EWPG Spring Workshop 2017

We are planning to hold our annual Spring Workshop in April this year!

The theme of this year is “Philosophy of Education (Diversity of Philosophy)”

It will be held on 28th April 2017.

We’ll keep you updated more information very soon.

All the best,

Committee Members




Diversity Reading List

A big thank to Simon Folk  and various section editors for putting together this great Diversity Reading List!

In the Diversity Reading List website, you can find a collection of high quality texts in philosophy written from
under-represented groups.

But there’s more! For each entry you can find a brief summary of the text, specifying its difficulty as well as its possible use, e.g., whether you could use it as introductory reading, or as a specialised reading.

So, next time you are working on a syllabus, you should check this out!

2016 Spring Workshop on The Objectification of Women – Announcement & Call for Respondents

The Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group is proud to announce its 6th Spring Workshop on The Objectification of Women on Friday 22nd April 2016 at University of Edinburgh.

This year we will be focusing on the general theme of objectification of the women, and how it relates to, for instance, pornography and motherhood. Each talk will be followed by a response from a postgraduate student.

Confirmed speakers are:
Katharine Jenkins (Sheffield, Cambridge, Nottingham)
Kathleen Stock (Sussex)
Fiona Woollard (Southampton)
Aidan McGlynn (Edinburgh)

We invite postgraduate students to submit expressions of interest to respond to the speakers’ talks. To express your interest, simply submit a short statement (max. 300 words) detailing your motivation to do so to the following address:

[log in to unmask]

The deadline for submission is: 1st April 2016

Access Information:
The event will take place in the Appleton Tower, room LT3. This room is fully weelchair accessible. For further information on the venue you can see: http://www.docs.csg.ed.ac.uk/EstatesBuildings/Development/Access%20Guides/Appleton%20Tower%20Guide%20to%20Access.pdf
If you have any specific requirements, please email giada.fratantonio@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to accommodate your needs.

Details will be online soon!

2015 New Enlightenment Lecture

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The 2015 New Enlightenment Lecture will be delivered by Professor Alison Wylie (University of Washington/Durham University) on 14th December 2015.

After a roundtable discussion on issues surrounding underrepresentation in philosophy, Professor Alison Wylie will give a lecture on “What Knowers Know Well: Why feminism matters, for archeology for example”.

*Everyone* is welcome (and encouraged) to attend!!


15:00 – 15:50 Roundtable Discussion
Panel: Prof. Alison Wylie, Prof. Emily Brady, Prof. Susan Brison, Dr. Aidan McGlynn, Dr Suilin Lavelle.
16:00 – 17:30 New Enlightenment Lecture given by Professor Alison Wylie
18:00 Dinner at Hotel Du Vin (for those who have registered online)

Organisers: Anna Ortin Nadal, Giada Fratantonio, Prof. Michela Massimi

The 2015 New Enlightenment Lecture is made possible by the generous financial support of the Scots Philosophical Association, and the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and the Department of Philosophy.

Representing… Emma Gordon

Welcome to ‘Representing…’ in which a philosopher from a traditionally underrepresented group explains their research for a non-expert audience. In this edition Emma  C. Gordon introduces her work on two topics; the Epistemology of Understanding and Bioethics and Enhancement.

north berwickEGEmma Gordon received her PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where her supervisor was Professor Duncan Pritchard. Her interests are mainly in epistemology and bioethics.

The Epistemology of Understanding

There are two main types of understanding that tend to appear in epistemology—understanding-why (e.g. “I understand why we can’t win the war”) and objectual understanding/understanding of a subject matter (e.g. “I understand Scotland’s history.”) While the former is more frequently discussed, the bulk of my work on understanding is focused on the latter—objectual understanding—which I think is both incredibly interesting and significantly underexplored. For example, in a co-authored paper in American Philosophical Quarterly, I argue that cases in which understanding-why seems especially valuable may actually be cases in which the value in question is best explained with reference to objectual understanding in the background. In addition, I continue to work on considering how we might flesh out the popular claim that understanding requires, in some sense, “grasping” or “seeing” important connections (e.g. coherence-making relations) between pieces of information, and I also explore the extent to which one can have understanding of a subject matter while nonetheless having certain false beliefs about it. For example, while it seems too strict to say that a leading doctor cannot understand cardiology if she has one false belief about (say) the year in which a pioneering procedure was first attempted, it also seems that we must be careful about allowing too many false beliefs to be compatible with understanding. However, carving out an appropriate middle ground is challenging.

I am also interested in—and have published work that engages with—some of the implications understanding has for debates in social epistemology, and in particular, debates about assertoric norms. To borrow an example from Jennifer Lackey, suppose that a doctor asserts to you that you have pancreatic cancer. You later find out that the doctor who gave you this diagnosis had never even seen your chart (indeed, had not even glanced at it for a moment), but had merely heard second-hand that you had pancreatic cancer from another doctor who was actually familiar with your condition. In such a case, it seems as though, upon finding out the doctor who diagnosed you was just repeating what she heard and with little appreciation for why it’s true, you would plausibly be in the right to criticise the doctor’s assertion on epistemic grounds; a reasonable expectation about the epistemic pedigree of the assertion was not met. And this is so even though the doctor plausibly has testimonial knowledge that you have cancer (after all, the doctor who gave you the diagnosis had no reason to think the other doctor was lying). While Lackey herself has suggested that cases like this pose problems for the view that knowledge is a sufficient epistemic credential to warrant assertion, I’ve argued that in examples of this kind, it may be that a specific type of understanding (rather than knowledge) constitutes the required epistemic credential. If this is right, then an interesting further issue is whether there is any unique epistemic norm governing assertion at all.

In addition to these issues, I sometimes work on areas in which epistemology overlaps with other disciplines.  Along with S. Orestis Palermos and J. Adam Carter, I argue in a paper forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology that we can generate an emotionally-oriented analogue of currently popular hypothesis of extended cognition much more easily than one might first suppose. Specifically, we suggest that mainstream theories of emotion that give cognition a central role, suitably paired with the hypothesis of extended cognition, can—on the basis of weaker assumptions than one would be inclined to think—jointly generate the thesis that some emotions (like anger and fear) can in certain cases extend beyond skin and skull to parts of the external world. I also have a developing interest in emotion more generally, which is reflected in my co-editing a forthcoming volume of papers on the emotion of pride (in Mark Alfano’s series “Moral Psychology of the Emotions”). In this collection, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists will discuss a diverse range of perspectives on the nature of pride, its connection to other emotions, its status as a virtue or virtue, and the roles it plays in our intellectual and moral lives.

Further, working at a centre for relationship counselling has led me to consider how elements of my counselling work connects with issues in epistemology. For example, I am increasingly curious about the ways in which understanding is facilitated in the counselling room, and in how some of the techniques employed by counsellors might be generalized to give us ideas about how to facilitate understanding more broadly. I’m currently completing a paper on this topic for a volume on understanding edited by Stephen Grimm and colleagues. I suspect that there are many fruitful avenues to explore at the intersection of psychotherapy and social epistemology.

Bioethics and enhancement

Outside of epistemology, my main philosophical interests are in bioethics. Along with co-author J. Adam Carter, I have published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy on the contentious topic of selecting for certain non-disease traits in children, looking specifically at whether Julian Savulescu is right to attest that we are morally obligated to test for and select embryos that are more likely to be intelligent. In addition to briefly considering the practical implications, of such a proposal, the paper argues that the project of testing and selecting for intelligence is significantly less likely to be effective than Savulescu supposes, and offers considerations against his claim that children who are more intelligent are likely to have better lives.

Meanwhile, a paper I’ve recently published in Bioethics (2014) critically evaluates recent work suggesting that (i) cognitive bio-enhancement is currently too risky and (ii) moral bio-enhancement is morally mandatory. The line I defend cautions against assuming easy separability of cognitive and moral enhancement as distinct aims, partly by showing that bringing about moral enhancement partly involves aiming to improve certain cognitive capacities that are essential to moral flourishing.

Finally, my growing interest in enhancement extends to emotional enhancement, where some of my works in progress consider ethical implications of using pharmacological interventions to enhance troubled relationships. I am hopeful that in future research, my training in counselling will help give me a unique perspective from which to engage with the interplay between romantic relationships and advancements in both medicine and technology.

Would you like to be featured on ‘Representing…’? If you are, or have been, a student or faculty member from Edinburgh, and consider yourself to be a member of an underrepresented group, then please get in touch!

Representing… Yohann Kunders

Welcome to ‘Representing…’ in which a philosopher from a traditionally underrepresented group explains their research for a non-expert audience. In this edition Yohann Kunders introduces the Causal Exclusion problem in the Metaphysics of Mind.

Yohann Kunders is an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh. His supervisor is Jesper Kallestrup, and his interests include Metaphysics of Mind and Embodied Cognition.

The Causal Exclusion Problem

The hall of records has a special place for Collin Burns. On the 26th of April this year, he solved the standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s cube in exactly 5.25 seconds. It takes me about 20 minutes to finish a side! (And, no, I’m not going to tell you how long it takes me to finish the cube) But for all my deftness with the cube, I do love puzzles in all their forms, shapes and colors. It’s why I got into Philosophy of Mind. And at the moment I’m working on one that’s kept brows furrowed and fingers a-tapping for decades now. Here’s something to think about before I hit you with it:

  1. Thomas is rushing to leave his apartment on a Monday morning. No time for breakfast. He’s running late as it is. As he’s leaving he thinks, ‘I should eat something if I’m going to make it to lunch’. Quick dash back to the kitchen and he grabs a banana. What caused him to grab the banana?
  2. Suzy and Billy have skipped school to throw rocks at bottles. They’re going through some stuff, okay? Both spy a particularly delicious green Bailey’s bottle squatting on top of a nice flat piece of concrete. Perfect. Unaware of the other, each takes careful aim. Fire! Both rocks hit the bottle at exactly the same time and it shatters. What caused the bottle to break, Billy’s rock or Suzy’s?

The answer to the first question, you might say, is obvious. Thomas’ belief (that he should eat something) caused him to pick up the banana. Thoughts, beliefs and desires cause actions all the time. And most philosophers agree. (Why ‘most’ if the answer is so obvious? The dissenter’s reasons are tied in with Billy and Suzy’s bottle, but I feel obligated to let you know before you’re disappointed later. The only thing Philosophers can agree on is how systematically terrible they are, as a group, at agreeing with each other.)

The case of Billy and Suzy is strange, I’ll admit. If Billy had thrown his rock and Suzy hadn’t, the bottle still would’ve shattered. If Suzy has thrown hers and Billy hadn’t, again, the bottle still would’ve shattered. So it seems like both rocks caused the bottle to shatter. The breaking of the bottle was overdetermined – it had two causes!

Some philosophers argue that mental states (like Thomas’ belief) do not causally influence physical ones (like Thomas’ action). They do this to avoid the worry of overdetermination. Saying Thomas’ beliefs have causal powers, they argue, means saying mental causation is overdetermined. Just like Billy and Suzy’s bottle.

Wait. Hold up just a second, you crazy philosophers. Overdetermination requires two causes. Where’s the second event that causes Thomas to pick up the banana? As far as I can see, there’s only one – his belief! Ah, the philosophers say, there’s one

you can’t see – it’s sitting deep inside Thomas’ brain. We can tell two stories about Thomas’ action. A psychological story: Thomas believes he won’t make it to lunch without something to eat so he grabs a banana. And a physical story: Neurons fire in Thomas’ brain, sending signals to the muscles in his arms, causing him to pick up a banana. Two stories, two causes, overdetermination!

So we see the puzzle beginning to form. On the one hand, it’s absurd to think of actions being caused without neurons firing. We’re good people of physics and physiology, after all. But it’s equally absurd to think actions being caused without beliefs. Aren’t we good people of psychology as well?

Of course, you might answer, let’s embrace overdetermination. So what if behavior is overdetermined? The problem is that this is just as absurd an option as the previous ones – how often is it that fire is caused by a match and lightning both at the same time? It’s possible, but is it routine? Accepting two separate, independent causes can’t be our way out. We must be good people of logic too.

This is the causal exclusion problem. The more we go out of our way to say that beliefs cause actions, the more it sounds like those actions are overdetermined. And the more we go out of our way to say that neurons and muscles (and other physical things) cause actions, the more it sounds like mental states are useless.

‘Why bother with it at all?’ you’re probably thinking. Why not just wait for neuroscience to give us some answers? The mind is becoming less mysterious every day. Good point, I say, but this is a problem of metaphysics. There was nothing within Newton’s physics that could dismiss Hume’s skeptical worries. Kant, the metaphysician, had to step in and give Newtonian physics a defense against skepticism. Similarly, neuroscience cannot dismiss the logic of the exclusion problem. It’s a problem not because it says a belief doesn’t cause an action but because it says there’s no way a belief could cause an action at all.

The exclusion problem is relevant because how we conceive and talk about ourselves is at stake. A compromise in any direction to see it resolved has potentially dangerous implications. To say neurons don’t really cause actions means admitting the physical world isn’t causally closed. We might as well admit Casper exists. To say mental states don’t really cause actions is even worse. It would mean reducing thoughts, beliefs and desires to useless side effects, like Wittgenstein’s paper in the wind. “You sometimes see in a wind a piece of paper blowing about anyhow. Suppose the piece of paper could make the decision: ‘Now I want to go this way.’ I Say: ‘Queer, this paper always decides where it is to go and al1 the time it is the wind that blows it.’” (From Wittgenstein’s ‘Lectures on Freedom of the Will’)

There is another option; Jaegwon Kim, the man who first conceived of the problem in this way, suggests we identify mental events with physical ones. The problem disappears if we stop seeing the two as independent, and start seeing them as the same. Mental states simply are physical states. But this ‘they are the same’ argument has the same problem the ‘mental states don’t cause anything’ argument does. It reduces the human mind to a piece of paper blowing about in the wind.

This puzzle is a Rubik’s cube. And we need a Collin Burns.

Up steps Karen Bennett! She believes that the only way to tract the exclusion problem is to go after the idea of overdetermination. True cases of overdetermination, she argues, require two separate and independent causes (like Suzy’s rock and Billy’s rock). But how independent are mental and physical states? She doesn’t want to go the Kim way and say they are the same but neither does she want to say they’re as distinct as Billy’s rock from Suzy’s. Her ‘in-between’ position is called Compatibilism.

Compatibilism, in essence, is the idea that an event can have two distinct causes without being overdetermined, as long as the relationship between the causes is tight enough. Right off the bat, the Compatibilist is at a disadvantage. She must characterize the relationship between the mental and physical in just the right way. Lean too much to one side and her position can be likened to Kim’s. There is no difference between mental and physical states. Lean too much towards the other and she sounds like a spooky magician. Mental states don’t need neurons to cause physical actions.

My work at the moment revolves around a Compatibilist solution to the causal exclusion problem; using Karen Bennett’s arguments as a base to come at the exclusion problem from a new angle. It will by no means be an end to the discussion (one side, at most, of our Rubik’s cube). But I believe my work is a step in the right direction – ensuring our science of the mind is grounded in a stable metaphysics.

Would you like to be featured on ‘Representing…’ ?If you are, or have been, a student or faculty member from Edinburgh, and consider yourself to be a member of an underrepresented group, then please get in touch!

The Links We Like – February Edition

Here are all the philosophy & underrepresentation links that we’ve come across throughout February. To see the links we post one at a time throughout the month you can ‘like’ us on Facebook or ‘follow’ us on Twitter (@RepEdinburgh). Otherwise, in no particular order…

1. Julia Bursten has written an excellent post about the media’s portrayal of ‘genius’ and how this relates to underrepresentation in STEM fields (and, I’m sure, philosophy).

2. The APA is calling for input on a code of conduct for professional philosophers. An exciting development, which may well have impact on UK philosophy as well as in North America.

3. The BSA have released a call for papers for a conference on Race and Aesthetics. The deadline is 15th of March, so there’re still 2 weeks left to submit something! It’s notable that the conference is committed to ensuring accessibility for all (see link 12), so everyone with relevant work should think about submitting!

4. Edinburgh’s (fantastic) UG Philosophy society are hosting what I think could be the first UG conference on ‘women in philosophy’. Their call for papers is here.

5. This interactive chart searches the words used in around 14 million ratemyprofessor.com reviews, and displays them according to gender and discipline. There’s endless mileage in this. Try ‘genius’, ‘brilliant’, and ‘nice’ for starters.

6. This new journal promises to publish on diverse fields and traditions, and to publish early-career philosophers alongside more established ones.

7. This post over at Daily Nous offers a different angle on the much-publicised issues of misconduct in philosophy: the intellectual costs of misconduct.

8. Another Daily Nous post recommends making a space for conversations about department climate when recruiting new graduate students. Is this something people would like to see at Edinburgh?

9. Durham are offering a number of Postgraduate Taught scholarships which are specifically aimed at addressing underrepresentation relating to economic background, carer-status, and disability. Deadline is 30th April.

10. & 11. Peter Railton bravely discussed his experiences with depression in his Dewey Lecture this month. A draft of his talk is available here, and Daily Nous have made a space for people to share their own thoughts on depression and other mental illnesses here.

12. Shelley Tremain (in a post for Discrimination and Disadvantage) on how to talk about accessibility when organising and publicising conferences.

13. The SEP now has an entry on Implicit Bias (written by Michael Brownstein). Exciting, and incredibly useful!

If you see anything during March which you think we might be interested in then let us know!