February 15, 2017

groundhog

Many of us would beg to differ with T.S. Elliot’s pronouncing April the cruelest month, what with February’s short days, cold temperatures and  road salt everywhere. Waterloo philosophers, though, were out in the gloom trying to make the world (or, for some, at least the academy), a better place.

Andria Bianchi, a PhD student who participated last summer in the Department’s pilot project for the new Applied Philosophy PhD program, recently won the Faculty of Arts heat in the Three Minute Thesis competition. In this event, students have three minutes (and one static slide) to explain their thesis project to a crowd of intelligent non-experts. Andria presented her thesis topic, the difficulties surrounding sexual autonomy for people with dementia, by starting with an example—a legal case in which a person was charged for having sex with their spouse of many decades, since the spouse was judged to no longer have the capacity to consent. Andria went on to outline three interesting and different ways to think more carefully about the question of sexual consent for people with diminished capabilities than legal authorities in that case might have done. I was lucky enough to see her in action. That her topic is both theoretically interesting and practically important was obvious to everyone in the room. She will participate in the University-wide competition on March 23 at 3 pm in the Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages Building.

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Andria Bianchi in action at the 3MT competition

Two faculty members have recently presented their research on how to make the academy a better place.

Carla Fehr, the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, attended the Minorities and Philosophy Workshop on Testimony and Deference. The question of how to make Philosophy a more inclusive, and consequently more interesting and productive discipline has been a central concern for Carla for many years. Her Feb. 9 talk at the conference was called “Why are numbers better than words? Uptake of different kinds of data about difference.”

In modern universities, where central administrations are under pressure to demonstrate to the governments who provide the bulk of their funding that the research and teaching done in their institutions has “value” and “impact,” humanities scholars often bemoan the fact that the value of what they do frequently gets overlooked in this process. Part of this has to do with humanities research being measured using “metrics” designed for evaluating research in engineering and in the natural and medical sciences. Since the pressure to demonstrate the value of research is not going to go away, a sensible response is to develop alternative metrics that are better suited to measuring the value of humanities research. As it happens, one of Canada’s leading thinkers on precisely this topic is our own Tim Kenyon. On February 7 and 8 Tim presented two invited talks to the University of Manitoba Institute for the Humanities on the topic of research impacts and assessment in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Shannon Dea continues to be sought out as a spokesperson on important social issues. She was one of thousands of academics who signed a pledge to boycott academic conferences in the US. The boycott is intended as a show of solidarity with Muslim colleagues affected by US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning many of them from traveling to the US. Shannon found herself being interviewed to explain the rationale behind the boycott by major Canadian newspapers, the CBC, and overseas news outlets that I can’t link to because they’re behind a paywall. She was also interviewed by local media for commentary on the Women’s March on Washington.

Within the department, we heard an interesting presentation on the question of how to ensure that research can be effectively carried out, and that the results of research will get the uptake they should in society.

Heidi Grasswick, who is visiting this term as the Humphrey Professor in Feminist Philosophy, gave the second of her three public lectures on February 10. Her talk, called “Trust, Science, and Epistemic Injustice,” focused on the role of the trust of scientific experts in the scientific enterprise. Without such trust, people may not cooperate with experts, with harmful effects on the quality of the science; moreover, without such trust people are unlikely to believe or modify their behavior in light of science. Both these problems give rise to what Heidi calls “epistemic trust injustices.” She concluded the talk with some suggestions of approaches to mitigating these problems and the consequent injustices.

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Heidi Grasswick with Skeena

The public lecture was followed by a reception in the Department’s Learning Commons. Dr Grasswick will deliver one more public lecture, “What’s in a Name? Feminist Epistemology as Social Epistemology,” on March 17 at 2:30. It is a public talk, and will also be followed by a reception, so we’d be glad to see you there. More generally, if you’d like to be on the notification list for department colloquia, get in touch with Vicki Brett.

The intellectual atmosphere in the Department received another boost with the revival of the Brown Bag Lunch Talk series. In these talks, Department members, often graduate students, give a short presentation of work-in-progress, followed by a longer-than-usual question period. The idea is that these talks give the speaker an opportunity to try out new ideas in front of a sympathetic crowd, while the audience gets to know what others in the Department are working on.

The first talk, on February 6, was by Wesley Buckwalter, who is completing his Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship this year (and who already is author of some of the most cited papers over the past several years in some of the top journals in the field). His talk, “Moral Responsibility and Implicit Social Cognition,” addressed the question of whether we are morally responsible for actions caused by implicit attitudes that we are not aware of and cannot control.

The next talk, on February 13, was by Ian MacDonald, an ABD PhD student. Ian presented a talk, “Why Peirce Rejects Cartesian Doubt,” that grows out of his thesis research. In the talk he defended Peirce against some critics who accuse him of misunderstanding Descartes, and argued that Peirce’s reasons for rejecting Cartesian methodology lies behind his own more plausible account the role of doubt in the progress of science.

Someone who has been making the University of Waterloo better in a different way is official Friend of the Philosophy Department Bob Ewen. On Feb. 10 Bob was one of the honoured guests at the official opening of the Hagey Hall Hub, during which the main floor space was named “Founders Hall” in honour of the people who had the vision to found UW in the 1950s. Bob’s generosity in support of the Hagey Hub is recognized by the second floor work space being named for him. The support he and other donors has provided for this project has allowed the Faculty of Arts to create an attractive space that will benefit students for generations to come. Thanks, Bob!

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Bob Ewen

Engaging Philosophy entries often conclude with a list of blogs authored, or partially authored, by members of the Department. With this entry we are adding a new blog to the list, authored by the Department’s newest member, Katy Fulfer. The blog’s title, appropriately capturing the spirit of the  Department, is Philosophy in the World.

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Katy Fulfer with her new friends Gabrielle, Xena, and Dottie

Finally, we must close with some sad news. We recently learned of the death of Philip McCullough, who graduated in 2011 with an Honours BA in Philosophy. This article, written while he was still an undergraduate, is an example of Philip’s fine mind at work. The Department extends its sympathy to Philip’s family and loved ones.

– Dave DeVidi

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

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now

Philosophy in the World

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January 19, 2017

Happy new year!

The Department of Philosophy is pleased to host Dr. Heidi Grasswick as our 2017 Humphrey Professor in Feminist Philosophy.  Heidi is an eminent feminist epistemologist and philosopher of science whose research explores the links between ethics and knowledge production, as well as how people can be responsible inquirers.  She is the George Nye and Anne Walker Boardman Professor of Mental and Moral Science at Middlebury College.  She is also an avid outdoors person and dog trainer.  Here she is with her Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Skeena, who recently retired from an impressive career as an avalanche search and rescue dog:

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Heidi Grasswick, 2017 Humphrey Professor in Feminist Philosophy, with Skeena

Yesterday, Heidi gave her first lecture: “Epistemic Autonomy and Trust in a Social World of Knowing.”  Here is the abstract: “The idea of epistemic autonomy has come under scrutiny by contemporary social epistemologists, including feminist epistemologists, who understand it as too closely linked to a problematic legacy of individualism and self-sufficiency within epistemology.  I argue social epistemologists can draw on recent feminist work on relational autonomy to re-orient the meaning, the role and the value of autonomy within an epistemology that takes social forms of knowing seriously, and makes room for the important role of trust in responsible inquiry.”  Welcome to the department, Heidi!

Katy Fulfer’s most recent publication, “The Patient-Worker: A Model for Human Research Subjects and Gestational Surrogates,” is now available online.  It is co-authored with Western Ph.D. Candidate Emma Ryman and appears in Developing World Bioethics.

Shannon Dea was a keynote speaker at the Way of Inquiry conference at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.  In her address, “Deep Pluralism: Pedagogy, Diversity, and Methodology,” she traced connections between methodological pluralism and inclusive philosophy pedagogy, and she argued that diversity in philosophy must start from the ground-up.  A video of the talk is available here.

Also in December, Shannon gave a talk called “Intentional Design: Philosophical Pedagogy For Everyone” to the annual meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia in Korolevu, Fiji.

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Shannon Dea (on right) with her Waikato host, Prof. Cathy Legg, doing a bit of “field work” on Waiheke Island between conferences

Doreen Fraser shares news of the graduate pro-seminar (PHIL 680): “We kicked off the new term with a very fruitful discussion with Ph.D. alumnus Eric Hochstein via Skype.  We read a draft of his paper ‘When One is Never Enough: The Explanatory Limits of Individual Scientific Models,’ which connected with many of the themes that we’ve encountered in our study of explanation.”

Benjamin Nelson successfully defended his dissertation, “The Depiction of Unwritten Law,” on December 12.  He offers the following description: “The idea of unwritten law is generally treated as a spooky concept.  No more.  In my thesis, I argued that unwritten legal rules are informally publicized rules held on the threat of formal sanction by an appropriate political authority.  I argued that a law is informally disseminated just in case subjects are connected to their rulers by (what I call) an intact ‘chain of deference’ (basically, meaning that subjects who are ignorant of the law know who to defer to, if they tried).  Informed by a comparative analysis of classic texts in legal philosophy, I argued that there are many potentially different subvarieties of unwritten law that are worthy of investigation: operationalizations, implicit constitutions, secret laws, fiat rules, and justice norms.  The thesis ends by arguing that a theory of unwritten law can be useful when thinking about real world cases, and offers one such theory.”  Congratulations, Benjamin!

Paul Simard Smith, who received his Ph.D. from the department in 2014, has sent us an update.  After completing a SSHRC Postdoc working with the logic group at the University of Connecticut, Paul is excited to report that that he is taking up a one-year limited term position at the rank of Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor.  In the Winter 2017 semester, he will be teaching three courses: Reasoning Skills; Law, Punishment and Morality; and Informal Logic: Argumentation.  Paul also would like to express his gratitude to all of the faculty in the our department, but especially Dave DeVidi, Doreen Fraser, and Tim Kenyon who have written letters of reference and provided moral support and encouragement during his search for academic employment.  Congratulations on your new position, Paul!

Teresa Branch-Smith reports that her Mitacs-Globalink internship with France’s computer science and mathematics research institute, Inria, is going very well.  She says, “I am just reaching the conclusion of the interview phase of my project.  I have been having on-going discussions for about seven weeks now with the computer scientists here regarding the values embedded in their research as well as the social impact their research will have.  My next step is to synthesize all this information and hopefully turn it into a publication.”

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Teresa Branch-Smith at the Porte du Peyrou in Montpellier, France

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

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now

December 1, 2016

We have a wealth of news this month including our department members’ talks around the world, our socially engaged philosophy close to home, and awards that recognize the excellence of our faculty and students.

First, congratulations to Heather Douglas for her election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! The AAAS, founded in 1848, is the world’s largest general scientific society, as well as the publisher of the journal Science, and it elects fellows in recognition of their contributions to innovation, education, and scientific leadership.  Heather is the only female Canadian philosopher to be named a AAAS fellow, and they honor Heather in particular “for distinguished contributions to the philosophy of science, particularly to the analysis of science policy, science in a democratic society, and values in science.”  For more on how this fellowship celebrates Heather’s work, see Waterloo Stories and the announcement by the AAAS.  Congratulations, Heather!

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Heather Douglas, AAAS Fellow

Vanessa Lam received the J. Alan George Student Leadership Award, which is presented to an entering graduate student, chosen from among students within three terms of the first receipt of a Provost Doctoral Entrance Award for Women and based on a record of student leadership.  Congratulations, Vanessa!

Frédéric Bouchard of Université de Montréal visited our department last week and delivered a colloquium talk on “Rethinking the Boundaries of Human Beings and Morality.”  The abstract reads, “Based on symbiosis and other ‘exotic’ biological examples, philosophers of biology have defined biological individuality beyond our common intuitions about individual organisms.  I will explain why individual human beings should be understood as emergent multi-species individuals and how this should inform our views about morality and arguments concerning moral relativism.”

Sandra DeVries attended the Western Canadian Philosophical Association and presented a paper entitled “Challenges for African Canadian Philosophy, A response to Chike Jeffers.”

Tim Kenyon gave two presentations in Portugal.  One was a public philosophy event at Clube Filosófico do Porto, entitled “Ignorance is power.”  The other was a paper, “Critical thinking for engineers, and engineering critical thinking,” delivered at the International Conference for Engineering Education, held at UTAD, Vila Real.

Jackie Feke presented a paper called “Ptolemy’s Theory of Harmonia” at the conference On Mathemata: Commenting on Ancient Greek and Arabic Mathematical Texts at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Doreen Fraser’s course  “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone” was featured in Imprint, the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper.

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Doreen Fraser teaching “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone”

Heather Douglas, Doreen Fraser, Jay Michaud, and Katie Plaisance attended the biennial meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association in Atlanta.  Heather delivered a talk entitled “Structures for Trust: Individual and Social Levels of Analysis for Industry Collaborations” in the symposium Getting Down to Business: Problems and Solutions for Industry-Funded Research.  Doreen presented a talk entitled “The Applicability of Renormalization Group Methods from the Perspectives of Two Wilsons” in the symposium The Renormalization Group in Particle Physics: Structures, Scales, and (Anti)Realisms.  Katie and Jay conducted interviews with philosophers of science about success conditions and barriers to dissemination and collaboration with scientists.  These interviews are part of Katie’s SSHRC-funded project “Increasing the Impact of Philosophy of Science in Scientific Domains.”  (Stay tuned to this blog for a story about this project in a future edition!) Heather also acted as a mentor for the “How Do I ‘Do’ Social Engagement? Learning from Mentors” event sponsored by the Joint Caucus for Socially Engaged Philosophers and Historians of Science, where she led a discussion on solving wicked problems.  Doreen (in collaboration with Teresa and many other members of the Department) put together a poster about the Applied Philosophy Ph.D. program for the inaugural poster session that drew a lot of interest.  Doreen says, “All in all, a very busy but very enjoyable three days!” Heather served on the program committee and Doreen served on the poster committee for the meeting.

Heather Douglas organized a forum to plan for decarbonizing the energy systems of Waterloo Region by 2050.  With over 50 participants (most drawn from outside of academia), the forum made progress in defining the challenge and what we need to know to craft solutions.  Here is an image of our current energy system:

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Each square represents one petajoule of energy and it is apparent that most of our energy currently is dependent on fossil fuels (when you take into account all building and transportation needs in the region).  This is a major challenge but the forum did see that there are ways to address it, including available increases in building efficiency, increased supply of renewable energy, and fuel-switching retrofits.  Heather also talked about these results with the Ministry of Energy for Ontario and at an IC3 event on Post-COP22 (in Morocco) at St. Paul’s on Monday.

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Nigel Moore (from WISE) and Heather Douglas at the forum for decarbonization

Trevor Holmes contributed to the paper “Intentional Community and the Formation of SoTL Scholar Identities,” presented at the International Consortium of Educational Developers, Cape Town, South Africa.

Trevor also facilitated a local HeForShe Ideathon.  Similar to a hackathon, the HeForShe Ideathons are held on partner campuses around the world in order to generate solutions to pressing issues, including the question the University of Waterloo community addressed: “How do we create a culture of transparency and transformation on campus to end gender-based violence?” Trevor took twenty participants through a process of brainstorming, synthesizing, and converging ideas, and the top three went forward to the international network of HeForShe partners.

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Trevor Holmes hosting a HeForShe Ideathon

Trevor Holmes, Katy Fulfer, Librarian Sarah Brown, and Shannon Dea were among the key organizers for the University of Waterloo’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

The SHORE Centre in Kitchener celebrated the publication of Women Studies’ Instructor Shannon Stettner’s new edited collection Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in Canada (AU Press, 2016).  Shannon gave a talk on the book project to a standing-room-only audience.  She was introduced by Shannon Dea, a former SHORE Centre president, and the author of one of the chapters in the anthology.

Shannon Dea also moderated a well-attended panel at the Kitchener Library called “Waterloo Region, Let’s Talk. Pulse, Orlando.”  The panel featured members of the local LGBTQ and Muslim communities discussing their mutual experiences of, and lessons learned from, the June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.  The organizers of the Let’s Talk panel have shared the news that an emerging support group is “exploring the possibility of starting an inclusive, LGBTQ+ affirming Muslim congregation in the area.”

Tim Kenyon and Shannon Dea appeared together Nov. 21 on the lunchtime talk show “Opposing Views” on 570 News radio.  Tim and Shannon are both regular panelists on “Opposing Views,” but Nov. 21 was their first show together.

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Tim Kenyon and Shannon Dea on 570 News

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

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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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!”

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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.”