Eva Kittay schedule changes

Eva Kittay has unfortunately had the change her travel plans last minute.  She will not be arriving in Waterloo next week and so the Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 events have to be cancelled. She still plans, however, to be joining us for the events of the following week.  Thus, the Oct. 23 evening lecture and the Oct. 25 afternoon lecture will still be held.

Hope we can see you there!


Eva Kittay to Visit Waterloo

As we enjoy the study days of the new fall break, we are also looking forward to Dr. Eva Kittay’s visit to the department beginning next week.

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Eva Kittay, our current Brian Rudrick Visiting Scholar, is a world-renowned scholar of Disability Studies and Feminist Ethics.  Dr. Kittay is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and an Affiliate of the Stony Brook Women’s Studies Program.  She is the author of more than 85 articles, as well as seven books and edited volumes including Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency.

Dr. Kittay will be giving a series of talks while at the University of Waterloo.

Her lectures will begin on Wednesday, October 18, with a talk on “The Moral Significance of Being Human,” at 2:30 in Hagey Hall 373.

On Friday October 20 she will talk on “The Completion of Care,” also at 2:30 in Hagey Hall 373.

On Monday, October 23 at 7 pm she will give the talk  “The Desire for Normalcy.” This talk will take place in Federation Hall, Columbia Room A & B.

Finally, on Wednesday October 25, she will present “How Not to Argue about Disability and Reproduction” at 2:30 pm in Hagey Hall 373.

Receptions will follow each of these events.  All are welcome to attend and we hope to see you there!

For the Monday evening lecture, RSVP is recommended, but not required, to Tawnessa Carter at tcjcarte@uwaterloo.ca. Parking is available in the following lots close to Federation Hall: Lot M ($6), Lot J ($5) Lot S ($5).

The Brian Rudrick Visiting Scholar in Philosophy Program is made possible by a generous bequest by Brian Rudrick. Brian was a pathologist and lab director for Grey Bruce Health Services who completed a philosophy degree entirely by distance education while in professional practice. After his graduation he was very generous with his time, visiting classrooms to give real life examples of how the skills essential to good philosophy are also crucial for making smart decisions in a medical context.


5 September 2017, End-of-Summer Edition

IMG_1401 (1).jpgAs the days become shorter and students come back to campus, it is time to reflect on our busy summer.

First, congratulations are in order!  A suite of students (and our own Debbie Dietrich) received degrees at convocation in June, including newly minted PhDs Cathy Gee and Ben Nelson, and MAs Sajad Abdallah, Eric Bohner, Vanessa Lam, and Jonathan Simard.   Congratulations as well to Julian Chow, recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award for Philosophy.

Congratulations also to Chris Eliasmith, who was elected a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society this summer.  Hooray for Chris!

Finally, Jackie Feke has been awarded an Insight Development Grant from SSHRC, on “Law and Nature in Ancient Greek Mathematics.”  She is the sole PI on the grant, which is for $58k over the next two years.

Summer is also a busy time for traveling for our faculty and students.  In June, Shannon Dea was a visiting professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.  Closer to home Doreen Fraser gave the keynote address “Formal analogies in the development of renormalization group methods” at the Logic, Mathematics, and Physics Graduate Conference at Western University on June 15.

Also in June, Patricia Marino and PhD student Chris Wass had a great time participating at the History of Economics Society meeting in Toronto. Chris gave a talk that brought together economics and philosophy of science, presenting on “Friedman’s Methodology and the Economic Realism Movement,” and Patricia talked about normative dimensions of the rationality debate in “A Problem In Economic Explanation: Historical, Theoretical, and Normative Perspectives.” They were both interested in how much philosophy there was in ostensibly historical talks, and they both learned a ton.


Patricia and Chris in Toronto in June

Then in July, Patricia, PhD student Andria Bianchi, and PhD alum Rosalind Abdool participated in a session on “Mental Health, Autonomy, and Relationships: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas” at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Prague.  The session was organized by Rosalind and included Tess Sheldon, Staff Lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre. They report that the way the session mixed theoretical and practical components was great!


Roz and Patricia in Prague in July

Also in July, Jackie Feke presented her work at the Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop at the University of Notre Dame (for which she was also on the organizing committee).  Her talk was on “Image Making in Ptolemy’s Astronomy and Geography.”

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Jackie (second from the left) with other historians of astronomy at Notre Dame in July

In August, Ben Nelson presented a paper at the European Congress for Analytic Philosophy (ECAP9) in Munich, Germany titled “On a Need to Know Basis: Putting Secret Law in Context.” He reports he had a great time, and that there were lots of stimulating talks, a highly collegial, informed, and intellectually attentive Q&A climate, and great food!


Roof of the LMU Munich main building

Also in August, Shannon visited the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, where she was one of the invited speakers at a conference on Pragmatism and the Analytic-Continental Split. Her talk, “Black Pragmatists and the Promise of the Continent,” was part of her larger project to make the American pragmatist canon more inclusive. Nathan Haydon also gave a talk at the conference on “Regulative Commitments: An Attractive Alternative to Regulative Assumptions.” Shannon reports that his talk was well received.


Nathan unwinding at the pub after his talk with Sheffield graduate students, including UW Philosophy alumnus and current Sheffield doctoral candidate, Trystan Goetze (foreground) 

In publishing news, Shannon’s paper “Deep Pluralism and Intentional Course Design: Diversity From the Ground Up” was published in a special issue of Rivista di Estetica 64 (2017) 660-82 on Discrimination in Philosophy.

Heather Douglas had two interviews posted over the summer.  The first was with SciPhi Podcasts, which provides detailed looks at the career trajectories of philosophers of science, i.e., you can hear her “origin story.”  The second was as part of The Naked Scientists (a science radio program in the UK) on existential risk (arising from Heather’s trip to Cambridge last April).

Finally, an exciting event is coming up this month.  We are hosting “Mind, Medicine, and Mechanisms” in honour of Paul Thagard on Friday, September 22.  Invited speakers are William Bechtel, Lindley Darden, Chris Eliasmith, and Miriam Solomon.  All are welcome to attend.

Want to read more? Additional online writings can be found at these blogs:

Hot Thought

Philosophy in the World

The Kramer is Now


June 9, 2017


While it is officially spring (and spring term), it certainly feels like summer has arrived in Waterloo.  And that means Congress!  Many departmental members participated in the annual festival that is the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which took place this year May 27-June 2 at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Katy Fulfer organized and moderated an author-meets-critics session on Patricia Marino’s recent book, Moral Reasoning in a Pluralistic World, for the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) meeting. Commenters included Chris Kaposy, Rosalind Abdool, and Anthony Skelton.  Patricia thought that their comments and the Q and A were all excellent and really thought provoking, raising a great mix of theoretical and more practical issues.  Patricia also presented a paper on “Value Pluralism and the Law and Economics Movement.” And Katy presented “An Anti-Commodification Approach to Animal Research” (a paper co-authored with Patrick Clipsham, from Winona State University) also at the CPA.

Shannon Dea gave a series of talks at Congress, including “Spinoza and Race” (at a joint session sponsored by the Spinoza Society of Canada and the CPA), “Detached Ideas on Topics of Vital Importance” (at the Public Humanities Roundtable: “New Cultures of Scholarship: The Humanities in the Public Sphere” sponsored by the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English), and “Pragmatism From Margin to Centre” as part of a symposium on “Pragmatism in the 21st Century” (for the CPA).   She also served on an author meets critics panel with Patricia Marino for Carrie Jenkins’ book What Love is and What it Could Be.


Left to right:  Carrie Jenkins (UBC), Shannon Dea (UW), Samantha Brennan (Western), Patricia Marino (UW), Jasper Heaton (UBC), Alice MacLachlan (York). Photo credit: Esa Diaz-Leon (Barcelona).

Sandra DeVries presented a paper entitled “The Role of Multiraciality in the Philosophy of Race” at the CPA.

Doreen Fraser gave a talk entitled “Quasi-particles as a template for ‘particles’ in QFT” in a symposium on the history and philosophy of particle physics at the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS) meeting at Congress and delivered a commentary at the CPA.

Jackie Feke gave a talk on “Ptolemy’s Epistemology of Geography” also as part of CSHPS.

Also presenting talks at the CPA were Andria Bianchi, Wesley Buckwalter, Matt Doucet, Carla Fehr, Vanessa Lam, Chris Lowry, Dylon McChesney,  and Ben Nelson.

In addition to the academic frenzy of Congress, other talks were also given in other places.  For example, Katy Fulfer presented  “From the Global to the Local: Notes on Canadian Policy, Commodification, and Exploitation” at the Critical Perspectives on Surrogacy in Canada workshop held at the University of Ottawa May 17-18. This workshop brought together specialists in law, bioethics, philosophy, sociology, and policy, and provided an avenue for academics to speak with surrogates about their work. Then, Katy traveled to Montreal for the Canadian Bioethics Society (CBS) Annual Conference, where she presented “Vulnerability and Moral Responsibility in Choosing Assisted Reproduction.”

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Waterloo folks at CBS:  Andria Bianchi, Cait O’Donnell Kathryn Morrison, Katy Fulfer, and Rosalind Abdool

In late April, Heather Douglas traveled to the University of Cambridge at the behest of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.  There, she participated in a workshop on Risk and the Culture of Science, and gave a public talk on “Responsibility and Inequality in a Risky World.”  A video of the talk has been posted on CSER.  She also gave a talk in the History and Philosophy of Science Department on “The Materials for Trust-Building in Expertise.”


Heather Douglas and Jacob Stegenga at the river Cam.

Closer to home, Shannon continued her work on pedagogy with Centre for Teaching Excellence by giving a talk at the UW Teaching and Learning Conference on “Cultivating Curiousity and Care on the Threshold” (with Carmen Bruni, Rob Gorbet, Barbara Moffatt, Gordon Stubley, Julie Timmermans, and Diane Williams).  She also worked with Trevor Holmes to design and run a two-day advanced course design workshop (“Deepening Your Course Design”) held in May.

Department members are also involved in community governance and public outreach.  Shannon Dea has been elected as a faculty representative to both the University Senate and the University Board of Governors.  Shannon was also a panelist on Opposing Views on 570 News, a weekly lunchtime current events show hosted by Mike Farwell.  (Listen here.)

Dave DeVidi was pleased to be asked to join the Advisory Committee for Career Compass KW, a two-year project funded by a Ministry of Community and Social Services Employment Modernization grant, that aims to help people with developmental disabilities in KW to find meaningful, competitive, fulfilling and productive employment in the community.

And Katy Fulfer notes that although the Women’s Studies Student Society isn’t meeting formally during the Spring term, a few members meet up to volunteer at Food Not Bombs, an organization that provides a free vegetarian and vegan meal in downtown Kitchener most Saturdays.  All are welcome to join!

In publishing news, Ted Richards has co-edited with Kevin Elliott a special section of Public Affairs Quarterly entitled “The Responsible Use of Science in Societal Decision Making.” Part one appears in this month’s issue (Vol. 31, #3). Part two will appear in the September issue.

Wesley Buckwalter and John Turri’s paper “Descartes’s Schism, Locke’s Reunion: Completing the Pragmatic Turn in Epistemology” was recently published in American Philosophical Quarterly. The paper argues that whether a person should pursue a course of action is powerfully and directly connected to knowledge.

Shannon Dea’s paper, “Deep Pluralism and Intentional Course Design: Diversity From the Ground Up,” was recently published in Rivista di estetica.

And Heather Douglas’s essay, “The Bitter Aftertaste of Technical Sweetness” has been published in new edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, edited by David Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert (MIT Press).  Heather’s essay draws parallels between the experience of scientists at Los Alamos in World War II and the experience of Victor Frankenstein.

Finally, it is with sadness that the department notes the passing of longtime faculty member Judy Wubnig.  Dave DeVidi and Shannon Dea have provided this rememberance of her:

Judy was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1934. She received a BA from Swarthmore in 1955, and her MA and PhD from Yale. Her 1963 dissertation was titled A Study of the Rationality in Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. After a short stint as a Lecturer at Northeastern University, she joined the Waterloo Philosophy Department in 1965, where she worked until her retirement in 2002. She continued to work on Kant, including translating work on his philosophy of mathematics, and made occasional forays into political philosophy.

Judy was a well-known figure on the Waterloo Campus throughout her career. She was never shy about speaking up in defense of what she thought was right, and regarded herself as a staunch advocate of free speech. As the then-University President David Johnston phrased it when he conferred the designation Professor Emerita on her, she was “a conscientious discussant at Arts Faculty Council and diligent in defending the interests of faculty members across campus.”

It is as a mentor and friendly supporter of many students during her long teaching career that Judy probably made her most important contribution. She often went out of her way to make students, especially international students or students who seemed isolated, feel at home at Waterloo. One of the current faculty members in the Department, Shannon Dea, was an undergraduate student of Judy’s and her memories give a feel for a side of Judy that those who only know her by her higher-profile activities on campus might miss:

Judy was one of my first ever Philosophy professors. In the Fall of 1989, in the first term of my undergrad, I took “Great Works of Western Philosophy” with her. I loved the course and I loved her teaching. She was old-fashioned in a way that, at the time, I was looking for in a philosophy professor. She treated the canon reverently; this really resonated with me at the time. She was also fiercely supportive of her students. I recall one time I had to ask for an extension on a paper because I wasn’t doing a very good job of juggling work and school. She asked me why I had a job, in addition to being a student. I told her that my job was my only way of paying rent. This really upset her. “Oh, why can’t they just let students be students?” she complained. (She gave me the extension.)

As it happens, the job in question was at a local restaurant. I remember that Judy often used to bring undergraduate students to the restaurant and buy meals for them. She was always a really generous woman. At the end of the course I took with her, she invited the whole class to her apartment for a potluck dinner. This really meant a lot to me. It was the first time I had ever been welcomed to a professor’s home, the first time that I ever shared a meal with a professor. I and another student in the class were both vegan. Judy was far from vegan, but she managed, in her own way, to make we two vegans feel really welcome by explaining to us Plato’s reasons for excluding meat from the diet of the citizens of the Republic. Years later when I became a professor, I followed Judy’s model and held student potlucks at my house at the end of term. I wanted to make my own students feel as welcome and supported as Judy made me feel.  (I don’t host these potlucks so often any more, but I still think very fondly of the practice.)

Over the years, my views about philosophy and pedagogy and about the world in general drifted pretty far from Judy’s. By the end, we didn’t agree on much. But she was the first woman philosopher I ever met, and she was a kind a generous teacher to me. For these reasons, I will remember her with great fondness.



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

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