Newsletter | The Rational Enquirer Issue #1

Rational Enquirer banner

Issue 1 | Spring 2016

Science and Values Conference: Honouring Angus Kerr-Lawson

You’re invited to a Public Lecture and Reception

Catherine LeggFrom April 25-27, 2016 the Department will welcome scholars from three continents to Science and Values in Peirce and Dewey: A Conference in Honour of Angus Kerr-Lawson. The three-day event begins with a public keynote address by Dr. Catherine Legg (left), from Waikato University in New Zealand.  Her talk is titled "Scientific Integrity: A Pragmatist Examination of Theory and Practice in the Ethics of Inquiry," and will take place at 7:00 p.m., April 25, in J. G. Hagey Hall (HH), room 1106.

We’d love to see you there. The lecture will be followed by a reception where you can catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while and maybe talk some philosophy.

The public lecture, funded by a generous donation by the Kerr-Lawson family, honours Angus’s memory. Many alumni will recall that Angus, who died in 2011, taught for decades in the Philosophy department. This conference celebrates his important work as a scholar of American Pragmatism, including the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, and connects the Department's historic strengths in American Pragmatism and its current cutting edge work on science and values and on socially-relevant philosophy of science.

Community members are also welcome to attend any of the sessions at the conference. The conference wraps up on April 27 at 4:30 p.m. with a plenary address on “The Interplay of Evidence and Values in Science” by Dr. Heather Douglas, Waterloo Chair in Science and Society.  Here are some more conference details.

Take your Philosopher to Work Day

In recent years the Philosophy Department has been putting extra emphasis on preparing our graduate students for careers both inside and outside academia.  Only a minority of our PhD students wind up with careers as tenured professors, but whether or not they work in academia our PhD graduates find interesting, rewarding and socially useful careers.  When we get a chance to talk to them about their career choices, we try to ask “what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were finishing grad school?” and we use the answers we get as a way to set up our current graduate students for success. 

We are excited to announce what we think is an exciting new initiative: the "Take Your Philosopher to Work Day" program. The idea is to match current Waterloo Philosophy PhD students with community members with Philosophy degrees who are pursuing careers outside of academia. On a mutually convenient date the grad student will join the community member at their workplace, where the student will shadow their host, learning about new ways to apply philosophical training, and building their network in the broader community.

C. Gee portraitThis spring, we are piloting the initiative by placing current PhD student Cathy Gee (right) at London, Ontario's Info-Tech Research Group under the supervision of Dr. Michel Hébert.

If you are a Philosophy alumnus/alumna working outside the academy who believes in the workplace benefits of a philosophical education, we’d love to have you join the team!

Please consider hosting a PhD student at your workplace for Take Your Philosopher to Work Day.  For more information, please contact the undergraduate coordinator, Tawnessa Carter.

This is just one example of how the Department is working to do a better job of connecting our current students with our alumni and friends in the community.  For instance, some of our alumni recently made themselves available for grad students to practice their networking skills, something traditional graduate training in philosophy doesn’t do much for, at a session we called “Interfacing with humans.”
grad students and alumni lunching

Current graduate students interfacing with alumni Bob Ewen and Sharon Lee

If you would be willing to take part in events like this, once again we’d be more than pleased to hear from you. Please contact Tawnessa Carter.

Applied Philosophy PhD

Placements allow students to apply Philosophy to practical problems

During the summer of 2016 the Philosophy Department is running a pilot project allowing PhD students to carry out Applied Research Placements

The idea of these placements is that the student will be hosted for a term by some organization where some philosophically interesting problem might arise. It could be a business, a charitable organization, a hospital, a laboratory, a government department, and who knows what else. The advantage for the host is that the student will work on a problem that it will help them to have solved. The advantage for the student is that by applying philosophical knowledge and skills when trying to solve a practical problem, with all the messy details and complications that involves, they will gain insights they couldn’t get any other way.  

The three students piloting the idea will spend the summer at Facilitation Wellington Dufferin (a charity based in Guelph that provides planning and supported-decision-making assistance to adults with developmental disabilities), at Sunnybrook Hospital, and with the Centre for Clinical Ethics.  They have spent the Winter term working one-on-one with professors making sure they have the background knowledge they need to make real progress when they arrive at their host organizations.  We will provide an update on their results in a later newsletter.

These Applied Research Placements are a distinctive feature of the Applied Philosophy PhD program the Department has proposed. The proposal goes to University Senate in May, and we hope to have governmental approval to officially launch it in Fall 2016.

If you are part of an organization that might be interested in hosting an Applied Philosophy PhD placement, please get in touch with us for more details.  You can contact Tawnessa Carter, the undergraduate coordinator for the new program.

Women's Studies has a new home

Joins Philosophy Department on May 1, 2016

women studies administrative people

Left to right: Mary Synnott, Srabani Maitra and Shannon Dea

An administrative decision by the Dean of Arts has become good news for the Philosophy Department. 

In any university, it’s hard for interdisciplinary programs to thrive.  For instance, a program like Philosophy has a department Chair who has certain sorts of authority conferred by University policy and a seat at the table when certain decisions are made.  Programs that are not associated with particular departments don’t have those advantage.  The Dean of Arts, Doug Peers, decided three years ago that the best approach to solving the problem for interdisciplinary programs in Arts was to house them, for administrative purposes, in particular departments, so there is somebody who is answerable for the quality and success of the programs.

Women’s Studies has been an interdisciplinary program at Waterloo since the 1970s.  However, it has always had to survive on minimal resources, trying to make up for that with the dedication of the faculty and staff and students involved in the program.  When the Women’s Studies Board was asked by the Dean to choose a departmental home, they opted for the Philosophy Department.

We expect this to be a benefit for everyone. Philosophy is a natural home for Women’s Studies, since it is now home to several highly productive researchers and excellent teachers with interests in feminist philosophy and other areas related to Women’s Studies. Our newest faculty member, Katy Fulfer, will begin July 1, teaching in both Women’s Studies and in Applied Philosophy.  Shannon Dea, a member of the Philosophy Department and the Director of Women’s Studies, has led a year-long effort to redesign the Women’s Studies curriculum from top to bottom. An exciting new program will be announced soon. 

Women’s Studies is the second interdisciplinary program to opt for Philosophy as its departmental home.  In 2015 Cognitive Science officially moved into the Department.

Philosophy blog

Did you know the Department of Philosophy has a blog ? Find out more about our presentations, publications, events and other news of all kinds.

What's new with us?

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Rational Enquirer, the Department of Philosophy's alumni newsletter.

What's new with you?

It's always great to hear from alumni. We'd love to know what you are up to, so please send an email to Tawnessa Carter,


October 2016: Public lecture by Eva Kittay
Eva Kittay is an internationally renowned scholar of ethics and philosophy of disability.  She will be the second Brian Rudrick Visiting Scholar in the department.  As part of her visit she will give a public lecture based on book in progress Disabled Minds and Things that Matter, which will be followed by a reception.  Last year’s event drew a full house. Details to follow.

Fall 2016: Launch Event for Applied Philosophy PhD and renewed Women’s Studies Program
The Department has reason to celebrate. We’d like to do it with our alumni and friends.  Details to follow.

October 1, 2016: Arts Reunion
Here are some pictures from last year’s festivities.

Winter 2017: Public lectures by Heidi Grasswick
Heidi Grasswick will spend the Winter Term at Waterloo as the Humphrey Visiting Professor in Feminist Philosophy. As part of her visit she will do a series of public talks.

April 2017: Philosophy Awards Ceremony
For the past several years Philosophy has had a ceremony to celebrate outstanding performance by our students. Prizes are awarded, mingling happens, fun is had, and alumni are invited.  Current students love to meet people who have gone before them.  Here are some pictures from the 2016 event.

If you’d like to receive details about these events as they’re confirmed, get on our mailing list! Contact our administrator for alumni relations, Tawnessa Carter, and she’ll be sure you’re added to our list.