Category Archives: Uncategorized

November 5, 2016

Like every season, autumn is conference season, and a number of our department members are sharing the news of their travels.

Following Heather Douglas’ participation in the 2nd International Network for Government Science Advice Conference in Brussels, she has written an essay on principles for science advisors published at the INGSA blog.  Moreover, Heather’s work is featured in an article on INGSA published in Science! Congratulations, Heather!

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Heather Douglas (on left) in Science

Andria Bianchi presented a paper titled “Transgender Women in Sport” at the Western Canadian Philosophical Association last weekend.

Ramesh Prasad presented a poster entitled “Sex discrepancy in living kidney donation: A cause for feminism?” at the Canadian Society of Transplantation Annual Scientific Meeting in Quebec City.  The study was based on the term paper Ramesh wrote for Carla Fehr’s neurofeminism course in Winter 2015.

Trevor Holmes and Shannon Dea attended “Learning Outcomes: Evolution of Assessment 2016,” organized by the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, and they presented their workshop, “Supporting the evolution of assessment: authentic assessment, accessibility, and deepened course alignment.”  The workshop offered participants a bite-sized taste of a longer advanced course design workshop Trevor and Shannon have piloted for University of Waterloo instructors.

Shannon Dea also attended the Integrating Knowledges Summit and took part in a circle discussion with indigenous scholars on the topic of Social Action, the Ethical Space and Circle Pedagogy.  The Summit was one of University of Waterloo’s response projects to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Teresa Branch-Smith just started a Mitacs-Globalink internship with France’s computer science and mathematics research institute, Inria.  Her project (supervised by John Turri) will run for four months, during which she will be researching the philosophy of big data analytics with an emphasis on the challenges of using heterogenous data sets, algorithmic bias, and citizen science.  This research informs her dissertation on science communication.

At the end of October, Mary Synnott, our administrative assistant and Women’s Studies academic advisor, retired.  Members and friends of Women’s Studies gathered to celebrate.  Shannon Dea shares the details of Mary’s career: “Mary joined the University of Waterloo as undergraduate secretary in the Biology department in 1979.  Six years later, the Women’s Studies department stole her for themselves.  (Mary was the only dedicated permanent hire for Woman’s Studies until Katy Fulfer’s hire in September 2016!) Over the course of Mary’s career, the Women’s Studies program saw many changes.  At every step along the way, Mary was at the heart of the growth and flourishing of the program.  Indeed, she had to be.  Students, instructors, board members and directors all came and went.  Throughout these changes, Mary remained the heart of the program.  Most recently, Mary played a central role in moving WS into Philosophy and in developing a new mission, goals and curriculum for the program that more centrally emphasizes social justice issues.  Mary describes herself as a lifelong supporter of equality among all human beings.  And she likes to say that she was a feminist before she ever heard the word.  These core values will live on in WS after Mary has retired in no small part due to her enormous impact on the program.  Enjoy your retirement, Mary! You’ve earned it.”  Congratulations on your retirement, Mary!


Women’s Studies members at the retirement party of Mary Synnott (left center)

In other Women’s Studies news, the UW Bookstore held a book launch for adjunct professor Anne Innis Dagg’s Smitten By Giraffe, and the Women’s Studies Society organized a book reading by visiting author Erin Wunker, who read from Notes From a Feminist Killjoy.

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Anne Innis Dagg launching Smitten By Giraffe

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Erin Wunker reading Notes From a Feminist Killjoy

The Women’s Studies Student Society is up-and-running! Follow their work on Facebook and Twitter.

Want to read more? Check out our faculty members’ blogs:

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now


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.

September 9, 2016

With the beginning of September, classes have started and our new students have arrived on campus.  Welcome!

Heather Douglas has just returned from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, where she gave the 5th Descartes Lectures on the topic of “Science, Values, and Democracy.”  Three lectures were given by Heather over three days, one on Values and Science, one on Science and Democracy (and issues of accountability), and one on Science Communication.  Heather explains, “Each lecture had two intrepid commentators, who were in order: Matt Brown, Kristina Rolin, Arthur Petersen, Torsten Wilholt, Dan Steel, and Eric Schliesser.  Afternoons were devoted to parallel sessions on the topic of the conference.  It was a great, intense three days.  Matt Brown tweeted throughout, so you can get a feel for the whole thing here:

Descartes Lectures Day 1

Descartes Lectures Day 2

Descartes Lectures Day 3

Also, Eric Schliesser wrote a blog post.

By the end of the 3rd lecture, we were all pretty tired but happy.  Special thanks to Jan Sprenger and Silvia Ivani for organizing the whole thing, which was a smooth and fun affair (even the weather cooperated!).”  Congratulations again, Heather, Fifth Descartes Lecturer!


Heather Douglas with commentators and organizers of the 5th Descartes Lectures

Several of our department members have published articles this past month.  Katy Fulfer’s “An Anti-Commodification Defense of Veganism,” co-authored with Patrick Clipsham of Winona State University, was published ‘online first’ in advance of its place in the print volume of Ethics, Policy & Environment.

Andria Bianchi published an article titled “Autonomy, Sexuality, and Intellectual Disability” in Social Philosophy Today.  The abstract is available here.

Shannon Dea has a new publication this month: “Fetal Life, Abortion and Harm Reduction” in Feminist Philosophies of Life, edited by Hasana Sharp and Chlöe Taylor (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016).  You can view it here on Google Books.

Shannon’s article “A Harm-Reduction Approach to Abortion,” which we announced last month, is now available free online, as the publisher has released the volume in which it appears as an open access publication.  Readers can find it here.

Shannon also did interviews with CKCO News and 570 News about the gender-based salary anomaly and adjustment that University of Waterloo announced at the beginning of August.

Lastly, the Philosophy of Science Association Women’s caucus blog did a profile on Doreen Fraser.  Congratulations, Doreen!

August 5, 2016

August is the calm before the storm here in Waterloo, but our faculty continue to travel the globe, teaching and presenting their research.

Shannon Dea gave a talk called “Against Accommodation: Philosophy (Pedagogy) for Everyone” at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  On July 25, she served as a panelist on the 570 News’ noon hour talk show, Opposing Views, and she did an interview on July 29 with 570 News’ The Jennifer Campbell Show about Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

Paul Thagard gave two keynotes, at the Workshop on Coherence and Decision Making, Berlin, and the Workshop on Science Education, Munich.

Patricia Marino shares her news: “In July I was in Ottawa for the North American Society for Social Philosophy (NASSP) conference.  The NASSP is a great organization that brings together people working on a wide range of topics in areas like social justice, feminism, philosophy of sex and love, philosophy of race, and social philosophy more generally.  My talk, “Economic Explanation Ambiguity and Its Normative Implications,” explored some theoretical issues in philosophy of economics, then drew out normative implications related to policy choices.  Short version: nudgers and their critics are both steeped in unacknowledged value assumptions.”

Two of our graduate students also presented interesting papers at the NASSP conference: Andria Bianchi, “Medical Model of Disability: A Critique of Norman Daniels,” and Phil Bériault, “Inequality in the Workplace: How to Best Understand the Need for Democratic Workplaces.”

Heather Douglas spent the first two weeks of July teaching at the Summer School of the Institut Wiener Kreis at the University of Vienna on “Science, Values, and Democracy?” with Mark Brown and Andrew Jewett.

Heather says, “It was a great experience, working with Andy and Mark, and meeting the 25 graduate students from the EU and North America.  The students had backgrounds in philosophy of science, history of science, political theory, environmental policy and religious studies, and the mix of expertise produced some great explorations of the issues.  An intense experience (the course was in session 9-5 M-F for two weeks) but totally worth it!”


Summer School of the Institut Wiener Kreis

Lastly, the Existentialism Reading Group met last week to watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.  An attendee commented, possibly in reference to Tarkovsky’s reflections on art and cinema in his book Sculpting in Time: “I’d like to say a good time was had by all…but, well, it may be more accurate to say time was had by all.”

July 7, 2016

This month we have several exciting news items, including a new appointment, promotions, grants, awards, and the fame of one of our department members.

First, as of July 1 Katy Fulfer officially became the Department’s newest member.  We offered Katy the position after an international search.  The interdisciplinary hiring committee was looking for someone whose expertise would strengthen two important initiatives: the updating of the Women’s Studies program as it officially makes Philosophy its administrative home as of 2016, and the Fall 2016 launch of the new Applied Philosophy PhD program.  Katy’s research is in feminist philosophy, applied ethics (especially global issues in reproductive ethics and environmental philosophy), and political philosophy.  Dave DeVidi says, “She established a very strong record as a teacher in her previous appointment as a member of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Hood College in Maryland, has a growing roster of high quality publications that display every sign of her being in the early stages of a productive research career, and her track record and performance in her interviews convinced us that she will be an excellent colleague and mentor to our students.  As far as we can tell, this is the first time the University of Waterloo has ever hired a tenure-track faculty member with the intention that their undergraduate teaching activity will primarily be in Women’s Studies.  We feel lucky to have recruited her.  Welcome aboard, Katy!”


Katy Fulfer, Assistant Professor

Also on July 1, Patricia Marino’s promotion to the rank of Professor officially took effect.  The move from Associate Professor to Professor is a step up to the top of the academic career hierarchy.  In the words of Waterloo’s promotion policy, it “recognizes a high order of achievement in both scholarship and teaching….  A continuous program of scholarship with positive peer review by nationally and internationally recognized scholars is essential….  Promotion to Professor is not an assured step in the career of a faculty member,” and Dave DeVidi reflects, “indeed, many excellent faculty members are never promoted to Professor.  Speaking from the perspective of a Department Chair, I’d say Patricia is a model of what a faculty member should strive to be—to use one of former Chair Tim Kenyon’s favorite laudatory descriptions, she is a complete colleague.  Her research is creative, wide-ranging and of the highest quality.  She consistently publishes articles in the most selective venues in philosophy and her recent book Moral Reasoning in a Pluralistic World is readable, original, and sure to raise her international standing still further.  She’s one of the Department’s most successful graduate supervisors and an excellent undergraduate and graduate teacher, served a full three-year term as Associate Chair, and is coordinating the launch of the Applied Philosophy PhD program.  As an academic she does it all, and she does it all at a very high level.”  Congratulations, Patricia!


Patricia Marino, Professor

Katie Plaisance, a member of the Department of Knowledge Integration who is cross-appointed to Philosophy, also has some recent, significant achievements.  First, as of July 1 Katie has officially been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure.  Katie’s home department does not have a graduate program, so the graduate supervision portion of her appointment is in the Department of Philosophy, where her expertise in the public understanding of science and in socially relevant philosophy of science enhance the Department’s strengths, especially in Philosophy of Science and in Applied Philosophy.  Dave DeVidi adds, “It has been a rewarding spring for Katie, since at convocation in June she received the University of Waterloo Distinguished Teacher Award.  This is a career achievement award which is given to only four faculty members per year at Waterloo (out of over 1200), so it is a remarkable achievement for someone who only arrived at Waterloo in 2009.  The commendation recognizes not only Katie’s excellence in the classroom but also her work on the curriculum design of the innovative Knowledge Integration program and her work helping her colleagues develop new pedagogical strategies.”  Congratulations, Katie!


Katie Plaisance, Associate Professor

Dave DeVidi shares his own news: “I was honored to receive the University’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision.  This is also a career achievement award, given to no more than four faculty members each year.  I was especially pleased that the commendation that came with the award made special mention of ‘the time and attention [given] to each student.’”  The Daily Bulletin adds, “Professor DeVidi has played a pivotal role in graduate education in Philosophy at Waterloo.  While serving as Graduate Chair, he revised the graduate curriculum to reflect developments in the discipline and the expertise of faculty, to enhance the recruitment of female students, to aid students’ progress through their degrees, and to mentor them as they transition to diverse careers, both academic and non-academic.  One supporter described Dr. DeVidi’s impact on the graduate program as ‘incandescent.’  His former students emphasize their great respect for him and their gratitude for the attention he paid them.  They also note that he taught them how to use Philosophy both in their lives and in their careers in transformative ways.”  Congratulations, Dave!

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Dave DeVidi with Christine Liebig (M.A. 2014) and Jim Jordan (current graduate student)

Two of our faculty members are happy to share the news of their successful grant applications.  Jackie Feke was awarded a UW/SSHRC Seed Grant for her project “Laws and Nature in Ancient Greek Mathematics.”  Katie Plaisance with John McLevey, her co-investigator and colleague in the Department of Knowledge Integration, won a SSHRC Insight Development Grant for their project “Increasing the Impact of Philosophy of Science in Scientific Domains.”

Shannon Dea gave a talk to an interdisciplinary audience at East China Normal University, Shanghai, on trans issues, with particular attention to bathroom bills in the U.S., and she has a new publication.  The interdisciplinary anthology Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in Canada, ed. Shannon Stettner, came out with Athabasca University Press in June, and it included a chapter by Shannon called “A Harm Reduction Approach to Abortion.”

At the end of June, Trevor Holmes, who taught Women’s Studies 101 in Fall 2015, presented at the National Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference at Western University with his former students and our Special Collections and Archives Librarian, Jessica Blackwell.  The team shared the approach to, and results of, course assignments and course procedures.  Participants had the chance to try part of an archive activity as well as to reflect, using journal prompts from the course.  The abstract is available here.

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Jessica Blackwell, Trevor Holmes, and students Meghan Voll, Tatianna Brierley, and Emily Lorentz

Last but far from least, Paul Thagard is the ninth most cited living philosopher with a public Google scholar page! Congratulations, Paul!








June 9, 2016

As spring turns to summer, our faculty and students are traveling around the globe presenting our research and announcing our most recent publications.

Congratulations to Shannon Dea whose book Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender has just been published! Broadview Press offers this description: “How many sexes are there? What is the relationship between sex and gender? Is gender a product of nature, or nurture, or both? In Beyond the Binary, Shannon Dea addresses these questions and others while introducing readers to evidence and theoretical perspectives from a range of cultures and disciplines, and from sources spanning three millennia.  Dea’s pluralistic and historically informed approach offers readers a timely background to current debates about sex and gender in the media, health sciences, and public policy.”  Ann Garry called Beyond the Binary “an amazing book,” and Jennifer Saul remarked, “This is a wonderfully gripping, fascinating, and illuminating book.”  Congratulations, Shannon!


Several of our faculty and students attended the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Calgary.  Jackie Feke and Carla Fehr both presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science.  Jackie gave a paper called “Ptolemy’s Astrological Rays,” in which she analyzed the physics of Ptolemy’s astrology and proposed a new interpretation of his element theory, which explains how the rays projected by the stars and planets travel though the cosmos in ancient Greek astrological theory.  Carla gave a presentation on the philosophy of biology as part of the panel on Organisms, Agency, and Evolution, a book by Prof. Denis Walsh of the University of Toronto.

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Carla Fehr presenting at a joint session of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science and the Canadian Philosophical Association, University of Calgary

At the Canadian Philosophical Association annual conference, Jim Jordan presented a paper called “Cyberwarfare and the International Laws of Armed Conflict,” which argued that one scholar’s set of problematic questions around cyberwarfare (narrowly understood as disruption of code or data) and international law are not any more problematic than they are for war conducted by other means.  Jim went on to show that, once the reaction to the novelty of cyberwarfare has settled down, the current international laws of armed conflict are adequate to provide guidance on the use of cyber means of warfare.

Also at the CPA, Dave DeVidi and Catherine Klausen presented the paper “No Mere Difference,” in which they gave an argument about the shortcomings in the way we talk about disability in philosophical and political contexts.  The talk was given to a full room, and the discussion was lively with interesting questions.  Catherine says, “What a great experience! It was my first time attending a CPA conference, and the first time I have presented at a conference other than Waterloo’s own graduate conference.  Even just attending the CPA was an excellent opportunity to hear what philosophers are working on across Canada, and it makes having the CPA in Toronto next year all the more exciting!”

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Catherine Klausen and Dave DeVidi presenting at the Canadian Philosophical Association, University of Calgary

Tim Kenyon gave the Presidential Address at the Canadian Philosophical Association meeting.  The talk was titled “Eliteness and Diversity in Philosophy.”  Tim explains, “Two things increasingly seen as linked are the extremely white and male character of Anglo/Euro/American philosophy, and the extent to which philosophy is perceived as ability-based—that is, requiring some undefined quality of brilliance or ‘the right stuff’.  I extended this connection to the workings of the PGR philosophy ranking scheme, pointing out, first, its dependence on a carefully unanalyzed notion of ‘faculty quality’, and second, the utter absurdity of the idea that the assessor evaluations are evidence-based in any responsible way.  Like brilliance, faculty quality plausibly acts as a flag under which all manner of biases travel (and evidence mostly does not).  The notions of eliteness and hierarchy constructed from such a ranking are thus apt to be built from the very ingredients that, among other effects, make philosophy unwelcoming and inaccessible to people outside the white male philosopher trope.  If we value a diverse and open discipline, we should stop participating in such rankings, and stop treating them as if they were meaningful.”

Tim’s paper “The scope of debiasing in the classroom” (with Guillaume Beaulac) appeared in Topoi, Tim delivered a commentary at the Ontario Society for Studies in Argumentation conference in Windsor, and he participated in what he recounts was a very useful and enlightening workshop at McMaster University on indigenizing the academy from a research perspective.

At the University of Waterloo, Wesley Buckwalter gave a talk to our department entitled “Epistemic Injustice in Social Cognition.”  The abstract reads, “Silencing is a practice that disrupts linguistic and communicative acts, but its psychological effects are not fully understood.  In this paper I characterize a specific pathway in which silencing creates and perpetuates injustice in social cognition.  Drawing on recent work in experimental cognitive science, I argue that silencing constitutes a distinctively epidemic harm in its ability to impact mental state representation and deprive individuals and communities of knowledge.  These findings expand our understanding of silencing and contribute to a broader theory of cyclical epistemic injustice in social epistemology.”

Paul Thagard has given numerous talks this spring at the following conferences: Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology at Western University, The Neuroscience of Creativity at Plymouth University, and Philosophy of Public Health at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.  He also gave presentations in Montreal, Munich, Berlin, Santiago, and Helsinki.

Patricia Marino participated in a small conference at the University of Virginia on “Consent and Coercion in the Sexual Sphere,” where she presented a paper on “Affirmative Consent and Female Desire.”  Patricia explains, “Affirmative consent policies go beyond “‘no” means no,’ and require ongoing affirmative responses from all participants.  My paper draws on recent empirical research on female sexuality to explore potential costs and tensions for women associated with adopting these policies.  For example, affirmative consent is sometimes presented in a way that suggests mutual desire is important before moving forward, but women’s desire is often ‘responsive’, emerging in connection with sexual activity already underway.  Since affirmative consent is important for protecting women from sexual assault, we should not abandon it; instead, I conclude, we should recognize consent policies as representing appropriate balancing of complex and competing considerations.  This conference was sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life and Program in Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law (PPL), and brought together philosophers and legal theorists, which resulted in excellent discussion!”

Heather Douglas gave two talks in May.  The first was “Public Reason and Value-laden Science” as part of the plenary panel session on Science, Ideology, and the Public, with Audra Wolfe and Liz Suhay at the 6th Annual Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology Conference and the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Consortium for Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science and Engineering (SRPoiSE) in Dallas, TX.  Heather says, “Thanks to Matt Brown and his colleagues for putting together such a vibrant conference!”

Heather’s second talk was “The Challenge of Accountability in Expert Advice,” a keynote address for a workshop on Expertise and Democratic Accountability in Courts and Public Administration at the Norwegian Institute in Rome, Italy.  Heather relates, “This was a very interesting workshop for me because most of the participants were from political theory and legal theory backgrounds, with a few STS folks.  The interdisciplinary mix was great!”


Heather Douglas on the roof of the Norwegian Institute overlooking Rome, Italy

Lastly, we are excited to announce that our Department has a new PhD program in Applied Philosophy! “Applied Philosophy” is not a particular branch or area in philosophy, but rather a way of doing philosophy.  It involves engaging with and reflecting on real, practical situations and problems, and also requires bidirectional thinking—reflecting fruitfully both on how existing philosophical ideas and theories help us understand and solve practical problems, and also on how the details of actual cases lead us to reexamine and reformulate existing theories.  The most distinctive feature of the new program will be the Applied Research Placement, in which students spend time at a host organization (e.g., non-profit, hospital, business, government agency).  We will be accepting applications beginning in the fall and until early 2017 for admission for the 2017-2018 academic year.  For more information, see our flyer here, or contact Mary Synnott at

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May 14, 2016

With the end of the winter semester, we celebrated at award ceremonies, recognizing the accomplishments of our faculty and students, and we shared our research at conferences home and abroad.

At the end of April, our department hosted Science and Values in Peirce and Dewey: A Conference in Honour of Angus Kerr-Lawson.  The conference began with a public lecture and keynote address on “Scientific Integrity: A Pragmatist Examination of Theory and Practice in the Ethics of Inquiry” by Prof. Catherine Legg of the University of Waikato in New Zealand.  This talk was the first of two public lectures endowed in memory of Prof. Kerr-Lawson, a longtime member of the department who passed away in 2011.  In addition to Prof. Legg’s talk, the conference featured refereed papers by twelve philosophers from three provinces, five states, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Germany.  The conference closed with a plenary address by Waterloo Chair in Science and Society, Heather Douglas, on “The Interplay of Evidence and Values in Science.”  The conference attracted over fifty attendees, including an impressive number of emeritus professors, community members, and out-of-town visitors.  Professor emeritus Larry Haworth described the conference as “a great conference in honour of a fine colleague and friend,” and Prof. Legg wrote, “Not only was my keynote an enjoyable and stimulating experience, I thought the rest of the conference was notable for the international breadth of the presenters, the high quality of their papers, and the shared focus of themes presented on.”  Organizers Shannon Dea, Nathan Haydon, Ian MacDonald, and Matt Silk are grateful to the following for their financial and in-kind support of the conference: the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, the Angus Kerr-Lawson Memorial Fund, the Arts Research office, the Department of Philosophy, and the Women’s Studies program.

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Speakers and Chairs of Science and Values in Peirce and Dewey: A Conference in Honour of Angus Kerr-Lawson

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Shannon Dea introducing keynote speaker Heather Douglas

In addition to her keynote at the Peirce and Dewey conference, Heather Douglas gave four more talks in April, two in Waterloo and two in Budapest, Hungary.  The two in Budapest were at the behest of the Central European University, and they were on “Jettisoning the Value-Free Ideal: Why Do It and Where Does It Leave Us?” as part of the ToPHSS Lectures on Science and the Value-Free Ideal, and “Trusting Expertise,” a keynote address for Worldly Matters: Issues in Applied and Socially Engaged Philosophy, 6th International Graduate Conference of the Department of Philosophy of Central European University.

Back in Waterloo, Heather gave two more talks, both at the Balsillie School.  First she spoke on “The Moral Problem of Lethal Autonomous Weapons,” in which she drew from some of Brian Orend’s work on just war theory and argued that part of the problem with lethal autonomous weapons systems (where there is no human decision to activate a weapon at a particular time for a particular target) is that we don’t have a moral category for that kind of death as of yet.  Then Heather spoke at the Challenges and Opportunities for Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems in Comparative Perspective workshop organized by our Dept. of Knowledge Integration colleagues John McLevey and Vanessa Schweizer (among others) on the “The Challenge of Accountability in Expert Advice.”  Heather also hosted a roundtable discussion by Prof. Marc Saner of the University of Ottawa on “Responsible Innovation: Charting the Course for Canada.”

Jackie Feke spoke on “Ptolemy’s Harmonic Ethics,” at The Philosophy of Ptolemy and its Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew Reception workshop, sponsored by the Dept. of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University.  Jackie also presented on the round table and Doreen Fraser participated at The Foundations of Methodology in the History of Philosophy workshop, organized by Prof. Sandra Lapointe of McMaster University and held at Trius Winery at Hillebrand in Niagara-on-the-Lake.


Jackie Feke and Doreen Fraser at Trius Winery at Hillebrand

Doreen Fraser gained public attention for her course “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone.” First Waterloo Stories featured the course and later the local CBC news picked up the story.

The Faculty of Arts Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Service, and Research recognize exceptional contributions made by faculty, staff, and students, and two of our department members won awards this year.  Doreen Fraser received the Excellence in Service Award, and Shannon Dea received the Excellence in Teaching Award and an Outstanding Performance Award.  Congratulations, Doreen and Shannon!

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Associate Dean Katherine Acheson introducing, and Dean Douglas Peers ready to hand the award to, Doreen Fraser, recipient of the Excellence in Service Award

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Associate Dean William Chesney introducing, and Dean Douglas Peers with prize in hand for, Shannon Dea, recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award

Shannon Dea was one of three invited speakers at the University of Miami Department of Philosophy’s first annual Inclusiveness Conference.  She gave a talk called “Against Accommodation: Philosophy Pedagogy for Everyone.”  Shannon’s latest paper hit the stands at the beginning of May: “Meaning, inquiry, and the rule of reason: a Hookwayesque colligation,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 51.4 (Winter 2015) 401-418.  In her capacity as an Arts Teaching Fellow and with Applied Health Sciences Teaching Fellow Kelly Anthony, Shannon also gave the presentation “Fellows for Failure: Teaching Fellows’ Reflections on Failure, Challenge, and Change” at the UW Teaching and Learning Conference at the end of April.

Women’s Studies is now part of the Dept. of Philosophy, and we are happy to relate that several students who enrolled in Women’s Studies 101 in the fall collaborated with Trevor Holmes (their instructor), Jessica Blackwell (Special Collections and Archives Librarian), and Katrina Ackerman (the teaching assistant) to present at the UW Teaching and Learning Conference.  They described aspects of the course that were risky and challenging and that, as a result, led to more significant learning.  After an overview of the course design and assignments by Trevor Holmes, Katrina Ackerman, and Jessica Blackwell, participants heard from students Meghan Voll, Brianna Bennett, and Tatianna Brierley (on video) along with contributions online from Emily Lorentz and Madeline Shred.  Each addressed topics like the impact of going to the archive to transcribe early feminist diaries, the value of going out into the community for field site observations, the use of co-constructed class agreements from the first day, alternate format assignment choices, and online tools for in-class discussions of difficult material.  Some of the same team will present again at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at Western University in June.

Ph.D. student Ramesh Prasad’s paper, “Distinguishing internal property from external property in kidney transplantation” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice for their Philosophy of Medicine Thematic Issue.  The paper is based on Ramesh’s work in the CogSci 600 course he completed as part of his MA degree. Ramesh also gave a presentation, “Transplantation and the Nature of the Immune Self,” based on his MA thesis, at the University of Toronto City Wide Nephrology Rounds.  This presentation at Toronto General Hospital was webcast throughout the Greater Toronto Area.  Ramesh says, “My hope is that some physicians will now see the biological self-nonself distinction through a philosophical lens, beyond just molecules and chemical messengers.”

John Turri’s latest book is out: Knowledge and the Norm of Assertion: An Essay in Philosophical Science, published by Open Book Publishers and available here.

On April 13, we held the seventh annual Department of Philosophy Awards, recognizing the high achievement of our students.  We awarded class prizes to Amina Safdar (first year), Josephine Luetke (second year), Dominic Rogalski (third year), and Jay Solanki (fourth year).  The Citizenship Prize went to Oliver Oxton, the Sandra Burt Essay Prize in Women’s Studies to Kristine Totzke, the Undergraduate Essay Prize in Philosophy Gold Medal to Dylan Jones, and the Undergraduate Essay Prize in Philosophy Silver Medal to Cameron McKinnon.  Three of our graduate students also won awards.  Catherine Klausen received the Graduate Essay Prize in Philosophy Gold Medal, Ashley Keefner received the Graduate Essay Prize in Philosophy Silver Medal, and Nathan Haydon received the Angus Kerr-Lawson Essay Prize in Philosophy.  Congratulations one and all!

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Mathieu Doucet with class and citizenship prize winners Josephine Luetke, Oliver Oxton, Dominic Rogalski, Amina Safdar, and Jay Solanki


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Robert Ewen, alumnus and long-time supporter of the department, with essay prize winners Catherine Klausen, Dylan Jones, Ashley Keefner, and Cameron McKinnon

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Angus Kerr-Lawson Essay Prize in Philosophy winner Nathan Haydon with Kate Kerr-Lawson and Margaret Kerr-Lawson