Don’t miss The Asylum Monologues, an online event which is taking place on Friday 5 March at 12:00 via Zoom.
What are the Asylum Monologues?
Scripted by Sonja Linden & Christine Bacon, the monologues have been created to be performed as part of the Human Rights project. Asylum Monologues is a first-hand account of the UK’s asylum system in the words of people who have experienced it.
Launched at Amnesty International in June 2006, it has been touring the UK ever since and is performed on request.
The King’s community has been invited to attend a performance for free via zoom. Please check your emails for details including the link to your upcoming performance.
Before coming to King’s, I was a postdoctoral fellow in PPE program at Virginia Tech. The campus is located in beautiful Blacksburg, which sits right next to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Before this, I completed my PhD just next door to King’s at the London School of Economics.
What will you be teaching this term?
In Semester 1 I taught History of Political Philosophy. The module considered authors chronologically but was split in two themes. The first half examined the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques-Rousseau. Core themes that we considered included natural law, political obligation and legitimacy. The second half focused on accounts of freedom and unfreedom, including Mary Wollstonecraft, J. S. Mill, Frederick Douglass and Karl Marx. Core themes included the possibility for freedom in society along with how to how to diagnose and oppose forms of unfreedom.
In Semester 2 I am teaching Morality and Convention, a module that examines the role that social convention plays in morality. The module addresses the following general questions. First, what is a social convention and what is it for a convention to be in force in a given population, how are such conventions learnt or transmitted and how do they change? Second how ought we to react to the existence of a certain convention in our community? Third, how much of the social fabric of a developed society is conventional. There are norms defining family structures, games, and personal relationships (friendship, neighbourliness), systems of property rights and private law, rules of etiquette and communication etc. Are these rules, systems and norms purely conventional, partly conventional or not conventional at all?
How did you get into philosophy?
The initial spark came from music, as I recall! I remember listening to bands like The Clash midway through high school and being fascinated by the political themes in their lyrics. This led me to read around and eventually take up philosophy at A Level, where we studied Sartre’s Existential is a Humanism, along with modules such as political philosophy and epistemology. After this, I was hooked!
Your doctorate focused on the ethics of risk and uncertainty.Can you give us the 2 minute elevator pitch summarizing your contribution?
My doctorate examined a set of questions in the area of the ethics of risk and uncertainty. One of the core questions was how should the presence of risk and uncertainty affect how we distribute a benefit to which individuals have competing claims? In response, I developed and defended an egalitarian theory of distributive ethics that is sensitive to the presence of risk and severe uncertainty (where it is not possible to assign probabilities to potential outcomes). I argued that some types of risk can themselves ground complaints from those who are subject to them, whereas others cannot. I also argued that severe uncertainty (where we cannot assign a precise probability to a potential outcome) can itself constitute a burden that ought to be distributed equally where possible.
A further question of the doctorate was how one should approach doing good (such as saving some people from harm) when there is a risk that in doing so one will enable an evildoer to commit harm. I had in mind real-world cases such as the provision of United Nations humanitarian aid to civilians in Syria in 2016, where there were fears the aid would further enable the Syrian government and lead to a manipulation of the aid for nefarious purposes. I defended a “clean hands” view and argued that in the type of “villain-enabling” cases that I described, those who provide aid can do so permissibly.
How do you balance the intellectual with the practicalities of daily life?
I think I struggle to separate them! I find it easier to separate the intellectual from the mundane practicalities of daily life, but I find it difficult to separate the intellectual from my hobbies. A couple of these are Chess and the official Fantasy Premier League game (where I try to put my interest in decision-making under conditions of risk and uncertainty to use).
You write on lotteries and fairness. Recently, you suggested fairness requires weighting lottery cases to reflect weighted claims to the good. What might be counted as a weighted claim to the good for you?
A lottery is weighted when one potential recipient receives a greater chance than another. A claim is a reason why someone ought to receive a good. For example, a person will have a claim on a medicine if they need it in order to cure a disease. The weight of a claim is determined by its comparative strength. For example, if, when everything else is equal, I need the medicine twice as much than you do, then my claim can be said to be twice as weighty as yours. A weighted lottery is a way of allocating goods in proportion to this comparative strength (e.g. if I need the medicine twice as much, then I get twice as much chance than you in a lottery).
Weighted lotteries have been used for such things as school admissions in the U.S., and for the allocation of scarce COVID-19 treatments (where those who need the treatment more get a higher chance than those who need it less, but everyone still gets a chance of receiving the treatment). In a recent paper, I argue that fairness requires the use of a weighted lottery when some individuals have stronger claims to an indivisible good than others. I argue against rival positions which say either that we ought to just give the good directly to the person with the stronger claim, or that we ought to use a weighted lottery only sometimes, such as when the strength of claims to a good are only slightly unequally strong.
What is the puzzle that keeps you awake at night?
One puzzle that has been occupying me recently is how it is that a risk of harm could itself be harmful, even when the “victim” is completely unaware of the risk, and the risky action doesn’t result in the harm that it threatens. A few authors have recently argued that such risks can be harmful. I have some work in progress which tries to address this problem, where I argue that risks themselves aren’t harmful because they do not interfere with the “victim’s” interests in the right way. But this still feels a little unsatisfactory to me!
The Peter Sowerby Chair leads the Philosophy & Medicine Project, launched in 2015 with the generous support of the Peter Sowerby Foundation. The Project is a joint venture between King’s Department of Philosophy, the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, and The Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery.
The Project seeks to foster interdisciplinary links between philosophy and medicine, by teaching philosophy as part of the medical curriculum, and by hosting a range of public lectures, events and activities.
The Project’s 2020 Annual Lecture, ‘What Does it Mean to Be Healthy?’, will be delivered by Robyn Bluhm (MSU), online, on December 16. For more information and to register, click here.
The Peter Sowerby Chair leads the Philosophy & Medicine Project at King’s, launched in 2015 with the generous support of the Peter Sowerby Foundation. The Project is a joint venture between King’s Department of Philosophy, the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, and The Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery.
The Project works to foster interdisciplinary links between philosophy and medicine, by teaching philosophy as part of the curriculum that trains clinicians, and by hosting a range of public lectures, events and activities, aiming to encourage dialogue and collaborative research across these fields.
Professor Kingma’s main research focuses on:
The philosophy of medicine: especially concepts of health and disease; the epistemology of evidence-based medicine; and the role of values in medical evidence and clinical decision-making.
The philosophy of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood: especially the rights and obligations of pregnant and birthing women, as well as those of their health care providers; the nature of pregnancy; and applications such as artificial gestation and contract pregnancy.
She said about her new appointment: “I look forward to consolidating the Project’s international profile as a centre of excellence in teaching and research in Philosophy and Medicine, and to advancing and disseminating Peter Sowerby’s vision for embedding philosophy in clinical teaching and training”.
Professor Kingma was previously Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Southampton. Between 2011 and 2019 she was Socrates Professor in Philosophy & Technology in the Humanist Tradition at the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Elselijn Kingma obtained undergraduate degrees in Medicine (2004) and Psychology (2004) at Leiden University, and MPhil (2005) and PhD (2008) in History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She received post-doctoral training in the Department for Clinical Bioethics, National Institutes of Health (USA). Before working in Southampton she taught at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge.
Professor Kingma is lead-investigator on a five-year, 1.2 million Euro ERC Research Grant ‘Better Understanding the Metaphysics of Pregnancy (BUMP): a project at the intersection of philosophy of biology and metaphysics that investigates the metaphysical relationship between the fetus and the maternal organism. In November 2019, Kingma was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize to examine the metaphysical, ethical, epistemological and existential puzzles birth and pregnancy present.
The Project’s 2020 Annual Lecture will be held online on December 16. For more information and to register, click here
On the 3rd December it is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. One of our own MA students has prepared a poster to raise awareness of the key points which you can download here or by clicking download below. To find out more about observing the day, please click here
This week Sacha Golob (CPVA) and the National Gallery are hosting a panel discussion on Sin and Art.
Speakers include writer, drag performer and filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi; philosopher Deborah Casewell; art historian and Chaplain at King’s College, Cambridge, Ayla Lepine; and Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Visual Art Sacha Golob.
Before coming to King’s I worked at various universities across Europe. I was in the Philosophy Section at the University of Copenhagen for six years. I then joined the Jean Nicod Institute at the Department of Cognitive Studies at École Normale Supérieure, Paris, for a year. Most recently, before coming to King’s, I was a member of the LOGOS group at the University of Barcelona.
What will you be teaching this term?
This term I am teaching Neuroscience and the Mind, which is an introduction to philosophy of mind tailored specifically to students following the BSc in Neuroscience or other undergraduate courses in the Health Schools.
How did you get into philosophy?
At secondary school! My school generally encouraged reflection: lessons in “Scripture” were built into our curriculum and would involve the teacher leading a kind of seminar discussing concepts like justice, love, time, etc. as they are raised in various ancient texts, such as the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. I had a fantastic English teacher, Katharine Watson, who took it upon herself to teach philosophy at AS and A-level. It was her first time teaching the material, which must have been a challenge, but I only realised this later on, as she did such a fantastic job introducing us to the distinctive framing and treatment of philosophical problems in academic philosophy.
In a recent article you argue that we can combine multiple first person perspectives under one unified perspective. What do you think is minimally required for a perspective to pertain?
Well, most of my work on the notion of perspective is in the context of thinking about perceptual experience. In that context, whenever there’s a perspectivally structured experience, there’s a perspective – for a perspectival structure is, I take it, an organisation of content determined by a perspective. That’s a slightly uninteresting answer though. Perhaps more interesting is to think about perspective more broadly. After all, being perspectivally structured is a property not only possessed by perceptual experiences. Here I am interested in the kinds of perspective structuring images and various other ways of representing time and space. Indeed, in a broader sense of the notion of a perspective, it characterises any representation which is structured in relation to some privileged something, such as a theory, a group-identity, or a set of political or social ideas.
How central is the notion of a perspective to your research?
Well my interest in perspective is really a part of my interest in problems to do with self-consciousness. Take, for instance, the problem elusiveness: self-consciousness is supposed to involve a special relation to oneself as a subject of thought and experience; but how is it that we are able to think about or experience that which is thinking the thought or having the experience? I am interested in the viability of an embodied approach here, according which each subject of experience is a special kind of object, a conscious, thinking body. If we assume this and we grant the obvious fact that we do experience our bodies, it would seem, then, that we have an obvious response to the problem. So my interest in perspective is really an interest in what is right (or wrong) with an account along these lines, one which appeals to the perspectival structure of perceptual experience as a means by which we can be aware of ourselves as embodied.
Your research goes beyond conceptual investigations and include a wide of pool of collaborations. Can you tell us about teh work you have done with the artist Mariam Zakarian?
Mariam was involved in a workshop that I organised at the University of Copenhagen on virtual reality (VR) technology. VR presents the promise of otherwise impossible forms of experience, unconstrained by the bounds of physical reality, stretching our current understanding of the limits of experience. I wanted to ground the theoretical discussion properly in the subject matter, so I worked with Kasper Hornbæk and Aske Mottelson at the Computer Science department to set up a demonstration area where participants could experience various virtual worlds for themselves. (Mariam’s demonstration was part of her Amaryllis series: http://www.amaryllisvr.com/ ). I think that the experience of VR, especially the experience of its contents as plausible, are a great example of how some of our experiences are partly self-constructed, in virtue of our mental activity transforming incoming sensory experience to form a state of imaginative perception. I think that this will allow us to reconsider a wide range of illusions as really cases of imagining sensorially present objects to be things that they are not.
The Birmingham-Bristol-London-Oxford-Cambridge (BBLOC) Philosophy of Physics seminar, hosted by King’s College London will be meeting on 19th November 2020 4:30-6pm GMT. Emily Adlam will be giving a talk with the title ‘Spooky Action at a Temporal Distance’.
In May 2020, the Arts & Humanities Research Institute (AHRI) worked in collaboration with the charity Migrateful on the project Breaking Bread, providing King’s staff with the opportunity to participate in online cookery classes that were led by refugees, asylum seeker and migrants. Kneading Knowledge builds on the success and positive feedback from this project, and registration is now open for King’s student and staff to take part in eight online cookery classes running across October to November 2020
To find out more about Migrateful, a charity supporting asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants on their journey to employment, independence and integration into the community, click here.
One of the key academics involved in this project is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy Dr. Sarah Fine.
To register for one of the delicious remaining classes, maximum 10 per class, please use the links below.
Sacha Golob, writing in The New Statesman, says that “Stupidity is failure’s mental scaffolding: those in its grip worsen problems even as they try to think them through.”
He asks, how might your common or garden fool be differentiated from your naive dupes? Are useful idiots also dumb? Or, might they they be guilty of a sort of intellectual-idiocy? What does IQ have to do with ability? And why, when pointing an accusing finger as your opponent and charging them with stupidity-in-the-first-degree, should we pay attention to the way we simultaneously point three fingers back at ourselves?