Newsletter | The Rational Enquirer Issue #2

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Issue 2 | Fall 2016

Inside this issue


You're invited to a Public Lecture and Reception

Dr. Eva Kittay

The Department of Philosophy presents Dr. Eva Kittay

Dr. Kittay, a world-renowned scholar of Disability Studies and Feminist Ethics, who is currently working on new book entitled A Humbler Philosophy: Disabled Minds and Things that Matter, will present a talk:

“The Desire for Normalcy”
October 20, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.
Federation Hall, Columbia Rooms A and B
University of Waterloo

Dr. Kittay is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and an Affiliate of the Stony Brook Women’s Studies Program. With more than 85 articles and seven books and edited volumes under her belt, it would be an understatement to call her a prolific scholar. Kittay and coauthor Licia Carlson published Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy in 2010. She published The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency with coauthor Ellen Feder in 2003, and her book Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency was a major event in the world of philosophy when it hit the presses in 1999.

Kittay is an activist as well as a scholar. She has worked long and hard at making the discipline of philosophy more inclusive, and at using philosophy to engage in contemporary social issues. She was a founding member and is currently the chair of Philosophy in an Inclusive Key, a summer program for undergraduate students who are members of groups underrepresented in philosophy. In 2003, the Society for Women in Philosophy named her Woman Philosopher of the Year. Dr. Kittay has been honoured by a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEH Fellowship, and the APA and Phi Beta Kappa Lebowitz Prize.

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 second 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,


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.

Read the previous issue of the Rational Enquirer.


Philosophy skills on the job

Lindsay WeirLindsay Weir (MA 2011), who wrote a thesis called Virtue Ethics and Rational Disability, describes herself as “further proof that Philosophy grads are employable and useful outside the ivory tower.”

Weir has been working at a Speech Language Pathology practice in Waterloo for about three years now. While not herself in practice, Weir’s job involves a wide range of tasks in a practice that includes five clinicians. Some of the rewarding features of the job might seem predictable, such as knowing that it involves being part of a team providing treatments that do a lot to improve the lives of the people who come to the practice seeking help.

But another rewarding aspect of the job, says Weir, is that “I get to use my ‘philosophy skills’ every day.” Many people arrive at the practice after they have had strokes, brain injuries, or other similar events that affect language and communication. As a result, Weir says, “many of our clients are very vulnerable and don't have another voice to go to bat for them.” Weir devotes a lot of time and effort to advocating for these clients in the world of law and insurance—areas that suddenly are central to their existence at a time

when they are least able to deal with them.

Consequently, Weir says, “the ability to reason well, and in particular to spot and cogently point out the flaws in an argument, come in handy every single day. I think this might be the best part of my job.​Sometimes I am able to make something important happen. But I know that even when I fail, being their champion is much appreciated.”

Weir’s philosophy training makes her successful in her work in other ways, too. She often gets the job of researching important topics that the clinicians’ schedules of appointments don’t leave them enough time for. For this part of the job, “My ability to boil twenty-plus pages of info into something they can read in five minutes is the key to my success.” It also falls to her to keep the office running effectively and efficiently, for which “the ability to think systematically and break things down is also a major part of why I'm good at what I do.”

In summary, the job is “totally not what I thought I would be doing, but I can honestly say I get up most days happy to be doing it!”

While she gets to use her philosophical skills every day, the love of the content of academic philosophy has never completely left Weir’s system, either. In response to the news that the upcoming Rudrick Visiting Scholar in Philosophy was a leading figure in areas of philosophy that overlap with her thesis work, Weir said, “I totally plan to come to Eva Kittay's talk in October ... and I may just geek out at getting to see her speak in person.”


Philosopher sails around the world

Perhaps one of the more surprising awards for an alumnus of a department in a university that is not located on any lake, let alone an ocean, is the 2016 Voyager Award of the American Schooner Association. But that’s the award presented to Captain Lee Werth (known as Lee F. Werth in his earlier incarnation as a Waterloo PhD student and an academic) in recognition of his single-handed Atlantic crossing in his schooner Renegade.

Dr. Werth’s 1971 PhD dissertation was titled Tense and Temporality. His studies at Waterloo paved the way for a professorial career at Cleveland State University, where his academic work continued to focus on topics in the philosophy of science.

But Werth arrived at graduate school with other passions besides philosophy. He had learned to sail as a child at an overnight camp, and in his teens he went back to camp to teach the next crop of young sailors. He honed his skills crewing on a range of different boats in competitions on the Great Lakes. The love of sailing, and the idea of sailing alone on the ocean, seems never to have been far from Werth’s view, even when other aspects of his life had him in landlocked locales. “Philosophy of science, my academic focus, can get a bit tedious so I escaped into the literature of blue water voyaging.” 

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, Werth’s passions came together. “It fell upon me to write about a subject I knew about both academically and practically. Basically, I improved inexpensive boats and tested them and me.” Finally, philosophical writing about the motivations of solo-sailing, including the one Werth remains proudest of, “The Paradox of Single-handed Sailing: Case Studies in Existentialism” (Journal of American Culture 10, 1987), began to appear.

After retiring from Cleveland state in the mid-00s,

Lee WerthWerth put his longstanding interest in solo ocean crossing into action. In 2008, he departed from Beaufort, North Carolina aboard Renegade, wintered in the Azores, then spent the next summer in Portugal, and the subsequent winter in Lagos. “Settling” for a while thereafter back in Portugal, he worked as a napkin and placemat artist, building a reputation in the local artistic and sailing communities. In 2011, he set sail again, via Madeira, the Canary Islands and, 35 days later, arrived in Antigua.

At that point, due to a range of health concerns, Werth passed Renegade on to another sailor. He now lives aboard another boat in North Carolina, making it “geriatric friendly” for a future passage to Bermuda. While many philosophers like to think that they intrepidly travel where curiosity leads, Werth cashed this out by sailing, solo, around the world.


Doctoral students Kathryn Morrison and Andria Bianchi use Applied Philosophy Placements to investigate crucial issues in medical ethics

In the last issue of the Inquirer we reported a pilot project allowing PhD students to carry out Applied Research Placements. During these placements students are hosted by an organization that has a practical problem that needs philosophical attention. Thanks to students like Kathryn Morrison and Andria Bianchi, and host organizations like the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Providence Healthcare and St. Michael’s Hospital this pilot project is off to a great start. Here is what Andria and Kathryn have to say about their projects.

Kathryn Morrison

​Medical Assistance in Dying
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

This summer, I researched the issue of Medical Assistance in Dying and the problem of mature minors as part of my pilot project for Waterloo’s new Applied Philosophy project. As part of the project, I completed a placement at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto under the supervision of their Director of Ethics, Sally Bean JD MA. The placement was 12 weeks long, and I was on site three times a week. While on site I shadowed Sally on her meetings, consultations and presentations, and provided feedback as she developed policy on Medical Assistance in Dying. Occasionally, I attended meetings off-site at North York General Hospital, Ontario Council Research Ethics Board (OCREB), and at the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). While off-site I worked on a research paper on Medical Assistance in Dying. This material has been submitted to conferences, and is being prepared to submit for publication. I also completed a few professionalization activities. I wrote an editorial, which was accepted for publication in the Journal of Pain Management, and an Op-Ed, “Resisting right-to-die for youths is harmful” that was published in the Kitchener Record. I also gave a presentation to the bioethics team at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. I found the project highly rewarding. It has given my research momentum, and has led to many interesting opportunities for further research in bioethics.

Andria Bianchi

How can people with dementia participate in decisions about their own care and treatment?
Providence Healthcare and St. Michael’s Hospital

My experience in the Applied Philosophy PhD pilot project was both philosophically and professionally rewarding. I completed my project at two healthcare organizations in Toronto- Providence Healthcare and St. Michael’s Hospital. The clinical ethicists at each of these organizations were my on-site supervisors. The objective of my study was to examine the extent to which individuals with dementia (and related neurological impairments) who cannot provide informed consent can still participate in their care and treatment decisions. I was interested in two questions. The first was descriptive. I wanted to know how individuals currently participate in their treatment decisions. The second question was normative. I wanted to explore how people with neurological impairments should be enabled to contribute to their treatment decisions. In order to examine these questions, I interviewed twenty-seven healthcare practitioners, including medical doctors, geriatric psychiatrists, registered nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists, all of whom have experience working with people with dementia.

Throughout the interview process it became increasingly clear that determining how to appropriately include persons with dementia in their healthcare decisions is incredibly complex. Clinicians are often uncomfortable with the uncertainty that is comes along with working with this population and learning how to work within a practice of uncertainty was relevant to all participants. One method that was suggested as a way to enable patients to participate was through advance directives, which are documents that instruct physicians about the care that a person wants to receive in case they become incompetent/incapable of providing informed consent. Many clinicians spoke positively about advance directives in a way that echoes what Ronald Dworkin says in his philosophical arguments in support of them. However, many of these same clinicians noted that while advance directives are a good idea, they are difficult to implement in practice because of the fact that individuals’ preferences often change upon being diagnosed with dementia. This response reinforces some of Rebecca Dresser’s philosophical concerns about the usefulness of advance directives. This was an interesting comparison to make in my final paper, as informed by my applied work.


If you are part of an organization that would like to host an Applied Research Placement, please contact Mary Synnott, the administrative coordinator for the new program (

Department says farewell to Paul Thagard

MPaul Thagardany alumni and friends of the Philosophy Department will have fond memories of any chance they had to work with Paul Thagard, whether in his role as teacher, supervisor or mentor at Waterloo. The Department landed Paul as a star recruit, appointing him as a full Professor in July, 1992, out of the Cognitive Science Lab at Princeton University.  With his retirement on October 1, his long and distinguished career as a regular faculty member in the Department came to an official close.  His influence at Waterloo extends beyond the Philosophy Department largely due to his work as a founder of the Cognitive Science Program---for which he served as director for over two decades.

Although Paul is retiring from his position as a Professor, he most certainly is not retiring from philosophy itself.  Rather than golf or gardening, his retirement plans include a three-book Treatise on Mind and Society, and he will continue as an adjunct professor until his current PhD students finish their degrees.

It is not surprising that Paul is continuing to write.  He has authored, co-authored or edited 14 books and authored more than 250 papers.

Patricia Marino says, “One thing I particularly admire about Paul is the breadth of his philosophical interests. Even though his main interests are philosophy of mind and cognitive science, Paul also thinks deeply in many other areas, such as general philosophy of science, medical ethics, selfhood and autonomy, and social and political philosophy. I've regularly asked Paul to participate on graduate committees I'm supervising, thinking to myself that Paul just knows so much about so many things.”  

Paul’s books include The Cognitive Science of Science:  Explanation, Discovery, and Conceptual Change; The Brain and the Meaning of Life; and Hot Thought: Mechanisms and Applications of Emotional Cognition. Doreen Fraser writes, “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.”

People are eager to read what Paul writes. His works have been cited more than 16,000 times, and his books have been translated into ten languages. And, Paul also knows how to write for people besides philosophers: if you are looking for some smart, fun reading, you should check out his Psychology Today Blog, Hot Thought.

Paul is a highly decorated scholar. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Association for Psychological Science. In 2007 he was awarded the Canada Council Molson Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities and he won a Killam Prize in 2013. But he is not merely a researcher. During his time at Waterloo he has been one of the Department’s popular graduate supervisors and mentors. Chris Eliasmith says, “Paul has been a friend and mentor at every step of my career, and I am incredibly luck for it.  He gave me my first exposure to what is now my main field of study in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. He helped me get my first paper published, coached me on what PhD programs to apply to, got me my first job, and has helped me through the challenges of being an interdisciplinary faculty member. More than this, we have continued to be close collaborators since he was my Master’s supervisor. Paul’s generosity, kindness, and wit were always, and will continue to be, a main source of wisdom for me. Put simply, I’m indebted to Paul more than I can say.”

The Department will be holding events to commemorate Paul’s contributions to the discipline, the Department, and the University in the near future. Watch this space for further information.


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.