2014 Spring Workshop on Philosophical Methodologies

On 16th May 2014, the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group held their 4th Spring Workshop, on Philosophical Methodologies. The aim of the workshop was to explore how philosophical methodology relates to philosophical feminism and to improving the situation of women in philosophy departments. We were interested in both the practice of philosophy as practised privately, in writing, and in public philosophical discourses such as seminars and conferences.

The Workshop featured four invited speakers: Professor Catarina Dutilh Novaes (University of Groningen), Professor Nancy Bauer (Tufts University), Professor Eric Schliesser (Ghent University), and Dr. Amia Srinivasan (University of Oxford). Their papers were responded to by postgraduate students from universities around the UK and Europe.

panel discussion

The panel: Amia, Nancy, Eric, Suilin, Catarina, Nicole and Ellie

Dutilh Novaes opened the workshop with her paper “Virtuous Adversariality as a Model for Philosophical Inquiry”. She argued that the combativeness which some see as central to philosophy can, and should, be reconciled with a kind of productive cooperation, and describes the picture of philosophy which emerges as one of “ongoing conversation between interlocutors who respectfully disagree with each other”. She discussed one interesting upshot of this metaphilosophical view – that it can offer a counterbalance to confirmation bias – as well as the connections that have been made between the nature of philosophical discourse and the numbers of women in professional philosophy. The commentator was Tamara Dobler (University of East Anglia).

The second paper was Bauer’s “On Making Progress in Philosophy (All Other Things Not Equal)”. Bauer introduced two issues about the discipline of philosophy that have previously been addressed independently: one about what counts as intellectual ‘progress’ and one about how to make the profession more inclusive to those who have been traditionally excluded or alienated. She argued that there are important links between the two issues, and that “expanding our understanding of what counts as progress in philosophy is critical to diversifying our community.” The commentators were Marie van Loon (University of Amsterdam) and Melanie Sarzano (University of Edinburgh).

After lunch, Schliesser’s paper “How I Learned to Love Derrida by Talking to a Mathematical Economist” presented a conception of philosophy informed by viewing the disciplne from the perspective of economists. The key idea was that philosophy should make room for concepts that help guide new practices, and so enable it to be responsive to the needs of justice. This view was a version of ‘analytical egalitarianism’. The commentator was Anna de Bruyckere (Durham University).

The final paper was Srinivasan’s “Does Feminist Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Srinivasan introduced the objection that the epistemic project of philosophy and the political project of feminism cannot be un-problematically combined because the epistemic project will be in some way hampered by the political one. She then defended three possible routes of response: a rehabilitationist one, one understanding ‘feminist’ as a genealogical label, and a pragmatist one. Finally she considered the objection from the skeptical feminist’s point of view: what if it is the epistemological project which hampers the political one? The commentator was Chris Meyns (University College London).

audience

The high quality of the talks, and the commentaries, was clear from the rich discussions which they generated. It was noted by a number of participants that whilst the Q&A sessions were lively and productive, they were also very respectful, and that the atmosphere in the room was noticeably relaxed and friendly. This made for a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging workshop.

The final session of the workshop was a panel discussion with the invited speakers, as well as Edinburgh’s Dr. Elinor Mason and Dr. Suilin Lavelle. All workshop participants were invited to raise issues related to the practice of doing philosophy, and discussions ranged from how postgraduates should choose what to work on and how best to engage with non-philosophical audiences, to how to make philosophy departments more inclusive. Again, the discussion was interesting and fruitful, and the panel did an excellent job of contributing their own opinions, as well as drawing out connections between the different points being made. A number of postgraduate students in particular noted how useful and encouraging they found this part of the workshop.

As someone who was not involved in the organisation of the workshop I can say that it was a huge success. Many of the speakers and participants offered high praise of the event, and I’m very pleased to say that the EWPG intend to continue running the Spring Workshops in years to come. Keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of months to find out the theme of of the 2015 workshop, and who the speakers will be…

You can find the workshop programme and abstracts here.

Details of the first Spring Workshop (on Implicit Bias) are here.


The workshop would not have been possible without the generous support of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK (SWIP-UK), the Scots Philosophical Association, the Analysis Trust and the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. The EWPG gratefully extends their thanks to those organisations. Extra-special thanks go to the workshop’s organisers: Nicole Hall, Richard Stöckle-Schobel, and Jie Gao.

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