April 19, 2017

IMG_0777 (2).jpgAlthough the start of the Spring Term is still a couple weeks away, spring is in full swing in Waterloo with daffodils blooming, trees budding, and geese defending nest sites.

On April 12, we celebrated student achievement at our annual awards ceremony, made possible by generous donations to the Philosophy General Fund by alumni, faculty and friends of the Philosophy Department.  The afternoon included special guests Bob Ewen (BA ’71), a long-time benefactor of the Department, Sandra Burt, the first Director of the Women’s Studies Program, and Marg Kerr-Lawson, widow of Angus Kerr-Lawson.  It was standing room only this year, and emcee Gerry Callaghan commented that “I’ve been on the adjudicating committee for these awards for a number of years, and each year it gets harder to pick the winners from the pile of excellent nominees.”

To help us celebrate the impact of philosophy, Alumna Rosilee Sherwood (MA 09, BA 07) gave a thoughtful presentation that addressed the way philosophy compels us to engage productively with people we disagree with profoundly on important issues, and the benefits that come with the resulting open-mindedness and tolerance.

Awards included top philosophy students in each year of the undergraduate program, best first year and the best upper year Women’s Studies students, and a range of essay prizes for both undergraduate and graduate students. There was also an award for outstanding citizenship and contribution to the Department by an undergraduate student. And Mary Synnott, who recently retired, was recognized for three decades of outstanding contribution to Women’s Studies. Congratulations to all the award winners!

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Gerry Callaghan celebrating Mary Synnott


Congratulations as well to Sandra DeVries for successfully defending her prospectus proposal last month, on “The Role of Multiraciality in the Philosophy of Race.”

And finally, congratulations to Andria Bianchi for being named runner-up in the university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition on March 23.  Andria was also interviewed on the CBC regarding her work on sex, consent, and dementia.

Despite the arrival of spring here in Waterloo, philosophers have been traveling to give talks and participate in conferences.

First, Sandra DeVries spoke on “Philosophy of Race and Multiraciality” at Michigan State University’s Philosophy Graduate Student Conference in mid- March.

Then, Katy Fulfer presented “Family Matters: An Arendtian Critique” with her co-author Dr. Rita A. Gardiner (Faculty of Education, Western University) at the Organizing Equality Conference, held at Museum London in London, Ontario from March 24-26. This free conference, open to community members, brought academics into conversation with community leaders and organizers.   The full version of this project appeared online a few weeks ahead of the conference in Gender, Work & Organization. A shortened version of Katy and Dr. Gardiner’s presentation can be found on Katy’s blog.

From April 12-15, Katy attended the Pacific Meeting of the American Philosophical Association in Seattle. She presented another project co-authored with Dr. Gardiner at the North American Society for Social Philosophy session on refugees, their talk being entitled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Hannah Arendt, Rootlessness, and Natality.”

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Katy Fulfer at the Pacific APA with Waterloo Philosophy alum A.Y. Odedeyi


Shannon Dea recently returned from a trip to England, where she presented “Pragmatism From Margin to Centre” on April 8 at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Philosophy (BSHP) conference at the University of Sheffield (U.K.).  She also gave a departmental seminar talk, “Toward a Philosophical Theory of Harm Reduction” at University of Sheffield Department of Philosophy on April 10.

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Shannon Dea collaborating with Christopher Hookway in Sheffield.  Photo by Jo Hookway


Closer to home, Jackie Feke gave the talk “Ancient Greek Mathematicians: Intellectual Outliers” to FemPhys on March 28.

On March 30, Heather Douglas spoke about decarbonization and long-term local energy planning at the Waterloo Energy Day, hosted by WISE.  She gave a similar talk as part of Power Shift: Transforming Energy in the Waterloo Region on April 18 to a packed Kitchener Public Library.

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Heather Douglas speaking at Power Shift in Kitchener


And Shannon Dea has been a regular voice in local media on 570 News radio, appearing on Opposing Views on March 27 and being interviewed on the Eric Drozd Show on April 5 about the proposed changes to the Canadian national anthem to make it more gender inclusive.

In publication news, Sara Weaver has co-authored an paper with Mathieu Doucet and John Turri entitled “It’s what’s on the inside that counts… Or is it? Virtue and the psychological criteria of modesty” in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology.  The paper started as a research area paper with Matt.  Sara enjoyed working with Matt and John turning it into a publishable piece and is excited to see how other modesty scholars respond to the article given the unique (i.e., empirical) approach taken to answering philosophical questions about modesty.

Wesley Buckwalter’s chapter “Epistemic Contextualism and Linguistic Behavior” has come out in The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism edited by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa. The chapter is a candid evaluation of the motivation and evidence for epistemic contextualism in epistemology to date.

Heather Douglas’s essay “Science, Values, and Citizens” appeared in the edited collection Eppur si mouve: Doing History and Philosophy of Science with Peter Machamer (edited by Marcus Adams, Zvi Biener, Uljana Feest, and Jacqueline Sullivan), published by the Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science (the preprint is also available).  The essay argues that understanding the nature of science is more important for citizens than knowing particular scientific facts, and that there are multiple avenues for citizens to engage with and even contest science.  The essay is collected with others written by Peter Machamer’s students and demonstrates his range and influence as a scholar who pursues truly integrated history and philosophy of science.

Heather also published the essay “Why inductive risk requires values in science” in Routledge’s Current Controversies in Values and Science (edited by Kevin Elliott and Daniel Steel). In it, she argues that social and ethical values are inescapable in scientific practice.  A preprint of the essay can be found here.

Katy Fulfer’s most recent publication is a commentary that raises neocolonial concerns about Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act and cross-border reproductive travel. “Cross-Border Reproductive Travel, Neocolonialism, and Canadian Policy” is published in the special 10th anniversary issue of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics.

Finally, Shannon Dea’s essay “Strong Objectivity in the Age of Trump” appeared April 10 in the online symposium about Guy Axtell’s new book Objectivity hosted by Syndicate.  There are lots of interesting ideas in this exchange about the nature of objectivity.

Want to read more?  More news about the department’s doings can be found in the most recent version of The Rational Enquirer, a newsletter for friends and alumni.

Additional online writings can be found at these blogs:

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now

Philosophy in the World


March 22, 2017– Happy Spring!


Despite erratic weather signals, spring has sprung here in Waterloo, and the department has much news to share from a busy winter.

First, congratulations to the graduate students who hosted their 24th Annual Philosophy Graduate Student Association conference on March 9-10, 2017. The conference kicked off with a wonderful performance by the Aboriginal Education Centre, followed by 9 selected graduate student presentations representing work from a range of Canadian and American universities. The presentations covered a wide range of topics, from Hume’s moral philosophy to the silencing effect of reactionary rhetoric for the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the many highlights from the conference was keynote presenter, Dr. Mazviita Chirimuuta from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Chirimuuta’s talk was titled “Why do Birds Migrate, Why do Nerves Fire Action Potentials, and Why do Neuroscientists Talk about Representations?” Her talk was well attended by faculty and students from both in and outside of the department.  The full program for the event can be found here.

A week later on March 17, the department hosted its third talk by our esteemed visiting Humphrey Professor, Heidi Grasswick, “What’s in a Name? Feminist Epistemology as Social Epistemology.”  We will be sorry to see Heidi return to Vermont in April!

Prior to this, there was a lot to do in the department.  On February 27, graduate students in the department got a chance to chat with B.A. and M.A. alumnus and recently-retired president of Christie Digital Canada Gerry Remers about careers outside of academe. The lunchtime professional development event was the latest in a series of programming aimed at supporting pluralistic career planning for our graduate students.

On March 1, the Department hosted the Southwestern Ontario Feminism and Philosophy (SWOFAP) workshop. Participants read the papers “Knights of the Round Table: Meaningful Inclusion in Policy Discussions on CRISPR” by Angella Yamamoto and “Epistemic autonomy and trust in a social virtue epistemology” by Heidi Grasswick, and then discussed the work with the authors.  SWOFAP meets 2-3 times per year, and rotates among southwestern Ontario philosophy departments. This is the third time Waterloo has hosted.  More details on the event can be found at the FemLab website.

On March 4-5, the Department hosted the Pragmatism and Phenomenology, Part Deux (PrPh2) workshop. The workshop was a follow-up one held in 2015 at King’s University College at Western University. The workshop attracted scholars from both traditions and at various career stages from both Canada and the U.S. A number of Waterloo philosophers were among the workshop presenters: Katy Fulfer and Shannon Dea, “Education on the Margins: Anna Julia Cooper and Hannah Arendt”; Ian MacDonald, “Peirce’s Pragmatism and Scholastic Realism: Some Key Connections”; and Jonathan Simard, “Dewey and Heidegger on Temporal Existence.” As well, Waterloo Philosophy alumna Kimberley Baltzer-Jaray (King’s University College) presented “Mary Parker Follett and Adolf Reinach on Law.” Many thanks to Arts Research for its financial support of the workshop, and to all of the department members who attended the workshop, and helped with various aspects of it.


Jonathan Simard (M.A. 2017) discusses Dewey and Heidegger at the PrPh2 workshop March 4. Also pictured, Dan Barron (York), Jay Solanki, Nathan Haydon, Katy Fulfer, and Ian MacDonald.


On Tuesday, March 14, Professor Diana Heney from Fordham University visited the department to discuss her book, Toward a Pragmatist Metaethics (Routledge 2016) with the pragmatism reading group.

Our philosophers were also traveling over the past month.  Tim Kenyon returned from a productive trip to Portugal over reading week, where he gave three social epistemology talks in Lisbon.  Two talks, “Disagreement, from theory to practice” and “’The tale grew in the telling’: Content-drift and why it matters to philosophers and others,” were at ArgLab, the Reasoning and Argumentation Lab at IFILNOVA, the Nova Institute of Philosophy, New University of Lisbon.  The third, “Epistemic kinds of testimony,” was given to LanCog, the Language, Mind and Cognition Research Group at the University of Lisbon.  He reports that both research groups gave extremely valuable comments on the work, and were wonderful hosts.


Tim says, “Lisbon did its part as well, providing a beautiful backdrop to the week.”  Here is a huge and hazy afternoon sun behind the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge.

Also, Tim’s report on his consultation visit to the University of Manitoba regarding research metrics and measures has appeared on the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences website.

Patricia Marino presented in the workshop series at Brooklyn Law School and also at a conference on Applied Ethics Methodology sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics at Georgetown University in February. At both, she presented on “Value Pluralism, Challenges to Consequentialism, and the Law and Economics Movement.” Value pluralism is the idea that there are various distinct values — such as benevolence, justice, honesty, liberty, and fidelity — that must be weighed against one another in cases of conflict. In the “law and economics” movement, economic reasoning is used not only descriptively, to explain and predict the effects of particular laws, but also normatively, to recommend laws based on their consequences. She drew on ideas from her recent book to examine the tensions and problems that arise in the normative use of economic “efficiency” in contexts of value pluralism.


Patricia on the Brooklyn Bridge, with Manhattan in the background.

Closer to home, Dave DeVidi was pleased to take part in a Post-truth, Fake News. Alternative Facts, a panel discussion held at the Kitchener Public Library on March 16. The event attracted over 250 people, and was part of the University’s Beyond 60 Community Lecture Series. In his presentation “Is fake news old news?” he used examples to show that “alternative facts” (roughly, lies politicians tell for political advantage) and “fake news” (wild, false stories that are widely believed in the public) are by no means new phenomena.  He then suggested that by understanding the economic and social factors behind how news gets made we can see what makes these phenomena possible and why changes in the economics of the flow of information make them more prevalent than they used to be.

Heather Douglas also weighed in on the alternative facts debate in the U.S. at Discovery channel’s online news magazine. She prefers to call “alternative facts” “bullshit” in the technical sense (see Harry Frankfurt’s essay on the topic), as the name “alternative facts” is misleading.

Andria Bianchi recently had a letter accepted for posting by The Globe & Mail, written in response to a recent sexual assault case in Halifax, where the judge said “clearly a drunk can consent.” Her letter is published here under the heading “Meaningful Consent.”

Waterloo alumna Natalie Evans was featured in a news story at the University of Guelph, describing her work on our conceptions of animal mental capacity and moral standing.

In publishing news, Ted Richards’s book, Exploring Inductive Risk (co-edited with Kevin Elliott), is now available for pre-order from Oxford University Press. The book has 13 chapters looking at examples of inductive risk and its implications, and includes work by five Canadian authors.  The publication date is July 3rd, and the cover features a painting by Mark Tansey.

Shannon Stettner has a new co-edited book entitled Transcending Borders: Abortion in the Past and Present with Palgrave Macmillan.

Finally, thanks to Jackie Feke for all her work crafting posts for this blog since September 2015.  If you have news to share, please send it to Heather Douglas.

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

Hot Thought

Feminist Philosophers

The Kramer is Now

Philosophy in the World

February 15, 2017


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.


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.


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!


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.


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

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:


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.


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.”


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!


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.

Tim and Shannon happy.jpg

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!


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.