Philosophy and Medicine Colloquium: Miriam Solomon (Temple University, USA)

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“On Validators for Psychiatric Categories”  Thursday 5 December 2019, 17.00–18.30 

The concept of a validator for a psychiatric category developed in the second half of the twentieth century and is still in use. Surprisingly, the term “validator” has never been explicitly defined in the psychiatric literature. Moreover, although lists of different kinds of validators have often been stated, there has been no explicit discussion in the literature about how different kinds of validator evidence should be aggregated in a decision about how to create, revise, or remove a psychiatric category. The goal of this paper is to trace the development of the concept of a psychiatric validator, showing how our understanding has changed over time. With this in mind, I evaluate possible recommendations for aggregating validator evidence.

PHILOSOPHY AND MEDICINE COLLOQUIUM

Miriam Solomon (Temple University, USA)

Thursday 5 December 2019, 17.00–18.30 

Council Room, King’s Building, Strand Campus, King’s College London

Registration for people without King’s ID: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/miriam-solomon-on-validators-for-psychiatric-categories-tickets-79879316185?utm_term=eventurl_text

MAP RG #6 – 04/12/19

The reading for KCL MAP reading ground next week will be ‘On Believing in Witches’ by Heikki Saari. 

We will be meeting 13:00-14:00, Wed 4th, Activity Room E, 8th Floor, South east wing, Bush house. All are welcome!


Abstract: In this paper I discuss Polycarp Ikuenobe’s view that it is rational to believe, in an African context, in the existence of witches and witchcraft. First, I attempt to show that it is not possible to prove empirically that witches and witchcraft are real, as Ikuenobe assumes. I argue that even though witches and witchcraft are part of the social reality in which many Africans live, they do not have the same ontological status as theoretical entities in scientific research. Second, I try to show that Ikuenobe’s attempt to demonstrate that the belief in witches and witchcraft has a rational foundation is not convincing. Admittedly, Africans, who live in magic-ridden cultures, have reasons that locally justify their belief in witches and witchcraft. However, when the justification offered for this belief is assessed by external standards, employed within scientific discourse, it turns out to be insufficient.

Philosophy and Medicine Colloquium: Stephen John (HPS Cambridge)

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“Offers, requests and certainties (in the prevention and treatment of cancer, for example)” Thursday, 28th November

Doctors are sometimes permitted to give patients early detection tests which are not judged safe and effective enough to be used in screening programmes. Pharmaceutical companies are sometimes permitted to give patients drugs which are not yet approved by regulators. On the face of it, these cases seem examples of a more general phenomenon explored in recent philosophy of science under the heading of “inductive risk”, where appropriate standards of certainty are fixed by non-epistemic aspects of our situation. However, standard discussions of inductive risk focus on the consequences of different epistemic errors. This doesn’t look like a helpful way of thinking through our cases. This paper suggests an alternative: that there is a difference between the ethics of responding to requests and the ethics of making an offer. In the former case, considerations of autonomy are key; in the latter, considerations of non-maleficence. In turn, these deontic differences have important epistemic implications. This paper develops these ideas, noting their relevance to a range of practices around the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.

PHILOSOPHY AND MEDICINE COLLOQUIUM

Thursday 28 November 2019, 17.00–18.30

Bush House (S) 2.02, Strand Campus

Registration for people without King’s ID: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stephen-john-on-offers-requests-and-certainties-tickets-79877871865?utm_term=eventurl_text

New to the Department: Mirjam Müller, Lecturer in Political Theory

Where were you before coming to King’s?

Before coming to King’s I was a postdoc in Political Theory at Free University Berlin, having completed my PhD at Humboldt University in Political Philosophy the year before.

How did you get into philosophy?

By accident. I moved from politics to political theory to political philosophy/feminist philosophy and here I am. More substantially: I got passionate about philosophy because it helps me to make sense of the social world and it allows me to get a better understanding of the political struggles of our times.

You’ve written about the exploitation of emotional labour in hierarchical social relations. Could you tell us a bit about this?

For me, exploitation is intimately linked to power. On my understanding, one party exploits another if her position of power allows her to gain benefits from another party that she could not have gotten absent the power relation. Gender specific exploitation draws attention to the power that comes with being positioned in hierarchical gender relations and the way in which those in positions of power (mainly, though not exclusively men) are able to gain benefits in virtue of their social position. What I take gender specific exploitation to consists in is an unequal flow of care giving and emotional support from women to men and a systematically inadequate valuation of the energy and time it takes to provide this. To illustrate this: I think that the fact that women disproportionally provide emotional labour both in the public and the private sphere constitutes a case of gender specific exploitation. Women’s social positions in hierarchical gender relations make them structurally vulnerable to disproportionally provide emotional labour. Assumptions about women’s ‘natural propensity to care’ or an understanding of emotional labour as a ‘labour of love’ mean that this type of labour is often not recognized as labour and as a result not (or not adequately) valued and compensated for.

Why do you think traditional analyses of exploitation are unable to capture distinctively gendered forms exploitation?

Dominant accounts of exploitation fail to capture gender specific exploitation for two reasons in particular: first, they often exclude the structural conditions under which specific interactions take place, gender being one of them. But social position matters with regards to making individuals exploitable in the first place. Accounts of exploitation that explicitly focus on structural conditions, most notably Marxist accounts of exploitation are prone to the old Feminist Marxist charge of prioritizing class over gender (or race, sexuality…). Another reason for why dominant accounts tend to fail to capture gender specific exploitation is their focus on commodity exploitation. Yet, many of the exploitative interactions that feminists are concerned about, e.g. the unequal provision of care, happen outside of the market and thereby fall out of the scope of exploitation conceived as commodity exploitation.

Is there a philosophical idea that you endorse that most people don’t but should?

As a political theorist/philosopher and a feminist, I think my relationship to philosophy is to some extent instrumental. I use philosophy as a toolbox to think about the different ways in which our social order fails allow people to live even minimally decent lives, e.g. by depriving them of access to affordable housing or healthcare, by stigmatizing members of marginalized groups, or by distributing care-giving unequally. Philosophy has a crucial role to play in drawing out normative conflicts, clarifying values and providing resources to change our social practices. That philosophy should move beyond interpreting the world to changing it is no news. Yet, it does not seem to have gained widespread support. I think it should.

KCL MAP RG #5 – 20/10/19

The reading for the next KCL MAP reading group will be ‘Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion’ (see attached) by Talia Mae Bettcher, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Time: 13:00, Wed 20th Nov

Location: Activity Room E, 8th Floor, South East Wing, Bush House

Abstract: This essay examines the stereotype that transgender people are “deceivers” and the stereotype’s role in promoting and excusing transphobic violence. The stereotype derives from a contrast between gender presentation (appearance) and sexed body (concealed reality). Because gender presentation represents genital status, Bettcher argues, people who “misalign” the two are viewed as deceivers. The author shows how this system of gender presentation as genital representation is part of larger sexist and racist systems of violence and oppression.


CW: This essay contains references to transphobic violence.

MAP Talk 11th Nov: Dr. Liam Kofi Bright: ‘Against the Canon’

KCL Minorities and Philosophy will be hosting Liam Kofi Bright, assistant professor at the LSE, to give a talk titled: ‘Against the Canon’. The talk will explore how the philosophical canon can homogenise education and the connection between having a canon and epistemic injustices.

Date/Time: 6pm, Monday 11th November
Location: 1.05, South East Wing, Bush House

This room is wheelchair accessible. Let us know if you require any further accessibility arrangements and we will try our best to accommodate them.

The talk will be followed by drinks in the Philosophy Bar.

New to the Department: Rachel Cristy, Lecturer in Philosophy

What got you into philosophy?

I sort of got into philosophy twice, interrupted by getting into linguistics. The first time was the ‘metaphysical awakening’ that sometimes happens to kids around 11 or 12, when I started asking questions about the existence of God, an afterlife, knowledge of other minds, etc. I started talking about these thoughts to one of the moms who drove my carpool to Hebrew school, and she lent me a copy of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, which gave my questions more structure and direction, and also severely freaked me out when I realised that (spoiler alert) I can’t rule out the possibility that I’m a character in a book.

Then, when I was 13, the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I read the books, appendices and all, and I fell in love with phonology and historical linguistics. I decided to go to Stanford for university because of its linguistics program. But while I was there, I also took some philosophy classes (you can do that in the U.S.), remembering my old interest in philosophy. One of the first philosophy classes I took was Philosophy & Literature, which was co-taught by Lanier Anderson, and I took Existentialism from him the next term. The Phil & Lit team hired me as ‘program assistant’ for the following year and then Lanier hired me as his research assistant, even though I was still majoring in linguistics and only minoring in philosophy (this is a distinctively American academic situation). The summer after my third year I had a profoundly boring experience as a linguistics research assistant and realised that I preferred doing research in the humanities. Eventually, in my fourth year, I finally decided to declare a second major in philosophy and apply to grad school. I found out afterward that Lanier had been trying to convert me from linguistics to philosophy since the Phil & Lit class in my second year. His influence is a large part of the explanation for my interests in Nietzsche, Kant, and aesthetics/philosophy of art. He also (subtly) nudged me to go to Princeton to work with his PhD advisor, Alexander Nehamas.

Your PhD was on William James and Friedrich Nietzsche, what do you think they have to tell contemporary philosophy?

The first thing they can tell contemporary philosophers is to learn how to write. I often find it difficult to read contemporary philosophy, including a lot of the secondary literature on Nietzsche, because I get stylistically spoiled reading Nietzsche and James all the time.

On a more serious note, something I value in both Nietzsche and James is the breadth of their vision. Many analytic philosophers might perceive it as lack of rigor—that they’re just making oracular pronouncements the way laypeople tend to assume philosophers do, and analytic philosophers often assume continental philosophers do—but both Nietzsche and James recognise that philosophy is about articulating a worldview to live by. Doing philosophy, as opposed to starting a religion or writing metaphysical poetry, requires making that worldview conceptually intelligible and offering reasons for it. But eventually you get down to some fundamental premises that can’t be justified, because they involve different people seeing the world in ways that are so different, it’s as if they’re not even looking at the same world. Not in the fairly trivial way that some people hear ‘laurel’ and others hear ‘yanny’, or some people think cilantro/coriander tastes like soap, but in the more profound way that some people perceive the world as fundamentally dangerous and frightening, while others may perceive it as hospitable, intriguing, absurd, etc. You can present them with the very same information, and they will interpret it differently in light of these ‘priors’ (or ‘primals’, as I heard a psychology researcher call them). We in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy tend to assume that the goal of philosophical reasoning is to present an argument so flawless that everyone is forced to accept its conclusion, but I wonder if that’s a realistic or helpful goal. Nietzsche and James were fine with the thought that only some people would benefit from their ideas. That doesn’t mean they don’t present reasons or make arguments—they do—but they understand that the arguments will only have a pull on people who accept the same fundamental premises.

And obviously I think they had some good arguments against scientism, too, because I wrote my whole dissertation about that. They both thought that science couldn’t answer questions about meaning and ultimate value, but that doesn’t mean (as some science-boosters have claimed) that these are pointless questions. They think that philosophy provides a structured but not ‘scientific’ way to answer those questions.

You have argued that wine can be more than just tasty but actually beautiful. Why do you think this?

The argument of the paper was really just that some wine can be considered beautiful according to Kant’s theory. Kant says that wine can only be considered ‘agreeable’, not ‘beautiful’—that (in the weird Kantian terminology) you can only make empirical, not pure judgments of taste about it—because the experience of flavour consists only of sensory ‘matter’, while pure judgments of taste (judgments of beauty) can only be made about the ‘form’ of an object. For free beauties, which aren’t supposed to be anything in particular (as opposed to adherent beauties, which have to conform to a concept), the Kantian form is spatiotemporal structure. The argument was that wine, or rather the experience of wine, does have form in the Kantian sense: it has a duration, and a structure over that duration. It is, to borrow Kant’s description of music, ‘a play of sensations in time’. I also argue that what wine experts mean by ‘structure’—roughly, the ratio of certain chemical components of wine (acid, alcohol, glycerine, sugar, and tannins)—also corresponds to an aspect of Kantian form: it’s experienced as a ratio of the intensive magnitudes of the sensations produced by those chemical components. A wine can be judged beautiful, then, if its form—its development over the length of the engagement with it and the way it balances its sensory components—produces the kind of pleasure that Kant describes as the response to beauty.

One of the more helpful and less idiosyncratically Kantian aspects of Kant’s analysis of the judgment of beauty is that it involves the ‘free play of sensibility and understanding’—which, yes, is put in terms of Kant’s weird faculty psychology, but you can translate it into something quite familiar: having a sensory and/or imaginative experience that engages your intellect, but that you can’t easily put into a conceptual box and be done with. Beauty is something that rewards continued engagement: it’s an object that yields fresh nuances of insight and delight every time you return to it, whether it’s a book, a symphony, a painting, a park, a cathedral… Obviously it’s hard to do that with a wine, because if you ‘return’ to it after the same interval that you might with a book you reread or a place you revisit, it’s going to be quite literally a different object. But a wine that I would call ‘beautiful’ is one that gives me something to think about while I’m tasting it; it has complexities that take a while to unpack, and I have to keep going back to it to identify the various interwoven strands.

Is there a philosophical idea that you endorse that most people don’t but should?

I’m more of a fan of Pragmatism than most analytic philosophers are, I think, though there’s been renewed interest in it—not always under that description, because some of the people who talk about ‘moral encroachment’ in epistemology aren’t familiar with classical American Pragmatism and they’re kind of reinventing the wheel. There’s this sort of annoying tendency—maybe not specific to analytic philosophy, though of course that’s where I find it because that’s where I hang out—to say that some school of thought, like Pragmatism or Logical Positivism, has been decisively ‘refuted’. Maybe we’re back to the philosophies-as-worldviews thing, because I think (along with William James) that broad philosophical programs like those aren’t really the kind of thing that can be refuted with a single argument or even a barrage of them. They’re not reducible to collections of propositions, or even specific arguments leading to propositions; they’re a stance toward the world, which builds in a certain amount of flexibility and resilience. They can undermine themselves, perhaps, but only when the people who were holding to them come to find them untenable for intrinsic reasons—because they don’t work as a tool for interpreting and navigating the world—not for extrinsic reasons like changes in academic fashion (if, say, it becomes impossible to get a job or endure the social environment in the profession while openly holding a certain kind of view).

I also have a slightly unusual attitude toward scepticism (having moved on from my 12-year-old freak-out about being a character in a book). I don’t think sceptical arguments can be either dismissed or refuted; I think they’re unavoidable and that’s funny. It’s a feature of the absurdity of the human condition. There are a lot of things that we have to ignore most of the time in order to get along in the world (not least the fact of our own mortality), but you’re forced to acknowledge them some of the time, and you’re self-deceived if you deny that there’s a problem at all. I don’t really consider myself a sceptic, though. It’s more that I apply existentialism to the epistemic as well as the ethical domain. The world doesn’t furnish us with certainties in either domain, but we need something to hold onto; we have to rely on our own wit and creativity, but be ready to abandon one creation for another if the old one can’t sustain us anymore. That ability to do without certainties is one of Nietzsche’s ideals: ‘one could conceive of such a pleasure and power of self-determination, such a freedom of the will that the spirit would take leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, being practiced in maintaining himself on insubstantial ropes and possibilities and dancing even near abysses’ (Gay Science 347). That’s a specific kind of scepticism, which Nietzsche contrasts with the scepticism of the disillusioned believer who isn’t willing to trust in anything again because the loss of faith was so shattering, and with a Pyrrhonian-type scepticism (on a certain reading) that suspends judgment about everything to avoid the anxiety involved in making commitments, which is a type of extreme aversion to doxastic risk. (All respect to Sextus Empiricus, though; he was inventive and hilarious.)

KHOPS – 08/11/19 – Peter Dews – ‘Transcendental and Objective Idealism in Schelling’s Early Philosophy’

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King’s History of Philosophy Seminar will meet regularly throughout the academic year at King’s College London.  The Seminar aims to promote discussion of methods and approaches to the History of Philosophy as well as of thinkers and topics within the tradition.  We wish to encourage contextual and interdisciplinary perspectives, and welcome researchers in disciplines such as History, Theology, and Political Theory as well as Philosophy.  Meetings take place on Fridays from 11am to 1pm.  All welcome. For inquiries contact John Callanan (john.callanan@kcl.ac.uk)

This Friday we are welcoming Peter Dews (https://www.essex.ac.uk/people/dewsp24209/peter-dews)

Peter Dews

who will be speaking on ‘Transcendental and Objective Idealism in Schelling’s Early Philosophy’  – Philosophy Building, Room 405 – 11am-1pm,

KCL MAP RG – #4

KCL MAP reading group will continue next Wednesday (6th) 13:00-14:00, Activity room E, floor 8, South East Wing, Bush House.

We will be reading ‘Of Our Spiritual Strivings’ by W. E. B. Du Bois, the first chapter in his book ‘The Souls of Black Folk’.

In this chapter Du Bois reflects on the ‘double consciousness’ he has and the tension between his two identities: who he truly is and who he is taken to be by others because of his race.


Our reading group is open to people from all levels of philosophy, as well as those outside the department! 

A Welcome from KCL MAP

‘Minorities and Philosophy’ is a network of chapters across UK and US institutions that aims to celebrate the work of philosophers from marginalised backgrounds, and create a space of support for those currently pursuing studies and careers in academic philosophy. 

KCL MAP became a ratified society in 2018 and has since been led primarily by undergraduates. As an academic and social society, we have organised various events, such as weekly reading groups, talks and conferences, film screenings, coffee & tea socials, and other activities. 

As a campaign group, we have worked with our department to address various MAP related issues. Last year, the department held a ‘Women in Philosophy’ lunch, and this year, the department will hold a similar lunch for “BME” undergraduates. These events aim to open up discussions about various experiences people have in the discipline and offer support for those considering further study. 

MAP has also held a workshop with the department on the issue of diversifying the curriculum. This year, we will commence our first working group meeting focusing on this issue, comprised of students from all levels of study, as well as both junior and senior members of staff from various sub-disciplines.

KCL MAP aims to be interdisciplinary, often attracting people from multiple areas of interest. We aim to create a space of learning outside the mainstream canon, which is both inclusive and productive. People from all areas of research, both inside and outside the academy, are welcome to our events. We firmly believe that philosophy ought to be accessible for everyone who wishes to engage!

To contact us or keep updated with events, email us at mapforthegap.kcl@gmail.com 

Or check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kclmap/

Signed KCL MAP committee,

Willa Saadat, Alice Wright, Astrid Oredsson, Jelena Milosavljevic, Arthur Taylor, Gayatri Menon