessons concerning the need for openness with technical advice in a democracy for both countries.”

I (Patricia Marino) also spoke at the Canadian Association for American Studies Conference. Their theme was the “Economization of Everything,” and I wrote about the way economic methodology, because it collapses the distinction between wanting and valuing, is ill-suited for public reasoning processes. It’s become common to hear that the methods of economics, because they are “cold-blooded,” are superior to those of “warm-hearted” humanism; my talk, “The Cold-Blooded Economist is a Dangerous Figure,” drew on philosophical theories about valuing and liberal neutrality to argue that this is not so.

Maybe you remember that several of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell presented a poster at the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa? It was on “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust,” and I’m so glad they’ve given me permission to post it here. Download the pdf by clicking: SituatingSciencePoster-UOttawa2013. Great job, all!

Recent faculty publications:

Terrence C. Stewart & Chris Eliasmith (2013). Realistic Neurons Can Compute the Operations Needed by Quantum Probability Theory and Other Vector Symbolic Architectures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36 (3):307 – 308.

Upcoming items:

Chris Eliasmith will be a panel participant at this event on What Matters Now, in Hamilton November 4.

And graduate student Ramesh Prasad will be chairing a session at the upcoming International Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable in New York, NY on November 20, 2013.

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Also, follow us on Twitter.

As always, I hope everyone is doing well, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino


Wednesday October 2, 2013

Hi everyone,

It is with great pleasure that we would like to congratulate our Department Administrative Assistant and Grad Coordinator Debbie Dietrich on her 25th anniversary at Waterloo! Some of my colleagues who’ve worked closely with Debbie over the years wanted to share their thoughts on this happy occasion. Our chair Dave DeVidi writes, “It’s hard to believe that it has reached the stage where Debbie is one of only two people in the department who have been here longer than me. While she’s important in the work life of everyone in the department, I’ve probably had as much chance to work with her as anyone: she’s been a key administrator for 15 of my 17 years here, and I worked closely with her for the six years I’ve spent as graduate officer and the past 15 months as Chair. There are lots of good things to be said, but maybe it is appropriate to say again what I said to the Dean about her 25th Anniversary at Waterloo:

What makes Debbie so valuable to the department is the personal touch she brings to all aspects of her work, and the personal connections this has allowed her to make all over campus. Has some unusual situation come up? Debbie will know exactly who to call to help solve it, and will know the person on the other end of the line. Is a visitor coming to the department? That person will already like the place when they arrive, because they’ll have been dealing with Debbie to make arrangements. Generations of grad students have known just where to go for a problem solver and a sympathetic ear—not to mention generations of department chairs. We’re lucky to have her.

Our recent chair Tim Kenyon seconds this: “Debbie has adapted to many changes in personnel, policies, processes and technologies during that time; but her collegiality and warm professionalism have been constants. She was an invaluable supportive colleague to me during my time as Chair.”

Brian Orend also described Debbie as “invaluable” to him during his tenure as Grad Officer: “She helped bring me up to speed on a whole range of rules and processes, even in the face of a sea-change in procedures about grad funding. Together with the Committee, Debbie was instrumental in helping bring together the biggest incoming grad student cohort in memory. I feel that Debbie combines polished professional discretion with useful frank advice. She has always been a total pro: always getting the job done yet ever with a fun attitude and an approachable demeanour that makes everyone’s job easier. She has also, of her own generous accord, provided me with additional help in connection with International Studies over the years.”

Doreen Fraser, current Grad Officer, says “Debbie is not only the one who helps faculty and graduate students navigate paperwork and University regulations, but also someone who keeps on top of what people are doing outside of the University (with extracurricular activities, partners, and children) and who offers support which goes well beyond help with administration. Thank you and congratulations, Debbie!” I know from years working with Debbie that she brings to our Department an extraordinary ability — to combine the formal and administrative aspects of her job with a kindness and friendliness that makes our Department a warm and connected place. It wouldn’t be the same without you, Debbie. Thank you so much, and congratulations on your 25th!

In graduate student news, some of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell, have had a poster accepted for the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa. The title is “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust.” They write in the abstract, “The aim of this research is to explore the relationship between how information is presented by ‘science authorities’ and the public. This relationship is fraught with concern from science communicators as to the best means to convey the information, the public and their ability to understand the concepts, and the social position afforded to science as the sole authority with which to accurately measure the world. With the exponential increase in available sources of information via the internet, it is becoming increasingly necessary for the public to be able to critically analyze these sources and discern what science is reliable in order to make informed decisions about science policy. By looking at the recent controversy surrounding the exhibition, Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, we will explore 3 facets of science communication and the dissemination of knowledge. We will analyze the means with which the exhibit attempted to reach the audience, the inherent concerns regarding the authority of science on the topic, and public discussion surrounding the exhibit via the internet. This example, serves as a means of showcasing the challenges of publicizing science as well as ways to harness this intersection of ideas to acknowledge biases and create a more balanced and better informed public.” Congrats to all!

Heather Douglas writes, “This past Saturday (Sep. 28), I gave the Warren Steinkraus Lecture on Human Ideals at SUNY Oswego. I spoke about “Ideals for Responsible Science in Democratic Societies” and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the role of scientists, collective responsibility, dual-use research, and public interest science, among other things. I also got to enjoy lovely Oswego, situated on Lake Ontario, on a spectacular day, with my host and tour guide, Brad Wray.” Heather also passed along some great pictures:

IMG_7189-1 IMG_7194-1

Joe Novak presented a paper (“Sawyer and Consciousness”) at a conference entitled Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre. Joe says, “The conference was held at McMaster University September 13-15 2013 and it celebrated the donation of the papers of Robert Sawyer to the Library at McMaster which also houses the Bertrand Russell Archives. Robert Sawyer is probably the most significant SF writer in Canada; more information on him can be found at More information on the conference can be found at: I also attended the annual Medieval Philosophy Conference at U of T, held on September 20-21. This is an international conference featuring presentations by established scholars as well as some very talented doctoral students.”

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool and I together presented a paper we co-authored at The Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium. Our paper, “Utilitarianism, Intuitions, Rationality and Neuroscience,” challenged Peter Singer’s claims that neuro-scientific results were evidence for the rationality of utilitarianism over alternatives and argued on behalf of a pluralist approach. We had a great time meeting and talking with other Pittsburg area philosophers. Here’s a photo of us just after our talk:


Dave DeVidi has some serious thoughts about science and academic freedom. “On September 17,” he says, “I took part in a public town hall in uptown Waterloo that is the first public event in Get Science Right, an initiative by the Canadian Association of University Teachers to raise public awareness and discussion of “the public impact of the crisis in science and research policy in Canada.” About 50 people attended, and the event was filmed by one of the national current affairs program as part of an investigation they are doing of the issues we were discussing.

“The other panelists (Melanie Campbell, a physicist from Waterloo and Jeffrey Jones, a neuroscientist from Wilfrid Laurier University) spoke passionately about the harmful implications of the defunding of basic, curiosity-driven research for the long term interests of the country. Since they are both from STEM backgrounds, I raised issues of particular concern to the humanities and social sciences—such as the ill-conceived changes to Library and Archives Canada and the killing of the long form census, both of which will prevent Arts researchers from effectively doing the research that a democratic society will want to see done if its interested in intelligently governing itself.

“A major topic of discussion was the harmful effects of all the gag orders imposed at the federal level on government scientists, librarians and archivists, and others. Their harm to good democratic decision-making is obvious. But the climate of silencing and retribution has other side effects. It’s an alarming trend among university administrators to see their role in terms of “keeping the university’s message focused and positive,” including keeping research that runs contrary to government policy from gaining much publicity—which, to my mind, is a rather grave failure to understand what universities are actually for. Which will be the first university administration to try to put gag orders on their faculty of the sort government departments have put on their scientists? It may happen sooner than we think, so faculty should be on their toes and be willing to put a stop to it when someone tries.”

Upcoming activities:

Tim Kenyon says, “On Thursday I will be giving a presentation to uW Library staff outlining some of the common uses and abuses of research output impact measures. The title is ‘Research measures and rankings.'”

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Our Facebook group is now for anyone who wants to keep in touch — just send a request to join. And why not follow this blog by email? Just use the gadget on the right hand side!

As always, thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino

Wednesday September 18, 2013

Hi everyone and welcome to the start of fall term, always a time of intense activity. Before we get to the news-news, we’d like to take a moment to remember Ardeth Wood. Our chair Dave DeVidi writes:

It has been a decade since one of the most traumatic events in the history of the department. Those who were here at the time will remember the shock and grief that gripped the department when Ardeth Wood disappeared on August 6, 2003. For those of you who never had a chance to meet Ardeth: She was a PhD student—making good headway in the early stages of the program, well liked and with many close friends in the department, collegial, involved, active, and full of promise—when she went home to Ottawa for a short vacation with her family. Here is a link to one story about the anniversary.”  Ardeth’s memory is honored in the life of our Department by the Ardeth Wood Memorial Bursary; as Dave says, “None of us who knew her will forget her.”

The main happening around our department recently was, of course, our welcome party. Our current Associate Chair for grad studies, Doreen Fraser, writes: “the first week of September we welcomed 16 new graduate students to the Department–9 MA students and 7 PhD students. Their interests are distributed across the full range of research areas in the Department; some are continuing their education with us at uWaterloo, and others have come from universities across the country.  The day of departmental orientation sessions was capped off by a welcome party in Dave DeVidi’s back yard.” A lovely event — and we are thrilled to be welcoming so many great new students!

Current graduate student Peter Blouw reports on various recent research travels: “In August, I presented a poster on evaluations of rule-breaking and the pragmatics of indirect speech at the 6th Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress in Boulder, Colorado. The poster was based on some experimental philosophy work I’ve been doing with John Turri, and it was really interesting to present this material in a setting where there’s naturally a bit more of a focus on the aspects of the research related to ethics rather than cognitive science. I got some good feedback and ideas about project, and I really enjoyed taking in the other talks and posters at the conference. I also went to Berlin in August for the annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. I presented a poster based on some work I’ve been doing in Chris Eliasmith’s lab on distributional models of lexical semantics, and it was good chance to meet other people who are also interested in this topic. Over 1000 people attended the conference, so there were a lot of opportunities to learn about recent developments in cognitive science research.” Great work, Peter!

Brian Orend says the second edition of his book is out! Check out the cover, then read all about it at Broadview press!


Heather Douglas spoke on Monday at the Stand Up for Science Rally in Kitchener about the state of Canadian public science.  A news clip on the rally can be seen here. Heather says, “it was good to come out and meet with others concerned about Canadian science in the public interest.” The discussion continued Tuesday with a panel discussion including Dave DeVidi, at an event called called Get Science R!ght on Tuesday, September 16 at the Waterloo Public Library. Dave says, “This event was organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and is the first in a nationwide series of events to ‘discuss the public impact of the crisis in science and research policy in Canada.’ It was hosted by Craig Norris of the local CBC radio morning show, and the other panelists were Melanie Campbell of Waterloo’s Physics and Astronomy department and Jeffrey Jones, a neuroscientist from Wilfrid Laurier.” Since this was just as our blog was going to press, we’ll have more details from Dave next week.

Doreen Fraser just got back from a workshop on the applicability of mathematics in physics at Simon Fraser University.  Doreen says, “The other speakers were Nic Fillion (SFU) and Bob Batterman (Pittsburgh); the participants came from philosophy and applied mathematics departments at SFU and UBC.  One of the issues addressed was how to explain why mathematics is applicable in the ways in which it is in contemporary physics.  The starting point for providing such an explanation is to respond to physicist Eugene Wigner’s infamous skeptical assessment that ‘[t]he miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.’ A common thread running through the talks was that applied mathematics represents reality in only very minimal respects.  This feature of the examples analyzed had diverse causes: the need to engineer a problem that is tractable using methods available to applied mathematicians (Fillion), the introduction of idealizations (Batterman), and that the applicability of a common mathematical formalism across a wide range of domains reflects the fact that the physical conditions for applicability of the formalism are very minimal (Fraser). One strand of the discussion that I will be following up on is whether the identification of causal structures (as characterized by some account of causation) could play any role in my case studies.”

Tim also just presented a talk: on Friday September 13, to the  Department of Philosophy colloquium at McMaster University, titled “Oral history and the epistemology of testimony.”

Steve Weinstein is back after recording an album, set for release in early December. Steve adds, “in my absence, I entered an FQXI (Foundational Questions Institute) essay contest on “Questioning the Foundations: Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?” and tied for second with Hawking collaborator, cosmologist George Ellis. Essay is here.” Welcome back, Steve!

Carla is enjoying her first time teaching Intro (Phil 110A) at Waterloo.  She says, “I am really excited about this class. What struck me right away was the incredible diversity of students in the room.  I love the idea of people of so many different races and ethnicities coming together to explore philosophy. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester.” I second that: I always enjoy teaching Intro classes, and I especially enjoy them at Waterloo where the students bring such an interesting mix of perspectives.

The Philosophy Graduate Student Association (PGSA) welcomed the incoming grad students and celebrated the return of our continuing grad students after orientation with a visit to the Grad House. The grad students had a great time getting to know each other and sharing in the tradition of spending time at the Grad House on Fridays! Here are a couple of excellent pictures:

IMG_2903 IMG_2907

Our outgoing PGSA president, Rosalind Abdool, says: “It is with great pleasure that I would like to present the Philosophy Graduate Student Association executive for the 2013-2014 academic year:

President: Nathan Haydon
Administrator: Ashley Keefner
Treasurer: Sara Weaver
PhD Representative:  Jay Michaud
MA Representative:   Nicholas Ferenz
GSA Representative:  Cristina Balaita

Ben Nelson, Ayo Ogunshola, Dylon McChesney have been appointed as our 2014 UWaterloo Graduate Conference organizers, and Peter Blouw will continue in the role of graduate colloquium series coordinator.

Rosalind adds, “I would like to thank all those who made this past year such a wonderful one – especially the former exec, including Sara, Lindsey, Ashley, Nathan and Ben, as well as the conference organizers, Nathan and Ben, and our colloquium series organizer, Peter. A huge thank you to Jim for all of his advice, expertise and contributions to the PGSA. Lastly, thank you to all department members as well for all of your continued support of the grad students!”

Finally, while this is generally a blog about what-has-happened, we’re going to add listings of activities outside the department that we’re involved in, in case any one wants to join in:

Paul Thagard says that on Sept. 20, he will be giving the Killam Lecture at Dalhousie, and on Oct 11, he’ll be speaking at a conference in Delft, Netherlands, on cognition, complexity, and urban planning.

Rosalind Abdool and I will be presenting our co-authored paper “Utilitarianism, Intuitions, Rationality and Neuroscience,” this upcoming Saturday at the Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium.

Recent Faculty Publications

Matt writes, “Recent Waterloo Philosophy graduate Dr. Rachel McKinnon– now a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary– and I have just published a paper in Philosophical Psychology together called “This paper took too long to write: A puzzle about overcoming weakness of will.”

My paper “Moral Coherence and Value Pluralism just came out in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Here’s a link to the open access version.

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Our Facebook group is now for anyone who wants to keep in touch — just send a request to join. As always, I hope everyone is having a great fall, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Color me blown away that summer is virtually over! The one good thing about getting older and time passing more quickly is that now I can think, “Meh, soon it’ll be springtime again.”

Our biggest departmental news of the summer is that long-time department member Joe Novak officially retired on August 1.

Joe Novak

Joe Novak in his office. Photo by Vicki Brett.

Our chair Dave DeVidi writes, “Joe completed his PhD at the University of Notre Dame in 1977, writing a dissertation entitled Aristotle on Method: Definitions and Demonstrations. He joined the Waterloo department in 1984, having resigned from a tenured position at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan in 1983.  He served for two years as Chair of the Thomas More department. At Waterloo he was the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies for several years in the early 1990s, and he served as Acting Chair in 2009-10.

“Joe was always in demand as a graduate supervisor. While he was hired into a department with a significant focus in the history of philosophy, the direction of the department changed over the years, so the number of PhD theses Joe supervised was not large. But he supervised well over a dozen PhD research areas, and many MA theses and research projects.  Students who worked with him described him as an “incredibly resourceful” supervisor who cared deeply about the success of his students and, going back to pre-Google times, as a “walking library catalogue” when it comes to Aristotle.

“In recent times, Joe has carried much of the department’s undergraduate teaching load in history of philosophy, especially ancient philosophy.  These courses consistently received solid reviews from students. But perhaps Joe’s best loved course was Phil 208: Philosophy Through Science Fiction.  The course was Joe’s own creation, first offered two decades ago.  It introduces perennial philosophical questions to do with the nature of knowledge, mind and body, ethics, logic and language as they arise in classic works of science fiction—what’s not to love about that?

“Joe’s research has primarily been in ancient philosophy, though as good history of philosophy tends to do the lessons learned in those investigations have allowed him to also contribute in other areas.  Much of his early work involved investigating the ways in which the philosophical views of Plato and Aristotle depended on the developments in the mathematics of their day. An admirable feature of the work is that Joe did not shy away from doing the math necessary to do this work well—for instance, by solving some of the geometric puzzles posed by Socrates in the dialogues he was able to show previously unremarked ways in which the solutions illuminate the philosophical arguments in the dialogue in question.  This expertise on the technical presuppositions of and work by important ancient philosophers placed him well to weigh in on the work of philosophers from other historical periods, such as Franz Brentano, who offered their own accounts of the work the ancients.  The boundary-breaking nature of his work resulted in it appearing not only in venues such as the History of Philosophy Quarterly, but also in the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic and the Australian Logic Teachers Journal.  In recent years, his work has turned more towards ethics in the ancient and medieval periods.

“It’s hard in a short notice of this sort to adequately acknowledge three decades of dedicated work for the department.  The department will be holding a retirement celebration during the coming term to try to do so more adequately.”

In the meantime, Thank You, Joe, from all of us!

Exciting news: Paul Simard Smith succesfully defended his PhD dissertation, Logic in Context: An essay on the contextual foundations of logical pluralism, on Monday, August 26! His supervisor Dave DeVidi says, “In the dissertation, Paul develops a novel account of logical pluralism that, he argues, avoids the problems that bedevil previous versions of logical pluralism in the literature.  He then investigates some “downstream” implications in other areas of philosophy, such as epistemology and argumentation theory, if logical pluralism is true.  The examining commitee included external examiner Martin Montminy of the University of Oklahoma, Ken Hirschkop of Waterloo’s English Department, and Doreen Fraser, Tim Kenyon, and Paul’s PhD supervisor Dave DeVidi, all of Philosophy.  Many of the questions at the defence circled around a challenge that also confronts versions of pluralism in many domains besides logic—why regard participants who seem to be disagreeing about a claim as actually doing so rather than merely using the same words to express different propositions? That is, why talk of pluralism rather than ambiguity?  Paul defended his view well. By the end it was clear all around that with the way his work spills over from philosophical logic into philosophy of language, epistemology and other areas of philosophy, the thesis is the start of a promising research program.” Congratulations, Paul!

Graduate student Jim Jordan writes to tell us he’ll be presenting a paper at the upcoming WCPA conference this Fall. Jim says, “The title is “Closing a Route to Logical Pluralism.” Gillian Russell’s paper “One True Logic?” presents cases where an argument expressed in natural language can be valid or invalid, depending on how indexicals and other contextual matters are resolved, and she suggests that this could be a route to logical pluralism. I show that it cannot be–while she has identified an interesting pluralism, it’s rooted in semantics and denotation, not in logic, and so it’s not a viable route to logical pluralism. (More boldly, I think it undermines Beall and Restall’s Tarskian approach, too, but I need to look at that more closely.)”

Chris Eliasmith was on CBC Quirks & Quarks radio show about  “Building a Brain.” Some other recent press about Chris’s work is here in the The KW Record: UW prof teaches readers how to build a brain and here in the Biomedical Computation Review: Behind the Connectome Commotion (section on Simulating a Human Connectome: Spaun).

Chris Lowry says, “I attended the 30th International Social Philosophy Conferenece from July 11 to 13, held this year at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. I was there as the chair of the NASSP Book Award Committee to present the award to José Medina from Vanderbilt University for his book The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations, and to join a panel discussion with the author.”

Ben Nelson wrote an interesting blog post about his experience at the World Congress of Philosophy in Athens, at Talking Philosophy: The Philosophers’ Magazine Blog.  (If that link has problems it’s also here).

PGSA president Rosalind Abdool passes along two items:

1. The PGSA held its annual Spring BBQ at Waterloo Park on Saturday July 27th. Although the weather was a bit damp for a summer day, we had excellent company and a great time. Thank you to everyone for bringing potluck items and for joining us that day!

2. The PGSA’s Ashley Keefner has done a fabulous job at taking the initiative to create a new UWaterloo PGSA Facebook page – and it looks amazing! This page is a resource for incoming graduate students to ask questions to the current grad students. We look forward to welcoming the new graduate students soon! The new page will also feature PGSA updates for events and serve as a source of communication for grad students. Excellent work and a huge thank you to Ashley!

Recent faculty publications:

Patricia Marino, “Moral Coherence and Principle Pluralism,” in The Journal of Moral Philosophy. This paper develops and defends a conception of moral coherence that is suitable for use in contexts of principle pluralism. I argue that, as they are traditionally understood, coherence methods stack the deck against pluralist theories, by incorporating norms such as systematicity—that the principles of a theory should be as few and as simple as possible. I develop and defend an alternative, minimal, conception of coherence that focuses instead on consistency.

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

School starts in two weeks, so there’s sure to be more news soon. Thanks for reading! And keep in touch!

— Patricia Marino

July 17, 2013

Hi and welcome to mid-summer! I hope everyone is finding ways to stay cool. Here’s a campus squirrel, captured by Vicki just the other day, expressing the same mid-summer lethargy I feel myself:

Mid-summer campus squirrel, by Vicki Brett.

Mid-summer campus squirrel, by Vicki Brett.

Here’s what we’ve all been up to.

Graduate student Ashley Keefner is just back from a conference in Maryland.  Ashley says, “I presented at the ‘International Association of Computing and Philosophy (IACAP) 2013′ conference; my talk was on models for similarity judgments and the paper was called ‘Semantic Pointer Model of Similarity.'” Nice work Ashley!

On June 26, a workshop Heather Douglas organized on “Science, Policy, Values: Exploring the Nexus” was held at the University of Toronto as a pre-conference event for the biennial meeting of the Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice.  Heather writes, “The workshop featured speakers from Canada– such as Jim Brown (U Toronto), Maya Goldenberg (U Guelph), Sergio Sismondo (Queen’s U), Frederic Bouchard (U Montreal), Jennifer Liu (U Waterloo), Kieran O’Doherty (U Guelph)– and from the U.S.– Kevin Elliott (U South Carolina)  & Jacob Stengenga (Utah).  Marc Saner (U Ottawa) and I provided end of day commentaries.  With over 70 registrants and vibrant discussions after talks and into coffee breaks, the day was really fun.   More details on the talks can be found here:   I hope to bring the talks together in an edited collection in the coming year.”

Joseph Novak gave a paper at the University of Denver and Marquette University, Annual Summer Conference on Philosophy in the Abrahamic Traditions. Joe says, “My paper, entitled, “Axiomatic Method in Anselm and Aquinas” was given on Wednesday July 10 and dealt with a comparison of the axiomatic approaches of Aquinas and Anselm in the consideration of God and his nature.  As opposed to the sketchy notions entertained by many who have just a textbook knowledge of the proofs of Anselm and Aquinas on the existence of God, the writings of the two authors themselves show a fairly rigorous development of the nature of the Deity for whose existence they argue.”

Chris Eliasmith recently gave four lectures at a recent neural engineering conference and also the keynote at this conference on cognitive modeling. His lab is presenting 4 talks, 4 posters and a day long tutorial, at the end of July/beginning of August, at the 2013 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.  Also, a little bird told me Chris was recently featured on CBC’s science show, Quirks and Quarks.

Brian Orend visited the Grand Canyon.

Brian Orend visited the Grand Canyon.

Brian Orend gave an invited lecture on cyber-warfare at Arizona State University in late May, and visited the spectacular Grand Canyon afterwards. In June, he served as chair of the opening session at the Royal Military College’s workshop on “Ethical Warriors” and had published a book chapter, “Post-War Policy,” in F. Allhof, et al, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War. Two weeks ago, he published “Drones are Justifiable Tools of Warfare” with the edited online journal e-International Relations. The short piece is available for free. And just yesterday he finished reviewing the final proofs of the second edition of his Morality of War, due out this Fall. Next up: a new translation of, and commentary on, Kant’s Perpetual Peace (forthcoming Broadview, 2014).

Recent Faculty Publications

Matt Doucet says “I have a new paper out in Utilitas: “Playing Dice with Morality: Weighted Lotteries and the Number Problem.” A recent debate in normative ethics concerns so-called Number Problem: how ought we choose between groups of different sizes in distributing a benefit? Some critics of consequentialism reject automatically choosing the larger group on the grounds that it is unfair, and propose a lottery in its place. In this paper, I criticize the lottery solution on the grounds that it is excessively demanding and misunderstands the nature of moral decision-making.”

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

Thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino