Newsletter | The Rational Enquirer Issue #6

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Issue 6 | Fall 2018

Inside this issue


New Academic Year, New Chair: Patricia Marino Becomes First Female Chair of The Department


We enjoyed the following Q and A session, profiling the Department's new Chair, Dr. Patricia Marino:

Q1] Congratulations on becoming the PHIL Department’s new Chair! A great achievement on its own, and perhaps doubly so as you’re now the first-ever female Chair. Can you share how you feel about both accomplishments?

“Thank you! When I arrived at Waterloo in 2004, I was starting just as Jenny Ashworth was retiring, and for one year I was the only woman in the department. It's amazing how much our department has changed. We now have seven women out of sixteen faculty; many people in the department study and work on feminist philosophy in some way, and the department is now home to what will soon be the new Gender and Social Justice Program. I know being Chair will be a lot of work, so hearing people's congratulatory remarks is a much-appreciated reminder that this is also an accomplishment and an opportunity.”

Q2] How did you first become interested in philosophy, and set out to become a philosophy professor? What did you write your doctoral dissertation on? How do you view the value of philosophy, both in your own life, and more broadly in the world today?

“I actually didn't study philosophy as an undergraduate at all. I pursued a double major in mathematics and dance – though, to be honest, I only completed the math part. I went to graduate school in math: first at Tulane, studying topology, leaving there with an MA; I then began a PhD in set theory at the University at Buffalo. It was during my PhD program I got interested in philosophy of math, and then philosophy in general, and it just went on from there.

“Since I started in philosophy, my areas of interest have shifted. I love thinking about philosophy of math, but it always frustrated me that such a small number of people would be interested in what I was saying. So, I've moved toward topics that have more obvious practical relevance, like ethics, philosophy of sex and love, and philosophy of economics.”

Q3] Tell us about your latest book, Moral Reasoning in a Pluralistic World, (McGill-Queens UP), and the content of your current research.

“Moral Reasoning in a Pluralistic World originally grew out of work I was doing in moral dilemmas: I've always thought that complicated situations and conflicting values were an important part of moral life, so it's always surprised me that many philosophical theories try to explain away or dissolve the complexity. MRPW addresses the question: How should we reason morally in a pluralistic world, in which we share multiple values (honesty, fairness, benevolence etc.) but interpret and prioritize these in different ways?

“I just finished a manuscript for a book titled Philosophy of Sex and Love: An Opinionated Introduction; it will come out with Routledge Press some time in 2019. The next big thing I want to work on has to do with how ethics and values play a role in our use of economic thinking, particularly when we use algorithms and formal methods to aim for efficiency and optimization.  Philosophy of economics is exciting for me, because it's a chance to bring together my expertise in both mathematics and ethics.”

Patricia headshot  

Q4] You’ve a special connection with our graduate-level program: being Grad Officer for a long time, as well as vital in the creation and running of the recent Applied Philosophy program. Please tell us your philosophy about grad-level education.

“That term Grad Officer always makes me laugh -- I used to imagine going up to graduate students and saying "Hey. You. You're coming with me." But yes -- I've always had a special interest in graduate education and I love working with our students. Supervising PhD students has led me into several research topics I wouldn't have otherwise considered, such as those in bioethics.

“I don't have a special philosophy of graduate education, but I do think that in our rapidly changing social and political context, graduate education is going to change as well. The Applied Philosophy program emphasizes not only how we can apply theories to practical problems, but also how encountering real-world problems informs our theories. It also helps students see what kind of work they can do as philosophers beyond being a professor. There is so much need for philosophical thinking in the world!”

Q5] Please share any special messages for our alums.

“We hope you'll stay in touch and stay part of our community! Our students could learn a lot from connecting with you, and as a faculty member I can tell you there's a special joy in seeing new students every year who are interested in philosophy. We'll be sure to invite you to the big things -- like the public lecture of the Rudrick Chair -- but feel free to drop us a note from time to time as well -- and if you have ideas for events you'd like to see, or any questions, just send an email, we love to hear from you.” 

Shannon Dea wins 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award

Shannon receiving awardDr. Shannon Dea won the June 2018 Distinguished Teacher Award! We caught up with her to have a chat about teaching, and her latest research

Q1] Huge, and well-deserved, congratulations on winning the Distinguished Teacher Award! It was given to you this past Spring Convocation, June 2018. I understand that such was a special ceremony for you, not only for that but for another reason?

“Yes! I also got to hood my first PhD student, Nathan Haydon, who convocated during the same ceremony. It was a real treat to celebrate with him and to be honoured with the DTA at the same convocation.”

Q2] Who have been some of your own top teaching influences, either in person or via their work in the field? What’s the most important thing which you yourself have learned about great teaching?

“I’ve benefited from so many great teachers and mentors over the years. But a few especially come to mind. During my undergrad at UW, professors Bill Abbott (Philosophy) and Zina Gimpelevich (Russian) – I was a double major – were huge influences on me. They both showed enormous care and concern for their students and a deep passion for teaching. I really appreciated their generosity as teachers. In grad school, I learned a lot about teaching from Sergio Sismondo (Queen’s) and Tom Lennon (Western), each of whom in different ways modeled how to nurture students’ autonomy and curiosity. Since I started at UW, Trevor Holmes of the Centre for Teaching Excellence has had an enormous effect on my teaching – especially in always challenging my assumptions about what works for students. In 2008, I was in a meeting with him and told him off-handedly that I was a good teacher. He asked quite simply: “How do you know?” That question stayed with me. I still ask it of myself every day; it really keeps me honest.

“I think that the most important thing I have learned about teaching is that more content doesn’t equal more learning. When I started my career, I assigned a lot of readings and I tried to squeeze lots of details into my lectures. But that amount of data can overwhelm students. Today, instead of trying to fill my students’ brains with content, I work to carve out space, time, and structure for them to linger with questions and ideas. I assign fewer pages of reading, but we work through those pages closely together. I don’t lecture much; instead, I work on designing and facilitating exercises that will help the students explore the material effectively on their own and with each other.”

Q3] Apart from the high quality of your teaching, and the outstanding amount of time and attention you give your students, you’re also known for taking pedagogical risks in the classroom: seeing what works and what doesn’t. Can you share an instance of both?

“I’ll start with something that didn’t work. About ten years ago, I got a little grant to experiment with small group teaching methods in ethics. I used three different methods, but I intended two of them as experimental controls. I really thought that the third method – reading groups who’d work together to fill out weekly questionnaires about the readings – was the one that would produce the best results. In the end, those groups actually turned out to be less effective than the other two kinds of groups I tested. In retrospect, I see that having students fill out questionnaires about their weekly readings actually made them less effective readers. It incentivized them to skim the readings for the “right answers” rather than reading in an open, curious, critical way. That experience taught me how much more powerful open questions (like “what do you think the most interesting aspect of this reading is?”) are than closed questions (like “what is Aristotle’s definition of happiness?”).

Shannon at beach

From left to right: Kate Norlock (Trent); Shannon Dea; and Barrett Emerick (St. Mary's College of Maryland). Taking a break on the beach in Sydney, Nova Scotia, from October's meeting of the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy. Photo credit: Kate Norlock.

“A chance I took that I think paid off for students was in offering them opportunities to design their own final assessments for courses. In some of my courses, instead of assigning a final paper, I work with students throughout the term to support them as they figure out how they will show off what they’ve learned at the end of the course. I encourage them to come up with final assessments that will help them draw connections between the course and other parts of their lives that matter to them. This has produced some really amazing results. Perhaps most notably, once in a course on philosophy of gender, I had a student who was a competitive synchronized swimmer do a study on the gendered nature of synchronized swimming. She interviewed a male synchronized swimming coach and she designed a marketing campaign to get more boys involved in synchronized swimming. In addition, amazingly, she choreographed a synchronized swimming routine to be less feminine, more gender neutral, than usual. She persuaded a team of synchronized swimmers to practice it for weeks, and then produced a video of the routine with an accompanying essay explaining the changes she had made. I’ve been really lucky to have the flexibility and the small class sizes that make work like this possible. It pays off for the students because of the deep connections it allows them to draw between philosophy and their other passions. And projects like this are really effective at developing students’ scholarly autonomy.”

Q4] What is your favourite course, or subject matter, to teach—and why?

“My favourite is whatever I’m teaching at the moment. I throw myself into every course I teach. I’m kind of in love with all of them. That said, I’ve often had really good experiences teaching philosophy of gender and philosophy of art. Also, I love teaching anything by Kant. His writing very naturally invites classroom discussion; this always seems to me to be evidence of how much his own teaching influenced his philosophizing.”

Q5] Enough about teaching: please tell us about your recent, and future, research efforts and plans.

“My early career metaphysics scholarship has recently led me to do work on contemporary issues in the metaphysics of sex and gender. This work is the basis for my 2016 book, Beyond the Binary: Thinking About Sex and Gender. The intersection of my history of philosophy scholarship and my work on inclusive pedagogy has produced a second new research area for me – women and racialized philosophers from, respectively, the early modern period and late 19th-early 20th century American thought, who have been unjustly excluded from the canon. I have presented this work internationally, and have recent and forthcoming publications on this material. As well, I have a growing project on harm reduction strategies in social and health services – this research the outgrowth of my years of community volunteerism and activism. As communities consider how best to respond to such acute harms as HIV/AIDS, the opioid crisis, and the ongoing effects of settler-colonialism on Indigenous populations, philosophers (and humanistic scholars more generally) need to step up and join the conversation. The thread that runs through all three of these research areas is my commitment to scholarship that engages with the world outside of academe, and brings together an array of scholarly and experiential resources in order to shift our understanding and our conduct.

“In addition to these areas, I have recently been doing a lot of work on academic freedom and its connection to other core principles of the modern university (like collegial governance). On my view, the increasing politicization of freedom of expression threatens academic freedom, and thereby threatens the scholarly mission of the university. I’m passionate about better understanding academic freedom, and about helping both the public and other scholars understand it better too. To that end, I’ve been blogging about the topic at my blog [] and at the blog of the Canadian Philosophy Association. And, starting this past September, I have a monthly online column on the topic for the national magazine, University Affairs.”

Portrait of an Alumni Couple

Laila and Greg beside fountain

We recently caught up with Laila Brand and Greg Papazian, an alumni couple of the Department who met during their undergrad years at Waterloo.

Q1: Can you please describe your education at Waterloo, and connection to the PHIL Department?

Laila: “I spent the last 3 years of my undergrad degree at UW (after loving an “Intro to Phil” course I took at Guelph). When I wasn’t at Grebel taking Peace and Conflict Studies courses or practicing piano, I was probably at Dana Porter trying to make sense of philosophy course readings. I remember a new friend of mine in second year saying she saw me at DP and felt intimidated by how “intensely” I was studying one day. It took me quite a lot of work just to understand what I was reading, let alone critique it.”

Greg: “My high school arts programs were not engaging, instead I excelled at math and science. I applied to UW for Physics and Philosophy, and started a science degree. In my first term I found that my single arts elective was the most interesting part of my studies. I switched to a Philosophy degree and never looked back! There was an active cohort of students in the PHIL department, and we began our own reading group outside of class. I also lead PhilSOC for a time, and relished the opportunity to address a broad variety of subjects and interests in class discussion.”

Q2: What has been your journey since graduating? Can you please describe what you do now: job titles, nature of your work, future plans?

Laila: “For the past 13 years I have worked in a para-church campus ministry in a range of roles: working on a particular campus, regional supervision, coordinating an ethnic-specific Korean student ministry, and my most recent role as a fundraising coach. Our youngest child has just started JK so I’ve decided to head back to school as well. I’ve just started an MA in Theology in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Care at Martin Luther University College (formerly the Seminary at Laurier). Following this degree, I’m interested in helping meet psychotherapeutic needs within refugee families, particularly with children.”

Greg: “After graduation I completed a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) at Conrad Grebel University College. I have worked in a number of roles that have all been directly involved with students or supporting higher education more broadly. I have worked in the UW Accessibility Office, as a campus chaplain, and as the Student Advisor and Admissions Coordinator for grad programs at Martin Luther College (Laurier). For the past eight years I have been at UW working in online learning, as a specialist at the Centre for Extended Learning. CEL hosts, develops and supports online courses for UW, which had me working with the PHIL department on some of their online courses. As of September 2018, I’ve started another role at UW as Instructional Support Coordinator for WatPD. Waterloo Professional Development provides PD courses to students in Co-op and EDGE. This term I have the privilege of supporting over 400 students in a PD Ethics course developed by Greg Andres, of the UW philosophy dept. In some ways I have come full circle!”

Laila and Greg

Q3: How did -- or, did -- your PHIL training help enable your career and current job/activities? Did it hinder you in any way? How would you advise current PHIL students to best make use of their PHIL training?

Laila: “In my previous work of para-church ministry, a staple of my work was studying the Christian scriptures. The primary question we asked when studying a text was: “What is the author’s intent?” At first, I couldn’t believe how similar it was to studying classical philosophers. I was totally in my element. More broadly, I’d say that my training in philosophy often helped me to consider issues from different angles, and to hold differing views in tension, which served me well in team contexts. My preferred style of leading is definitely collaborative, but it took me a while to recognize this. I’d say that, through my philosophy degree, I became a good learner, but it took time to grow into and understand my other strengths as well as my style of leadership.”

Greg: “I never felt like a philosophy degree was a hindrance. My philosophy training has shaped my career and job activities significantly, as noted above. I viewed my degree as an opportunity to explore a wide range of issues and subjects from a philosophical perspective, and I have continued to approach my work this way as well, following my interests in educational settings, and embracing exposure to a variety of subjects and fields as new learning opportunities.”

Q4: What is your single favourite piece of philosophy, or philosopher, and why?

Laila: “I sometimes felt like a bit of a hack in the philosophy department. I think I was drawn more to the process of studying philosophy, over the actual content.”

Greg: “My favourite philosophical work or philosopher often changes or shifts in focus over time, but I’ve recently thought about Ian Hacking’s work in the philosophy of science. His ideas about humans forming representations of the world and building a sense of reality by selecting a representation is fascinating to me.” 

Q5: What's a favourite story, or specific memory, from your time in our Dept?

Laila: “Well, I’m pretty glad I got to meet my husband Greg there. He’s wonderful. But I have to say that one of my favourite memories is from a car ride home with my dad on a holiday weekend during my 2nd or 3rd year. My dad had been concerned about, and unsure of, my career prospects with a philosophy degree. But on this particular ride home, he started the conversation by saying something like: “It’s so great that you’re studying philosophy. That’s really going to prepare you well for life. You’ll be able to do anything you want with it.” After my initial double-take, I inquired a bit about this change of heart. It turned out that one of my dad’s co-workers was pretty pro-philosophy. I guess my dad was happy to consider an alternative perspective. It was definitely a weight off my shoulders to hear his encouraging comments.”

Greg: “In second year I took “Ethics 1.” I have vivid memories of this class, being intensely focussed on the lectures and the instructor, Brian Orend. I rarely, if ever, looked at the clock before the class ended. He gripped our attention by memorizing the name of every student, seemingly before he had even met us! This attention to the students, combined with live and grounded ethical questions, made for meaningful and enduring learning.”

Profile of a Recent Philosophy PhD: Eric Hochstein

Eric Hochstein

Dr. Eric Hochstein is a recent Ph.D. graduate from our department, and since last year has held a tenure-track professorship at the PHIL Dept at the University of Victoria. We caught up with him recently.

Q1: Congratulations on your tenure-track appointment at Victoria! One of Canada’s loveliest cities. What do you like best about it? What courses are you teaching at Victoria?

“Thanks so much! After living away from Canada for a few years doing postdoctoral research, it’s really wonderful to get a job that lets me come back home. I feel extremely lucky to have this position at UVic. So far, one of the things that I like best about the city is being back on the west coast again. I did my Masters out at UBC back in 2003-2005, but I’ve been landlocked ever since. It’s really great being close to the ocean again. I’m also extremely lucky to have amazing colleagues here in PHIL Dept at UVic. They’ve been a joy to work with!

“So far, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a course in Critical Thinking, Intro to PHIL of Science, an upper year course in PHIL of Science, and a grad seminar. This coming spring, I’ll be teaching my second grad seminar: this one will be on the role that images and visual representations play in scientific reasoning.”

Q2: Your research focus is fascinating, described on your website as “understanding how models which make contradictory claims can still advance our understanding of science”, indeed even of the same phenomenon. Can you say more, and give an example?

“Sure! It was actually Doreen Fraser who first introduced me to this and pointed me towards the literature on idealization in science. Often, different kinds of scientific models and theories have to adopt different simplifying, distorting, or idealizing, assumptions in order to represent effectively what they’re trying to study. (If, e.g., the phenomenon is overly complex, then simplifying assumptions can make the phenomenon easier to describe mathematically). But different sorts of scientific goals can often require that we simplify or distort the world in very different ways in order for our models and theories to be useful. This leaves us with a collection of scientific models which seem to take on-board conflicting sets of simplifying assumptions depending on what they’re trying to do. When this happens, the problem becomes: how can we use one kind of model to say anything about another?

“The example I’ve always found most intuitive to highlight this is the way in which we study the behaviour of fluids. If we want to study certain kinds of fluid behaviour, like how a drop of food colouring spreads through a glass of water (i.e. diffusion), we model the fluid as a collection of discrete interacting particles. On the other hand, if we want to describe how the same fluid flows through pipes, then modeling the fluid in terms of discrete particles isn’t effective anymore. Instead, the most useful models interpret the fluid as being continuous and indivisible. So, we seem to have two incompatible interpretations of fluid (i.e., as a single indivisible fluid versus a collection of discrete interacting particles). Each tells us something true about fluid, but neither tells us the whole story, nor can we amalgamate the two models into a single account since they adopt incompatible commitments as to what fluids are.

“My recent research has tried to show just how these sorts of incompatible interpretations can still inform and constrain one another. For instance, the so-called Navier-Stokes equations adopt an interpretation of fluid as continuous and indivisible in order to predict how it moves and flows. Yet despite this, our understanding of these behaviours still depends on an understanding of the properties of the discrete particles that compose the fluid, even if the Navier-Stokes equations must idealize and distort them in order to generate their predictions. Mark Povich, e.g., notes that not all fluids are accurately described by the Navier-Stokes equations: only those composed of particles with the appropriate structures. He notes that:

One reason why liquid crystals are not in the same universality class as water [when it comes to water-flow] is that their often rod-shaped particles result in directional preference and lack of symmetry (Priestley et al. [1975]). Liquid crystals therefore cannot be accurately modeled using the unmodified Navier-Stokes equations. The addition of a stress tensor or coupling with a Q-tensor system is required to take into account the anisotropy of liquid crystals. (Povich 2018, p.124)

“In other words, the properties and characteristics of the particles that make up the fluid not only determine whether or not the appropriate continuous flow models can adequately characterize fluid behaviour, but knowing which fluids have the appropriately structured particles allows us to modify our continuous flow models to better predict other fluids. So, here we have two different and incompatible ways of describing the same complex system (as a continuous fluid or a collection of discrete interacting particles). Yet we’ve been able to better understand the nature of different fluids, and their high-level behaviours, precisely because we are able to use information gathered from one model to inform and constrain the others.

“My research focus has been on exploring these sorts of cases in the context of cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology. For instance, I argue that different kinds of simplified models were required to study and understand the action potential of the neuron in the history of neuroscience and neurophysiology, despite the fact that they needed to adopt conflicting sets of simplifying assumptions. Likewise, psychological models and neuroscientific models require one another to constrain and inform one another despite frequently simplifying the world in incompatible ways. My interest is in exploring just how these conflicting models are able to constrain and inform one another, and what sorts of inferences we can draw from one type of model to another. Some papers that I have published on this topic include: “One Mechanism, Many Models: A Distributed Theory of Mechanistic Explanation.”; “Giving up on Convergence and Autonomy: Why the Theories of Psychology and Neuroscience are Codependent as well as Irreconcilable”; and “Why One Model is Never Enough: A Defense of Explanatory Holism”.”

Victoria parliament building

Q3: Can you please describe your Ph. D. work, plus memorable experience, here at Waterloo?

“I feel extremely lucky to have had Chris Eliasmith as my Dissertation Supervisor, who was fantastic to work with! He helped to point me not only to the philosophical literature that I needed to learn, but also to the empirical work in both neuroscience and psychology. And he was always happy to help me work through the empirical stuff that I did not understand or have a background in. As for the dissertation itself, here is a general summary of what my project was about:

Explanations in the life sciences are typically considered to be mechanistic in nature. They explain the behaviour of complex systems by decomposing them into component parts and operations for better understanding. Yet despite this, it’s common practice in domains like psychology, neuroscience, biology, and genetics to describe complex mechanisms not in terms of their structure and causes, but instead in terms of the semantic information they contain, or what they represent. What benefit does this way of talking have in the life sciences?  Why do scientists choose to talk this way when they could simply choose to model the systems entirely mechanistically? In my dissertation, I argue that intentional descriptions of this sort behave as a unique type of non-mechanistic scientific model when used in these contexts. These models share more of a family resemblance with statistical models than they do with mechanistic models. Both intentional and statistical models do not identify structures and causes, but are instead used to characterize complex dependencies between systems and their environment, to identify patterns in the data we collect about systems, to predict complex behaviours, and to identify essential constraints on the types of underlying mechanisms that are possible for producing these behaviours. Intentional models provide information about complex systems that often cannot be gathered using mechanistic models or interpretations, and thus act as a necessary complement to them. While philosophers of mind have typically been interested in understanding intentionality from a metaphysical perspective, I argue that we may mistakenly view intentionality as a metaphysical phenomenon because intentional models or interpretations of complex systems in science are so essential and unavoidable to our study of them.

“I had a wonderful experience during my time at Waterloo. Of all the places I’ve lived, Waterloo is probably the place that still to this day feels most like home to me. This is in part due to the fact that I was really close with my fellow grad students during my time there. Many have become like family, and I still chat with them regularly. I was particularly close with the other PhD students of my year, Mike McEwan, and Corey Mulvihill. And so I have many fond memories of chatting philosophy, or just going out for drinks, with the other grad students in the department.”

Q4: Your educational journey has taken you across the country—Montreal, Waterloo, BC—and, indeed, the world (UK and USA, including a prestigious post-doc at Washington University in St. Louis). Favourite places?

“It’s hard to disentangle my feelings about a certain place from my feelings regarding the friends I had, and the events that went on, during my life at that time. And I am lucky to have had some wonderful friends and experiences in a lot of the different places I’ve lived. So, it can be hard to pick a favourite. I must admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Vancouver though, since that was the city I first lived in on my own when I first moved away from home for my Masters. I have very strong and vivid memories of my time there. Getting to live in the UK for the first time was also very exciting for me.

Q5: What is your single favourite piece of philosophy, or philosopher, and why?

“That’s a hard question!  Can I cheat a little and mention the top 5 pieces of philosophy that have probably been most influential on me, and the trajectory of my philosophical career? These would probably be:

Daniel Dennett’s paper: “Real Patterns”

William Bechtel’s book, Mental Mechanisms

Mark Wilson’s book, Wandering Significance

Chris Eliasmith’s paper: “How we ought to describe computation in the brain”

Wilfred Sellars’ paper: “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”

“All of these have had a strong influence on how I’ve thought about issues in philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. They all deal, in one form or another, with the relationship between language, science, and our understanding of mental phenomena. They also explore how different ways of describing the same complex phenomenon can tell you very different things about it, but that there are limitations to their different perspectives. This idea has been at the core of a lot of my own research.”

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