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  • 24 Apr 2024 by Gerard Naddaf

    To most, myths are merely fantastic stories. But for Luc Brisson, one of the great living Plato scholars, myth is a key factor in what it means to be human – a condition of life for all. Essential and inescapable, myth offers a guide for living, one that illuminates our need for belonging and group identity.

    In these free-flowing conversations, Brisson provides a lucid historical analysis of why the history of his native Quebec is inseparable from that of the Catholic Church in Quebec society, and the links he draws here provide a perfect paradigm of myth and mythmaking. Ultimately, Brisson seeks to explain how his work on myth corresponds with his own biographical path, which, as he shows in these conversations, was itself rooted in Catholic and Quebecois myth. But we soon see that his theory of myth and its practical application is relevant to all people, regardless of one’s particular background.

    Brisson begins these conversations with an overview of his genealogy before turning to the story of his escape from an all-encompassing myth promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church of his youth. The myth(s) that made Brisson who he is are thus front and centre here. We learn of his recruitment by a Catholic seminary as a gifted (but handicapped) child from a modest rural Quebec family at age eleven, the emotional and intellectual awakening he subsequently underwent, and his own “noble lie,” which allowed him to get an education that he would not have otherwise received. There is something for everyone here, but the book offers first and foremost a philosophy of myth that doubles as a philosophy of life.

    The earlier conversations recorded here (with Louis-André Dorion) contain some of the most insightful ideas on the origin of bisexuality. There’s also ample coverage of Brisson’s Orphic research, and a rich discussion of why the big bang is still a myth on a par with Plato’s Timaeus. Brisson’s world travels, his decades living in Paris, and his deep immersion in Quebec culture and politics also occupy a prominent place here, but always in the background is Brisson’s attention to myth and, by extension, politics.

    In our later conversations (part 4), Brisson offers insightful observations on a wealth of topics, including what he sees as the illusory nature of originality; the constraints of the publish-or-perish phenomenon in academia; his experience working in teams; his and others’ interpretations of Plato; the differences between Greek and Abrahamic religions; the place of myth in the modern world; and his theory for why reason will always be tied to myth – to mention but a handful of the themes touched on here.

    It’s the final section of part 4 that brings together the whole. Myth, as Brisson understands it, comprises stories that give us our identity; they offer us a way of unconsciously (until Plato, that is) controlling the individual within the community to which he or she belongs. As such, myths are creators of the self, of one’s identity. The notion of individuality is a kind of mirage, then; it’s as if there is no self independent of one’s larger group or community. For Brisson, myth is a phenomenon that few have given any real thought to, and yet it’s a key to understanding what it means to be human, and to the future destiny of humanity itself.

    This book is meant to appeal to an intellectually curious English-reading public (and not just scholars and philosophers). To this end, the text is interspersed with over three hundred notes adding necessary context. I also provide an introduction and an afterword. The former puts Plato and myth into context, giving readers a sense of what to expect in the conversations; while in the latter, I describe the role of myth in anthropogeny (from the origins of language), in the evolution of the self and of consciousness (culminating in the creation of the Western mind), and in multiculturalism. However, while the book offers copious historical analysis, I also engage throughout with the role of myth in the current political and social climate, including its place in contemporary world events.

    Making Sense of Myth: Conversations with Luc Brisson McGill-Queen's University Press. 9780228020714

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  • 02 Mar 2022 by Kyle Johannsen

    My goal in Wild Animal Ethics is to argue that from a deontological perspective, we have a collective duty to research, and eventually employ, safe means of providing large-scale assistance to wild animals. Most of the pro-interventionist literature on wild animal suffering is consequentialist, but deontologists value beneficence too, and considerations of beneficence overwhelmingly support making the alleviation of wild animal suffering a moral and political priority. Though it isn’t common knowledge, sentient wild animals outnumber human beings and domesticated animals by many orders of magnitude. Furthermore, wild animals are plagued by a variety of significant hardships, e.g., by disease, injury, parasitism, predation, recurring hunger, and extreme temperatures. In fact, the vast majority of sentient wild animals die at a young age from these hardships. Considering how numerous wild animals are and how poor their situation is, preventing even a small percentage of the harms they face would do a tremendous amount of good. I argue that with enough research genetic editing promises to provide effective, large-scale interventions that require only minimal interference with wild animals’ liberties.     


    Wild Animal Ethics: The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering. New York: Routledge. 9780367275709

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  • 17 Feb 2022 by David Rondel

    Pragmatist Egalitarianism argues that philosophical egalitarianism is plagued by a deep impasse, and sets forth a conception of equality rooted in American pragmatist thought—specifically, the trio of William James, John Dewey and Richard Rorty—that successfully mediates that impasse.

    Early on in the book, I distinguish between “vertical” egalitarianism, which construes equality in terms of principles of distributive justice, and “horizontal” egalitarianism, which construes equality in terms of the broader social ideal that persons stand to one another in relations of equality. One of the book’s main arguments is that theorizing equality in terms of the vertical/horizontal division has outlived its utility. The pragmatist view I defend in place of that division recasts egalitarianism in light of three inter-related, mutually reinforcing variables (The Institutional, The Personal, and The Cultural), each of which is best accentuated in one of a trio of pragmatist philosophers (Dewey, James, and Rorty, respectively). The book’s argument in a nutshell is this. If the three variables are mutually complicit in promoting and reinforcing inequality—something I meticulously demonstrate through an analysis of racial inequality in the United States—an egalitarianism that takes this seriously will treat all three as equally (though differently) important in making things better. It also turns out that we should reject several of the central premises upon which lots of scholarly writing on equality depend: that equality is a single idea, that it has a fundamental locus, and that there is a singular or primary route to the achievement of a genuinely egalitarian society.



    Pragmatist Egalitarianism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. ISBN 978–0–19–068068–8

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  • 16 Feb 2022 by Cheryl Misak



    In Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers, I tell the story of the great Cambridge philosopher, economist, and mathematician, Frank Ramsey, who died at the age of 26 in 1930. He really did have a sheer excess of powers (in the words of the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter). He founded a branch of pure mathematics (Ramsey Theory); two branches of economics (optimal savings and taxation theory); and was the first to figure out how to measure partial belief and show how utility maximization could be calculated. In philosophy we know him also for Ramsey Sentences, the Ramsey Test for Conditionals, and for translating Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. He was the only one who could stand up to Wittgenstein, both intellectually and personally, and I argue in the book that it was Ramsey’s pragmatist objections that made Wittgenstein turn his back on the Tractatus and become what we know as the later Wittgenstein. Ramsey was also friends with Keynes, Moore, and Russell, and a member of the Apostles during one of its most intriguing periods. He was part of Bloomsbury, interested in Freudian psychoanalysis, and was a feminist and socialist. Part of my aim is to provide a corrective to those who think Ramsey was engaged in Wittgenstein’s project or wanted to characterize rational choice in idealized formal terms.

    As one might imagine, this was a difficult book to write—you would have to be Ramsey to have a perfect grip on all his subjects, many of them highly technical, many of them humanistic, for want of a better word. But it was a huge amount of fun as well.


    Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 978-0198755357

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  • 22 Dec 2021 by Okwudili Ogbu Sylvester



    Although a large part of happiness is looking forward to something, this aspect of happiness has remained largely unexplored and unexplained. The bulk of the attempts to explain it so far have come from fields such as neuroscience, music and psychology. In this work, I have attempted to provide a deepened understanding of the phenomenon of anticipation from the philosophical perspective. In the process, I have also tried to provide a unified understanding of the phenomena of boredom, anxiety, peace, habituation/adaptation, and set-point, among others.

    But what I have tried most of all to do here is to establish an articulate definition of happiness and suffering, thus answering an all important historical question – since it is one that has engaged humanity over the centuries, especially philosophers and psychologists. For, it has never been clear what this word which, according to Aristotle, is the ultimate goal of all human striving means. This has not only led to the word being “overused”, as Kant and Seligman say, but has also inspired false values. Through an analysis of the phenomenon of anticipation, I have here attempted to ground the meaning of happiness. In the light of the findings, I have equally tried to show how it could be attained. In the final analysis I have identified happiness as peace and suffering as worry or anxiety. And I posit that the way to achieve peace is to lower expectation, or in more concrete terms, to lead a simple life.


    The Science of Expectation: Happiness as Anticipation. Milwaukee: Goldine and Jacobs Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781938598333

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  • 15 Dec 2021 by Pablo Gilabert



    Human dignity: social movements invoke it, several national constitutions enshrine it, and it features prominently in international human rights documents. But what is it, and why is it important? My book offers a systematic defence of the view that human dignity is the moral heart of human rights. First, it develops the network of concepts associated with dignity, highlighting the notion of human dignity as an inherent, non-instrumental, egalitarian, and high-priority normative status of human persons. People have this status in virtue of their valuable human capacities rather than as a result of their national origin and other conventional features. Second, it shows how human dignity gives rise to an inspiring ideal of solidaristic empowerment, generating both negative duties not to undermine, and positive duties to facilitate, people’s pursuit of a flourishing life in which they develop and exercise their valuable capacities. The most urgent of these duties are correlative to human rights. Third, the book illustrates how the proposed dignitarian approach allows us to articulate the content, justification, and feasible implementation of specific and contested human rights, such as the rights to democratic political participation and decent labor conditions. Finally, the book’s dignitarian framework illuminates the arc of humanist justice, identifying both the difference and the continuity between basic human rights and more expansive requirements of social justice such as those defended by liberal egalitarians and democratic socialists. Human dignity is indeed the moral heart of human rights. Understanding it enables us to defend human rights as the urgent ethical and political project that puts humanity first. 



    Human Dignity and Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. ISBN 9780198827221

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  • 08 Dec 2021 by Lynda Gaudemard


    The main aim of my book is to provide both a new interpretation of Descartes’s substance dualism and a new defence of substance dualism called “emergent creationist substance dualism.” According to this view, the mind is a nonphysical substance (created and maintained by God), which cannot begin to think without a well-disposed body. While the mind does not directly come from the body, the mind can be said to emerge from the body in the sense that it cannot be created by God independently from a suitable physical categorical basis. The textual basis for this interpretation can partly be found in Descartes’s embryology that is developed in detail in this book. I show that emergent creationist substance dualism is consistent with Descartes’s defence of creationism and that it does not necessarily entail that the mind cannot survive the body. Then, I explain why the view I attribute to Descartes has some connections with Hasker’s substance emergent dualism (1999). Indeed, Hasker claims that the mind is a non physical substance emerging from neurons and that consciousness has causal powers which effects cannot be explained by physical neurons. For its proponents, Hasker’s view explains what Descartes’s dualism fails to explain, especially why the mind regularly interacts with one and only one body. Despite its ontological costs, I argue that emergent creationist substance dualism faces fewer problems than its rivals.


    Rethinking Descartes’s Substance Dualism. Cham: Springer, 2021. ISBN 978-3-030-75413-6

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  • 01 Dec 2021 by Owen Ware

    Cover image for Owen Ware's book, Kant's Justification of EthicsKant's arguments for the reality of human freedom and the normativity of the moral law continue to inspire work in contemporary moral philosophy. A number of prominent ethicists invoke Kant, directly or indirectly, in their efforts to derive the authority of moral requirements from a more basic conception of action, agency, or rationality. But many commentators have detected a deep rift between the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason, leaving Kant's project of justification exposed to conflicting assessments and interpretations. In my book I defend the controversial view that Kant's mature writings on ethics share a unified commitment to the moral law's primacy. In this way my goal is to overturn a paradigmatic way of reading Kant's arguments for morality and freedom, situating them within Kant's critical methodology at large. The result, I claim, is a novel understanding of Kant that challenges much of what goes under the banner of Kantian arguments for moral normativity today.


    Kant's Justification of Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. ISBN: 9780198849933

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  • 08 Nov 2021 by Katharina Nieswandt

    The following is a guest blog post by Katharina Nieswandt, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal.


    The Question

    Why are only about one third of academic philosophers women?



    Mainly because only about one third of students who either enroll in the undergraduate major or stay after introductory classes are women.  I.e., at least in North America, the main pipeline leak occurs at the first stage of a potential academic career.  Retention within the university system thereafter is probably proportionate, except for a significant drop at the step from associate to full professor.  (Note, though, that quality data is hard to obtain, especially international data.  Some of the better statistics are: [1]; [2]; [3]).


    Follow-Up Question

    Why, then, do women either not enroll in the first place or drop out after the introduction?  I.e., why is philosophy not an attractive major to women?



    From a review of theoretical and empirical work on gender gaps in academia, we designed and implemented a survey (see section Study Design).  The two most important factors turned out to be self-perceptions of brilliance and of belonging (see section Main Results).  The following model depicts our results:



    Two features set this model apart from extant explanations.  (For important previous work, see: [4]; [5].)  First, it results from an empirical investigation that meets current methodological standards, including psychometrics and literature review (see section Study Design).  Second, we conducted inferential rather than only descriptive statistical analyses.  Therefore, the results license conclusions about the actual population (as far as a self-selected sample ever can), supported by data from the sample, rather than only licensing observations about the sampled population.


    Study Design

    Hypotheses were developed from an extensive survey of the literature on determinants of choice of major, academic gender gaps, role models, interests, abilities, and beliefs about brilliance (400 articles surveyed; 117 selected).

    These hypotheses were tested via a questionnaire (n = 467), in four waves of data collection (2018–2021).  The items (101, plus demographic questions) were partly created and validated for this purpose, partly taken from extant, validated questionnaires.  A pilot version (n = 136; 2019) was fine-tuned based on psychometric results and theoretical considerations.

    The study population were undergraduates at various types of North-American universities.  We contrasted philosophy with psychology students, as the two fields strongly overlap in topics (such as the mind, human nature, social groups, norms—albeit with different methods and foci), but they have inverse gender ratios (with 80% of psychology undergraduates being women) and inverse gender problems (with psychology losing women later in their career, viz. after the PhD), see: [1]; [6]; [7].


    Main Results

    The overall result was that the typical philosophy major perceives themselves as systematizing, as brilliant, does not value having a family, nor making money—all compared to the typical psychology major.  Fewer women than men show these self-perceptions and preferences.


    Before considering the details, please note that:

    • The inventories we used define the above properties as follows:  “Systematizing” is “the drive to analyse the variables in a system, to derive the underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system […] and to construct systems” and contrasts with “empathizing,” i.e., “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion,” thus allowing “you to predict a person’s behaviour, and to care about how others feel” ([8], p. 361; see also [9]).  “Brilliance” is defined as “raw aptitude” or a “fixed, innate talent” for cognitive tasks ([10], p. 262).  “Belonging” is defined as “the feeling that one fits in, belongs to, or is a member of the academic community in question” ([11], p. 700).  We defined “combativeness” as a confrontational approach to debate at the cost of interpersonal considerations ([III]).
    • All findings reported below were significant at a level of p ≤ 0.05 or stricter.
    • Our study cannot tell whether the gender differences we found are the result of nature of nurture.  Neither can it tell whether the reported perceptions are accurate—whether people who perceive themselves as systematizing, e.g., indeed possess high systematizing skills or whether philosophy, which is perceived as requiring these skills, indeed requires them.


    The most striking details:

    • In a structural equation model from gender to choice of a major (philosophy or psychology) via the self-perception as combative, self-perception as systematizing and prioritization of family/money/status, gender has no longer any independent explanatory power.  In other words, these variables together can model the effect of gender on major for the two fields without explanatory residue.  Their influence is indirect, mediated through the variable self-perception of belonging.
    • Perceiving oneself as systematizing is positively associated with: the self-perception as belonging in philosophy (and, in turn, with majoring in philosophy) and is negatively associated with the self-perception as belonging in psychology (and, in turn, with majoring in psychology).  These associations between systematizing and belonging are the strongest effects we observed.  The self-perception as systematizing is furthermore positively associated with a self-perception as combative and is negatively associated with the prioritization of family and of money.
    • Perceiving oneself as intellectually combative is positively associated with: identifying as a man and with perceiving oneself as belonging in philosophy (and, in turn, with majoring in philosophy).  Self-perception as combative is also positively associated with systematizing (see previous) and prioritization of status.  Importantly, it is through combativeness that systematizing is associated with identifying as a man; i.e., when combativeness is statistically taken into account, the direct association between identifying as a man and perceiving oneself as systematizing is no longer significant.
    • Surprisingly, there is no main effect for gender on prioritization of family.  Prioritization of family is positively associated with: prioritization of money and self-perception as empathizing.  It is negatively associated with systematizing (see above). 
    • There were interactions between systematizing, prioritization of money and prioritization of status with gender in predicting feelings of belonging in psychology.  Men who perceived themselves as highly systematizing or low in the prioritization of money or status also perceived that they do not belong in psychology to the same extent as women with comparable self-perceptions do.  We can only speculate as to the reasons.  One might think that public perceptions of psychology align more with female stereotypes and vice versa for philosophy and male (see [10]; [12]), and that students without clear priorities tend to perceive themselves as belonging where public perceptions suggest they fit and tend to choose accordingly.  (In other words, the less you have personal preferences, the more likely you could be to follow a social stereotype.)
    • Perceptions around brilliance are probably a major determinant of the other discussed perceptions and of interest.  Confirming findings from previous studies, we found that philosophy is perceived as requiring more brilliance than psychology (as in [10]; [12]; [13]) and that women perceive themselves as less brilliant than men perceive themselves (as in [14]; [15]).  In line with that, we also found that these perceptions predicted major, such that people who tend to think of themselves as brilliant tend to major in philosophy rather than psychology.  Interestingly, however, there is an interaction with gender: for women but not for men, perceiving themselves as less brilliant predicts choosing psychology, rather than philosophy, as their major.
    • Strikingly, these effects persisted even when controlling for high-school GPA and year in university.  There was a main effect of GPA on brilliance, such that people with high GPAs perceive themselves as higher in brilliance.  Crucially, women, on average, entered university with a higher GPA than men, but they nevertheless didn’t perceive themselves as more brilliant.  I.e., controlling for GPA, women have a lower opinion of their own brilliance than men have of theirs.  In addition, there was a noteworthy finding regarding year in university:  The further students progressed in their degree, no matter their field, the less likely they became to perceive psychology as requiring brilliance, while their brilliance perception for philosophy did not change.  In other words, university socialization increases the divide.



    Overall, our findings provide (of course defeasible) evidence for the claim that students choose philosophy because they perceive a good fit between philosophy, qua requiring brilliance, and themselves, qua being brilliant, combative, systematizing, and indifferent towards “worldly rewards,” like family-life and money.

    Future research should investigate whether these factors are causes of the gender gap or perhaps partly the result of a self-serving, stereotypical image that philosophy students develop after choosing philosophy as their major (perhaps reinforced by the discipline’s culture).  More research is also needed of the relations between combativeness, systematizing, and the sense of belonging in philosophy:  Is combativeness really the driving factor behind gender differences on these variables, as our research suggests?  In addition, it would be important to test to what extent our results generalize to comparisons between philosophy and other fields than psychology.

    Philosophical readers will ultimately be most interested in interventions. Foundational research rarely licenses pragmatic steps directly, of course, but the following two inferences appear justified:  First, there probably is no quick fix for philosophy’s unequal gender ratio, since that might be part and parcel of a general social perception of certain abilities, character traits and life priorities as female or male.  Second, pre-university interventions might be necessary, given the well-replicated finding that gender stereotypes develop early (see, e.g., [15]).



    • Maranges; Nieswandt; Hlobil; Iannuccilli & Dunfield (2021):  Explaining the gender gap in philosophy: An evidence-based model.
    • Maranges; Iannuccilli; Nieswandt; Hlobil & Dunfield (2021):  Brilliance beliefs, not mindsets, help explain the inverse gender gaps in psychology and philosophy.
    • Maranges; Iannuccilli; Nieswandt; Hlobil & Dunfield (2021):  What determines feeling of belonging and majoring in an academic field? Isolating factors by comparing psychology and philosophy.


    Contact, Team and Funding


    Works Cited

    1. Zippia (2021):  Careers: Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Retrieved July 2021.
    2. American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2016): Humanities Indicators: Higher Education. Retrieved July 2021.
    3. Paxton, Figdor & Tiberius (2012): Quantifying the gender gap: An empirical study of the underrepresentation of women in philosophy. Hypatia, 27, 949–957.
    4. Thompson, Adleberg, Sims & Nahmias (2016): Why do women leave philosophy? Surveying students at the introductory level. Philosopher’s Imprint, 16, art. 6.
    5. Baron, Dougherty & Miller (2015): Why is there female under-representation among philosophy majors? Ergo 2, 329–365.
    6. de Brey, Snyder, Zhang & Dillow (2019): Digest of Education Statistics. National Center for Education Statistics.
    7. Yu, Kuncel & Sackett (2020): Some roads lead to psychology, some lead away: College student characteristics and psychology major choicePerspectives on Psychological Science, 15, 761–777.
    8. Baron-Cohen, Richler, Bisarya, Gurunathan, & Wheelwright (2003): The systemizing quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, series B, 358, 361–374.
    9. Greenberg, Warrier, Allison & Baron-Cohen (2018): Testing the Empathizing-Systematizing theory of sex difference and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 12152-12157.
    10. Leslie, Cimpian, Meyer & Freeland (2015): Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines. Science. 347, 262–265.
    11. Good, Rattan & Dweck (2012): Why do women opt out? Sense of belonging and women’s representation in mathematics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 700–717.
    12. Storage, Horne, Cimpian & Leslie (2016): The frequency of “brilliant” and “genius” in teaching evaluations predicts the representation of women and African Americans across fields. PLoS ONE, 11, art. e0150194.
    13. Meyer, Cimpian & Leslie (2015): Women are underrepresented in fields where success is believed to require brilliance. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, art. 235.
    14. Correll (2001): Gender and the career choice process: The role of biased self-assessmentThe American Journal of Sociology, 106, 1691–1730.
    15. Bian, Leslie & Cimpian (2017): Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science, 355, 389–391.


  • 16 Dec 2019 by Trudy Govier

    Recently I read two very different books emphasizing gratitude.  The first was Seizure the Day by University of Waterloo philosopher Brian Orend.  Orend, who lives with epilepsy and is subject to unpredictable seizures, is nevertheless a high-achieving professor with a satisfying personal life.  His book, a self-help book aimed specifically at persons with a chronic illness, offers many tips for managing health and achieving happiness.  Following in the steps of positive psychologists, Orend stresses gratitude as something that will contribute importantly to happiness – improving self-esteem, social relationships, general health, and even sleep.  The second book, by Oliver Sacks, is simply called Gratitude. It is a short collection of late life reflections in which Sacks beautifully expresses gratitude for what he was given by others, for nine years of good health after an initial cancer diagnosis, for having loved and been loved, given and received, thought, traveled, and written.  Movingly Sacks says “I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet” (20) and it has been an “enormous privilege and adventure.” Sacks will inspire. But his goal is not to do that: this work is not self-help but a moving expression of  feelings.


     Fascinated by these accounts and their contrasting contexts, I sought out some recent philosophical writings on gratitude.  Not surprisingly, most posed technical questions addressed by neither Orend nor Sacks. Is gratitude a feeling? A belief? An attitude? Are ‘appreciation’, ‘thankfulness’ and ‘being glad’ synonyms or near synonyms for ‘gratitude’? Could gratitude include negative feelings? Is there an important distinction between being grateful for something, being grateful that something is the case, and being grateful to someone? Is there an obligation to feel grateful?  To give back when one has received an undeserved benefit?


     Orend urges that once each day one consider three things for which one can be grateful. Much later in his book, he suggests reflecting each month or so on what one is grateful for. Could this doubling of focus lead to overdose?  No, he says: the objects of daily gratitude would be more specific and slight -- as for example, my gratitude to a stranger who let me in a line at the bank on a day when I felt somewhat ill. More substantial goods over a longer time frame – say being grateful for the music lessons I had as a child, resulting from the unusual initiative of a grade school teacher – would be suitable for less frequent reflection. (These are my examples.)


    Typically, someone, a beneficiary, is grateful to someone else, a benefactor, for something, a benefit received and understood to be undeserved. There are three elements: a beneficiary, a benefactor, and a benefit. But in the case of gratitude that one is alive on this planet, or to have been born in the twentieth century, or in Canada as contrasted with a more repressive country, that model does not work well.


    Cosmic gratitude, they call it:, and this is what interested me. What if, like Oliver Sacks, one feels grateful to be a sentient being on this beautiful planet? This fits ‘I am grateful that…’ But it’s still puzzling.  Who would receive the ‘benefit’ of being a sentient being? When she exists as a reflective being, a person may feel that she is lucky to be alive in her time and place. But she could not have received this benefit at the time it was supposedly given,  because at that time she did not exist. This was the benefit of existence . . . given to whom? One can find logical problems about the sense in which what was given can really count as a benefit, if there is no one to receive it. Some sort of after-the-fact analysis seems to be needed at this point. I didn’t find this problem in the philosophical articles I read. And assuming that such a benefit can be given, who would grant such it? For theists, an answer to this question seems obvious. It would be God. But for non-theists there remains a problem. Can cosmic gratitude make sense for non-theists?


    Robert C. Roberts (“Cosmic Gratitude” European Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 2014) maintains that the beneficiary/benefactor/benefit structure is essential to gratitude. Gratitude makes sense when someone can be grateful to someone else for something. On his account, a to/for structure is required for gratitude. For example,  I am grateful to the stranger for giving me a place in the line.    I am grateful to those who visited me in the hospital for their visits and good cheer. In the case of cosmic gratitude, the theist can identify a benefactor and the non-theist cannot; on Roberts’ account, this structure is essential, so cosmic gratitude is a puzzle for non-theists. Roberts acknowledges that the sorts of feelings expressed by Oliver Sacks exist, but argues that people feeling them will try to somehow fit them into a to/for model. One is grateful to X for one’s existence. If there is no clear benefactor, we will try to construct one: that’s X.


    Reflecting within the to/for framework explained by Roberts, if I feel a cosmic gratitude for my existence and am not a theist, I could feel grateful not just to my parents but to the very many people in my life who have provided facilities of governance, education, health, and community that were needed for me to live and develop. We can find benefactors and these would be many, some indirect, most unknown. Gratitude would be scattered,  recalling Hillary Clinton’s statement that it takes a village to raise a child. I may think of my parents as the benefactors who gave me my existence. Yet the fit of Roberts’ model here is uneasy. Why did just this sperm meet just this egg at just this time in just this place? It just happened.  It was luck, assuming that I am glad to have my life. I may be grateful for my existence, but to whom or what do I owe it?


    To what  could the non-theist be grateful? Chance, or fate?  The universe? The world? Evolution?  Life itself? In “Can Non-Theists Appropriately Experience Existential Gratitude?” (Religious Studies 2016) Michael Lacewing writes  about this problem. He denies that the to/for structure is essential. On Lacewing’s account, the questions ‘Grateful to whom? To what?’ need not have an answer.  Ultimately, Lacewing defends the coherence of cosmic gratitude, saying that he is grateful for the “undeserved contingent nature of my existence and its dependence on the wondrous fact of the existence of anything, the contingency of evolution, and the many activities of other living things and people.” 


     The sentiment is beautiful and powerful. To me, it makes sense even though it  does not fit the model urged by Roberts. So what about another question, one about giving back?  If a person is grateful for her life, should she feel and act on her sense of gratitude? Should we give back to the many, many who have provided us life and development? What would it mean to ‘give back’, granting that we cannot even identify all the people who have given us the lives we have? Is there an obligation to do that? And to whom or what would we owe that obligation? Brian Orend never discusses these matters because his book has another purpose, and the same can be said for Oliver Sacks.  There is every indication that both men feel cosmic gratitude, though neither probe its intellectual challenges.  It is clear from his book that Orend  has given much to his students, community, friends and  family.  The point also holds for Sacks, given his decades of medical work and wonderful writings. These men were grateful, they had much to give, and they gave much. My sense is that we are who glad to be alive should do the same.

  • 20 Feb 2019 by Trudy Govier

    In November, 2018 CBC’s ‘The National’ offered a segment during which opponents and supporters of President Donald Trump were interviewed. The interviewer asked a Trump supporter about the issue of lying. Wasn’t it true that Trump frequently lies:  how did this man reconcile his support with that phenomenon? The supporter replied ‘all politicians lie.’  I found this response puzzling. What did he mean?  That all politicians lie all the time? That all politicians lie frequently? That all politicians lie sometimes? One can ponder the logical possibilities. What strikes me as most plausible in the context is ‘all politicians lie frequently’.  The response seems to have been intended to downplay the significance of Trump’s lies or falsehoods; if all politicians deviate from the truth as Trump does, then his deviation is (by implication) of little or no significance. And that’s the defence – or excuse. We might see it as a version of the ‘two wrongs fallacy’: Trump’s apparent wrongs are not wrongs because many others do these (wrong) things.

     To lie is to put forward in a statement a claim that one knows or believes to be false, with the intention that others will accept that statement as true.  Some accounts add “or misleading” after “false”. To avoid offering an account of what it is to be misleading, I won’t do that here. According to the Washington Post Fact Checker, in October 2018, Trump said 1104 things that were totally or partially untrue.  Now as with ‘misleading’, ‘partially untrue’ could pose complications. So we might question the Washington Post count. Perhaps we should cut the number in half.  (Even so, over 500 lies in a single month would be a stunningly substantial number.)  Then we might make further qualifications. Perhaps President Trump functions in a constructed reality to the point where he does not know or believe to be false that some of the false claims he puts forward as true. Regarding such claims, he would not be lying, though he would be an unreliable source of truth. So we might call Trump unreliable with regard to the truth, as distinct from calling him a liar.


    If such re-interpretations are applied to President Trump, then we should apply them also to the other politicians said by Trump supporter to ‘lie.’ Interpret him, then, as admitting that Trump is unreliable as a source of truth and seeking to excuse that unreliability by claiming that all politicians are similarly unreliable.  We might respond to him that Trump is an extreme case. In any event, the excuse is a poor one. But let us leave that point.

     The situation of the supporter still puzzles me. Two questions stand out.  What does it mean to support a person whom one acknowledges to be unreliable as to the truth?  What combination of beliefs and attitudes is involved in this support? And, given acknowledgement that the leader is unreliable for the truth, is it wrong to support him? 

     Both of these questions are broadly philosophical and as such not addressed by empirical speculations about Trump supporters. Pundits continue to speculate about the psychology of Trump’s base. Causes of support for Trump?  Personality traits such as authoritarian personality syndrome or admiration for hierarchy; relative deprivation; anger; frustration with the whole political system; support for ‘Trumpism’ as distinct from Trump as an individual; focus on a general impression of power; love of anecdotes and stories; lack of interest in facts? Just not caring about truth? I remain puzzled.

     I would argue that trust is required for ‘support’ and trust can make no sense without truth. If a leader cannot reasonably be trusted for the truth, it is careless and irrational to believe that person. Profess that you support that person and deny that you believe him because you admit that the person is a ‘liar’? It doesn’t make sense. When someone is systematically unreliable as a source of truth, and acknowledged to be so, and that person puts forward claims, those claims should not be believed on his say-so. But it would appear that in the case of Trump, supporters must believe many of his claims. When a leader says what he is going to do (policy), describes the situation in which he thinks it should be done, and offers an explanation of why and how he is going to do it, the leader necessarily puts forward as true statements about the world and his positions and plans within it. Now suppose that, as to the truth of those statements, this person is recognized, even by supporters, to be unreliable. To support his policy stance, supporters need a sense of relevant realities: situations, plans, costs and means. For that, they need to credit much of what their leader says. I argue, then, that though acknowledging that Trump is ‘a liar’, his supporters must be crediting substantial aspects of what he says. For supporters to fail to recognize this is a mistake involving serious incoherence and, in all likelihood, self-deception

    When philosophers think about lying, their minds turn to Kant and his notorious absolutism. And so my mind turned. Then I realized that the philosophical discussions of Kant and, more generally, the morality of lying say nothing about the condonation of lying or unreliability as to truth. Rather, they consider the perspective of a person deliberating about whether to tell a lie – the prospective liar. Reflecting on the matter, I presume that Kant would argue that for the same reasons that lying is wrong, publicly supporting a person recognized as unreliable as a source of truth is wrong. And simply not caring about the truth is clearly wrong. Kant claimed that one who does not communicate the truth acts “contrary to the condition under which a society of men can come about and thus contrary to the right of humanity.” In our times, this comment bears thought.



     Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

  • 10 Dec 2018 by Trudy Govier

    Recently I was surprised at the comments when an ethics discussion group turned to the topic of residential schools.  Present were concerned and liberal-minded women who took the view that the wrongs committed at the schools were understandable and not really blameworthy because of attitudes prevalent when the schools were founded and run, in the latter nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.  In this group, the prevailing view was that when the schools were established and operated, ‘everyone’ thought that indigenous peoples needed to be Christianized and ‘civilized;’ and in any event harsh physical punishment for children was normal regardless of race.  It would be unreasonable to hold people of the past to moral account because they failed to live by present values.  Thoughts normal for us now were not to be expected then.  Perhaps they were simply unthinkable.


    On this account, we should not judge past agents and policies by present standards.  To do so is to commit the fallacy of ‘presentism,’ which is the mistake of thinking that present day values are applicable to the agents and actions of past times. In the context of a culture of the past, certain attitudes prevailed and, it is presumed, judgments that past should be made according to the standards of that time. This is a form of relativism applied to time instead of space. Bernard Williams called it the relativism of historical distance.


    But I think there are reasons to question time relativism. For one thing, agents in a past context did not agree.  If we think, for example, about the travels of Columbus to America, the attitudes of adventurers, European royalty, sailors, philosophers, and theologians did not all coincide. The same holds for dueling and also for several central philosophical examples.  Aristotle approved of slavery. Did he do this because it was approved within his culture and he could not think otherwise?  Hardly so:  when Aristotle wrote in defense of slavery it was in response to others who had criticized the practice.  Another striking case is Kant’s attitude to women.  Kant did not think women had the intellectual capacities of men and argued that they should restrict their activities accordingly.  But Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel, a friend of Kant and fellow citizen of Kant’s hometown of Konigsberg, was the first Prussian feminist. Hippel, who described and decried the ways in which men had oppressed women, defended the knowledge-seeking Eve as a heroine of the Enlightenment. It is not plausible to understand his thoughts as impossible in the eighteenth century Prussia. Kant could have recognized the intellectual capacities of women:  the point is, he reflected on the matter and did not.


    Returning to the matter of Canadian residential schools, we can find in the report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission a number of references to problems and serious difficulties: a substantial death rate, run-aways, failures in  efforts to integrate, malnutrition and poor health, even sexual abuse. (That, presumably, was not thought to be a morally legitimate practice at the time.)  It was possible to think critical thoughts about practices in these schools and we know that, because some people did.


    Some years back Michele Moody-Adams had an even simpler argument to back up the possibility of dissenting from the standards of one’s time and culture. She cited the presence in languages of a negative particle, in English, NOT, arguing that if one can think ‘X’, then one can think ‘not-X.’ Against the moral norms of their day, some people did.


    The question, then,  is not whether it was and is possible to think against prevailing moral norms, but what follows from this possibility.  One might argue that though such critical thought was possible, it was not normal.  One might say, well such critics were unusual for their time, and it is not reasonable to expect people to be unusual. (Obviously, not everyone can be unusual.) Now when we are speaking of philosophers and intellectuals of the past, this sort of argument strikes me as very weak. After all, these people were unusual; many had strikingly original ideas about such fundamental topics as potentiality, soul, space, time, and causality. It is not plausible to think that they would have been incapable of maverick thoughts about race or gender.


    As to policy and practice regarding residential schools, supporters were not, in the main, theorists. They were workers, educational administrators, and politicians.  Among them were people who spotted harms and failures; they registered damage to children and families; some judged fault.  Most such judgments were not taken seriously. Why not? We can posit likely causes: diverted attention, self-interest, failure of courage, self-deception, lack of power.  Moody-Adams used the term “affected ignorance.”  Probably the explanation is to be found in a combination of these factors; to seek out such an account would seem an important topic for historical research. It is an over-simplification to say that objections were not thinkable because people were somehow ‘blinded’ by their (supposedly uniform) culture and rendered incapable of critical analysis.


    In defense of time relativism, one might submit that the criticism of past practices is morally arrogant, that we should be humble because some of our own practices will doubtless seem barbaric to future generations. Consider meat eating and fossil fuel consumption as likely examples. Yes, we could be wrong in our judgments. We are surely far from perfect and, non-arrogantly, we should acknowledge that. But if we are wrong, it is not because our moral judgments imposed on us by a monolithic culture and we cannot think otherwise.  We need to think independently and we can if we make the effort. The same is true of agents in the past. Without arrogance, we can judge that a past practice was wrong, that people acted wrongly in engaging in that practice, and that at least some of them were blameworthy for doing so. Yes, Virginia, there were wrongs in the past. And there are present moral challenges in responding to them.







  • 03 Dec 2018 by Adam Morton

    Nearly everyone cares about their future self, seeking benefits and avoiding harms that they will experience later, sometimes much later. (We usually discount so that the far future counts less than the near future. This is controversial.) We also care about our children and later descendents, and about future generations in general. There is not much argument in philosophy about whether these concerns are reasonable, and I am not going to open the issue. There is a debate about how exclusive they are: whether there is a justification for prioritizing one's own children and one's own descendents above those of others. The purpose of this post is not to advance this debate but to argue that it generalizes from individual people and present societies to the whole present species and what might come after it.


    The generalization is based on a line reminiscent of Derek Parfit: what should matter to individual people is not whether later people are literally the same people or not, but rather whether they have various forms of continuity with the individuals in question and further their interests. Assume this, for the sake of argument. (It means that if a future person will be biologically continuous with you but will not retain any of your point of view or strive for any of the things that matter to you, you should suspend superficial prudence and work against the interests of that future person.) Now ask what reasons we have for promoting the interests of future humans. Two core reasons are that they will see the world in much the way that present humans to, and will identify with humans as we are now. The identification is mutual: we think of them as us. It is conceivable that there would be future humans who are opposed to what we consider valuable (perhaps they torture children as an art form) and consider us, their ancestors, as so primitive and deluded that for them we are no kind of us. Then they should be no kind of us to us, either. If they are locked in a rivalry with another species that, although they are no descendents of present day humans, support what we care most about, then if there is anything we can now to that will help that rival species against our descendents we should do it. For what we care most about is what we value rather than what we happen to want, what we want to be wanted by whoever can promote it.


    This is not a science fictional possibility. Genetic engineering and advances in biotechnology make it not only possible but likely that in a very short time by biological standards there will be beings created by present-day humans which will have vastly different capacities than we do now. (I would give it at most a couple of centuries until there are creatures that are as different from us is we are from the Australopithecines.) Will they be us? Will they want what we want? Will we be an us to them? Both yes and no are possible. These questions matter because we can now make conditions easier or harder for these beings to achieve their aspirations. Consider two extreme scenarios.


    First, suppose that we see the evolution of a race of self-centred aggressive ecologically irresponsible creatures having a lot of human DNA. If what I am saying is right we should think twice about giving them opportunities, for example leaving them a planet suitable for their kind of life. We might instead favour some non-human species that will by flourishing wreak havoc on them and their plans. Second, suppose that we foresee the evolution of beings that can accomplish what we value better than we can. (For example, they can care for the planet and for one another much better than we do. Not so difficult.) A complication is that such advanced beings are unlikely to share all our values. They would have thought things through to a depth that eludes us. They might think of us as being on the right track in a bumbling primitive way, and we might think of them as striving for what we would want if only we could think it out well enough. So instead of saying "they want what we want, so more power to them", we should say "their values are developments of our values, so we should allow them to exercise their better judgement". Allowing for this complication, we should prepare the way for these second creatures, making sacrifices if need be to leave them a suitable planet and not restricting their possibilities on and beyond earth more than we need to.


    I built my exposition on an analogy with debates about personal identity. But in fact the issues that we have been led to are more real than those connected with philosophical themes of personal identity. The possible cases that arise there have only a suggestive relation to anything that actually happens in human life. But troubling questions about future species and their relation to present humans are not at all thought-experimental. There will be such future species and we do now have options that should make us think what we should leave behind for them and how we can make their interests easier or harder to achieve.


    (This post is a development of one theme in the final chapter of my recent short book Should we Colonize other Planets?)







  • 26 Nov 2018 by Peter Dietsch

    Our recent book Do Central Banks Serve the People? sheds a critical light on the actions of central banks in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis. Using the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England as examples, we show how they have stretched their mandate beyond their traditional tasks of price stability and financial stability. This short introduction to the book summarizes the argument that the expanded role of central banks has three serious drawbacks.

    First, central banks acted without factoring in the foreseeable negative side-effects of their crisis response, notably its exacerbating impact on inequalities. Consider the following analogy. When your doctor prescribes you a drug, you expect her to take into account any important side-effects. When central banks engaged in asset purchases on a massive scale through a programme called quantitative easing (QE), they failed to do just that. The bulk of the additional liquidity injected into the economy was used to buy existing assets such as houses and stocks, thus fuelling price bubbles and favouring asset owners rather than stimulating the economy.

    Central bankers defended their course of action by arguing that QE was necessary to avert financial meltdown. We show that this claim is false, and that feasible alternatives such as direct money transfers to consumers – also known as helicopter drops – were not seriously considered. 

    Central bankers also claim that making monetary policy sensitive to distributive issues will make it less effective by undermining the credibility of the central bank’s commitment to price stability. In response, we point out that an exclusive focus on price stability is actually in tension with modern monetary theory, which recognizes the need for an integration of policy objectives. If preventing financial meltdown can be a decisive policy objective that trumps price stability in some contexts, why could considerations of inequality never be relevant considerations for monetary policy?

    The second drawback lies in the increasing dependence of central banks on financial markets, a trend that is sabotaging the effectiveness of monetary policy. Central banks are situated between governments on the one hand and financial markets on the other. While their independence from the former has long been at the heart of monetary theory, we highlight the dangers of their increasing dependence on financial markets.

    Before the 2007 crisis, central banks were actively facilitating the growth of the financial sector by promoting the use of innovations such as derivatives as well as the increasing securitisation of assets – recall for example the infamous collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that helped trigger the crisis. They did so both because they believed in self-correcting markets and because they saw a bigger financial sector and liquid financial markets as enhancing the effectiveness of their monetary policy. The catch 22 of this strategy was that they grew dependent on financial markets – consider for instance the so-called ‘Greenspan put’, the fact that markets (rightly) came to expect central banks to prop them up and thus took excessive risks.

    More surprisingly, perhaps, central banks have failed to reverse course after the crisis. One might have expected them to learn their lesson, and tighten regulation by raising reserve requirements for commercial banks, separating commercial and investment banking, and so on. We discuss two explanations for why this has not happened. First, monetary policy has grown too dependent on commercial banks channelling liquidity to the real economy; second, the size of some commercial banks has made them ‘too-big-to-fail’ for regulators to take any meaningful steps to reign them in. 

    The third and final drawback relates to the role of central bankers as experts. We distinguish two types of central bank expertise: Regulatory expertise, which refers to the know-how of monetary policy-making; and testimonial expertiseor the specialised knowledge about the workings of the monetary economy. Our central claim is that central bankers’ discharging their role as regulatory experts often gets in the way of being reliable testimonial experts.

    This claim is defended by appeal to three standard criteria used for evaluating the capacity of testimonial experts for error correction: transparency of information; the sustained generation of varied criticism; and openness to change one’s beliefs.

    Modern central banks do not get full marks on any of these: While they have indeed become more transparent (e.g. through the publication of meeting minutes), their communications are tightly controlled and exclusively directed at their regulatory goals. As to the generation of criticism, central banks have become so dominant in monetary policy research circles that work critical of their policy is less likely to be published. As an example, consider the fact that close to 50% of articles published in the top two monetary economics journals today have at least one author who is employed by a central bank (see below).











    Finally, central bankers are partial participants in the discussion over the possible futures of central banking: their standing as independent and predictable technocrats is at stake. We can hardly expect them to endorse positions that would damage this standing. 

    The book closes with a discussion of possible reforms. These range from changes within the current policy framework – e.g. including a reference to distribution in central bank mandates; tightening regulation – to more radical steps – helicopter drops100% reserve banking. We do not explicitly endorse any of these reforms, but we urge our societies to discuss them and have a reform agenda worked out when the next financial crisis hits. We need to overcome the three challenges laid out above and make sure that central banks once again serve the people. We hope this book makes an important contribution to moving this process forward.


    This post was previously published on the Justice Everywhere blog.

    Peter Dietsch is Professor of Philosophy at Université de Montréal.

    François Claveau is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Université de Sherbrooke.

    Clément Fontan is Assistant Professor of European Economic Policies at Université catholique de Louvain.


  • 28 Aug 2018 by Letitia Meynell


    Le français suit.

    This week the CPA’s Equity Committee released a new website offering a set of good equity practices designed to help address the underrepresentation of various groups in philosophy. (As some of the issues are rather different in French-speaking departments, straightforward translation is inappropriate, so we are currently collaborating with the Comité Équité of the Société de Philosophie du Québec to create a French version.) 

    Some folks might wonder whether trying to modify our practices in order to diversify our discipline is really necessary, supposing instead that professional philosophy in Canada is just fine as it is. They may think that these efforts are either pointless or, worse yet, an effort to hijack academic philosophy for various political ends. Rather than directly engaging these concerns through the usual means—employing concepts like “systemic discrimination,” “microaggressions,” “oppression,” “identity,” “feminism,” and “white supremacy”—which many people seem to find rather off-putting, I offer a different approach. I hope that it will give people who are not typically sympathetic to taking equity seriously a way of thinking about these issues that helps them to see why many believe that academic philosophy has a serious problem and we all should work to fix it.

    My approach is quite generic and can be used as a way of thinking about any place in society where various groups are systematically under- or over- represented. Basically, it boils down to asking three questions: What is the distribution of various groups? How did they get where they are? And is the situation just? 

    Regarding the first question, ceteris paribus one would expect the population of professional Canadian philosophers to reflect, roughly, the Canadian population at large—half women, 15 out of 20 white, 1 in 20 Indigenous, 1 in 10 having a disability of some kind (and so on). Choose your preferred level of statistical significance and that will tell you how much divergence from this is too surprising to be the result of chance.

    The second question simply tries to understand what caused this divergence from the general population. I find it useful to think about this in terms of selection processes, analogous to those discussed in evolutionary biology (though, obviously, without inheritance playing a role). After all, we are talking about populations and how various subpopulations with socially significant traits find themselves in environments (i.e., academia in general and philosophy in particular) that are more or less conducive to their academic and personal flourishing. 

    There are a number of virtues of approaching it in this way. First, selection theory acknowledges that each individual has a unique life path and that the identification of selection pressures is an idealization that captures general trends that have population level effects. It thus discourages thinking that if one person from a particular group has achieved success, then anybody from that group can. Still, some individual paths are particularly informative, exemplifying the life paths that explain the underrepresentation of members of their group, just as others are quite anomalous. 

    Second, biologists know that selection pressures related to one trait can interact with those associated with another trait in surprising ways. This insight neatly lines up with the concept of intersectionality and helps to keep one alive to the ways in which subpopulations within underrepresented groups may have much better or much worse outcomes than other members of the group. (Consider the outcomes for women from wealthy backgrounds or Indigenous women and how they might differ from women in general.) 

    Third, selection is about the relationship of a group of individuals who share some trait to an environment; changing the environment can significantly change the outcomes for, and thus representation of, a group. So, this basically reframes our second question as what is it about professional philosophy that selects certain groups in, and other groups out of, our discipline and our community? There is a wealth of information on this topic that describes how people from underrepresented groups have found academic philosophy a hostile environment, such as the “what’s it like” blogs (What’s It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy? What’s It Like to Be a Person of Color in Philosophy?), as well as a good deal of social psychology about things like implicit bias, institutional discrimination, and stereotype threat (Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz 1998; Saul 2013; Schouten 2015; Steele, Spencer, and Aronson 2002). 

    The final question is: Are these selection processes just? This question can be directed in various ways. Are the results of these selection pressures just? In other words, is the current underrepresentation of various groups itself an injustice? Is the selective environment as a whole just? Are specific selection pressures just? 

    When we find injustice it behooves us to figure out ways to ameliorate it. This is what the Good Equity Practices document seeks to do. Though it is far from comprehensive and will, presumably, need to evolve over time as our equity issues change, it seeks to identify places where members of underrepresented groups are selected out of philosophy as well as methods for creating an environment where they can flourish with the goal of keeping them in. The hope is that documents like these will become unnecessary but, until the demographics of professional philosophy begin to look significantly more like that of Canada at large, we have some serious work to do. 



    Greenwald, A., D. McGhee, & J. Schwartz. 1998, "Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74: 1464-1480.

    Saul, Jennifer. 2013. "Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy" in Women in Philosophy What Needs to Change? Ed. by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins, Oxford University Press, New York: NY. pp 39-60.

    Schouten, Gina. 2015. "The Stereotype Threat Hypothesis: An Assessment form the Philosopher's Armchair, for the Philosopher's Classroom," Hypatia 30(2): 450-466.

    Steele, Claude M., Steven J. Spencer and Joshua Aronson. 2002. "Contending with Group Image: The Psychology of Stereotype and Social Identity Threat," Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 34: 379-440.



    Qui est où? Pourquoi? Et est-ce juste?

    28 août 2018 par Letitia Meynell (page en anglais seulement)

    Traduction: Johanne Roberge

    Cette semaine, le Comité d’équité de l’ACP a lancé un nouveau site web offrant un ensemble de pratiques exemplaires en matière d’équité, élaborées pour aider à remédier à la sous-représentation de divers groupes en philosophie. (Étant donné que certains enjeux sont assez différents dans les départements francophones, une simple traduction ne suffirait pas. C’est pourquoi nous collaborons actuellement avec le Comité équité de la Société de philosophie du Québec afin de créer une version française).

    Certains pourraient se demander s’il est vraiment nécessaire d’essayer de modifier nos pratiques afin de diversifier notre discipline, en supposant que la philosophie professionnelle au Canada soit tout à fait acceptable telle quelle. Ils peuvent penser que ces efforts sont inutiles, ou encore, qu’ils visent à détourner la philosophie académique à des fins politiques. Plutôt que de soulever directement ces préoccupations par les moyens habituels — en employant des concepts tels que « discrimination systémique », « microagression », « oppression », « identité », « féminisme » et « suprématie blanche » — que beaucoup de gens semblent trouver plutôt déroutants — je propose une approche différente. J’espère que cela aidera les gens qui ne prennent généralement pas la question de l’équité au sérieux à développer une façon de penser qui les aidera à comprendre pourquoi certains croient que la philosophie universitaire a un grave problème et de quelle façon nous devrions tous œuvrer à le régler.

    Mon approche est assez générique et peut être utilisée comme façon de penser partout dans la société où divers groupes sont systématiquement sous-représentés ou surreprésentés socialement. Essentiellement, cela revient à poser trois questions : quelle est la répartition des différents groupes? Comment en sont-ils arrivés là? Et la situation est-elle juste?

    En ce qui concerne la première question, « toutes choses étant égales par ailleurs », on s’attendrait à ce que la population des philosophes professionnels canadiens reflète, à peu près, la population canadienne en général — une moitié de femmes, 15 personnes sur 20 de race blanche, une personne sur 20 d’origine autochtone, une personne sur 10 ayant une invalidité quelconque (et ainsi de suite). Choisissez votre niveau de signification statistique préférée et vous constaterez à quel point la divergence par rapport à ce niveau est trop surprenante pour être le fruit du hasard.

    La deuxième question vise simplement à comprendre ce qui a causé cette divergence par rapport à la population générale. Je trouve utile d’y réfléchir en tant que processus de sélection, comparables à ceux abordés en biologie évolutionniste (sans que l’héritage joue un rôle, évidemment). Après tout, nous parlons de populations et de la façon dont diverses sous-populations ayant des traits socialement importants se retrouvent dans des environnements (c.-à-d. le milieu universitaire en général et la philosophie en particulier) qui sont plus ou moins propices à leur épanouissement scolaire et personnel.

    Il y a certains avantages à l’aborder de cette façon. Premièrement, la théorie de la sélection reconnait que chaque individu a un cheminement de vie unique et que le concept d’identification des pressions de sélection est une idéalisation qui saisit les tendances générales ayant des effets dans la population. Cela minimise donc la pensée voulant que si une personne d’un groupe particulier a réussi, alors n’importe qui de ce groupe peut en faire autant. Néanmoins, certains parcours individuels sont particulièrement instructifs, illustrant les parcours de vie qui expliquent la sous-représentation des membres de leur groupe, tout comme d’autres qui sont assez irréguliers.

    Deuxièmement, les biologistes savent que les pressions de sélection liées à un caractère peuvent interagir de façon surprenante avec celles associées à un autre caractère. Ce point de vue s’harmonise parfaitement avec le concept de l’intersectionnalité et aide à garder vivante la façon dont les sous-populations au sein des groupes sous-représentés peuvent obtenir des résultats bien meilleurs ou bien pires que ceux des autres membres du groupe. (Examinez les résultats concernant les femmes issues de milieux aisés ou les femmes autochtones et vous verrez à quel point ils peuvent différer des résultats des femmes de la population générale.)

    Troisièmement, la sélection porte sur la relation d’un groupe d’individus qui partagent un trait commun à un environnement; changer l’environnement peut modifier considérablement les résultats pour un groupe, et donc sa représentation. Par conséquent, cela redéfinit fondamentalement notre deuxième question, qui est de savoir ce qu’il en est de la philosophie professionnelle qui sélectionne certains groupes dans notre discipline et dans notre communauté, et d’autres groupes à l’extérieur de notre discipline et de notre communauté? Il existe une mine d’informations à ce sujet, décrivant de quelle façon les personnes issues de groupes sous-représentés trouvent que la philosophie académique est un environnement hostile, comme les blogues « What's it like » (How's It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy? What’s It Like to Be a Person of Color in Philosophy?), ainsi qu’une bonne partie de la psychologie sociale sur des sujets comme les partis pris sociaux, la discrimination institutionnelle et la menace stéréotypée (Greenwald, McGhee et Schwartz 1998 ; Saul 2013 ; Schouten 2015 ; Steele, Spencer, et Aronson 2002).

    La dernière question est la suivante : ces processus de sélection sont-ils justes? Cette question peut être posée de différentes manières. Les résultats de ces pressions de sélection sont-ils justes? En d’autres termes, la sous-représentation actuelle des divers groupes est-elle en soi une injustice? L’environnement sélectif dans son ensemble est-il juste? Les pressions sélectives sont-elles justes?

    Quand nous trouvons une injustice, il nous incombe de trouver des moyens de la corriger. C’est ce que cherche à faire le document sur les bonnes pratiques en matière d’équité (en anglais seulement). Bien qu’il soit loin d’être exhaustif et qu’il devra vraisemblablement évoluer au fil du temps et à mesure que nos questions relatives à l’équité évolueront, il vise à définir les endroits où les membres de groupes sous-représentés sont choisis en fonction de la philosophie ainsi que des méthodes pour créer un environnement où ces membres peuvent s’épanouir, et ce, dans le but de les retenir. Nous espérons qu’un tel document deviendra inutile, mais tant que la démographie de la philosophie professionnelle ne se rapprochera de celle du Canada en général, nous avons un sérieux travail à accomplir.


    Greenwald, A., D. McGhee, & J. Schwartz. 1998, « Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test », Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74: 1464-1480.

    Saul, Jennifer. 2013. « Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy » in Women in Philosophy What Needs to Change? Ed. by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins, Oxford University Press, New York: NY. pp 39-60.

    Schouten, Gina. 2015. « The Stereotype Threat Hypothesis: An Assessment form the Philosopher's Armchair, for the Philosopher's Classroom », Hypatia 30(2): 450-466.

    Steele, Claude M., Steven J. Spencer and Joshua Aronson. 2002. « Contending with Group Image: The Psychology of Stereotype and Social Identity Threat », Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 34: 379-440.





  • 25 Jul 2018 by Monique Deveaux


    “Erdogan, Flush With Victory, Seizes New Power in Turkey”, shouts the headline in the New York Times (July 19, 2018).  This is very bad news for the country’s academics, thousands of whom have been dismissed, detained, arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned in recent years. Many university students have likewise been expelled, detained, or barred from travelling abroad; many Turkish students studying overseas have had their grants and travel permission revoked by their government.


    According to Scholars at Risk (SAR), the global network that advocates for academic freedom and publicizes attacks on faculty, students, and administrative staff worldwide, Turkey is breaking new records when it comes to the harassment and persecution of academics. While we in Canada fret and argue (not unreasonably) about the latest free speech controversy surrounding Jordan Peterson and his critics, it is worth bearing in mind the situation of Turkish academics. During the ‘2016 Turkish purges’ set in motion by an emergency decree, 15 universities were ordered closed, as well as over 1000 private schools. In 2016-17 alone, over 7000 higher education personnel in Turkey were fired and banned from public service or travelling abroad. More than 1404 of them were arrested, detained or named in warrants. Many of those persecuted had signed public peace petition of January 2016, condemning state violence against Kurdish youth activists and urging the government to begin peace talks with the Kurdish political movement (KPP). President Erdogan’s latest decree, issued immediately after the July 2018 election, orders the dismissal of 18,500 state employees, including 199 academics.


    Through its Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, SAR monitors and publicizes a terrifying number of killings, disappearances, and wrongful imprisonments of academics worldwide. It also keeps track of state-directed dismissals or firings, expulsions, and travel restrictions meant to silence scholars and students.


    SAR also identifies especially vulnerable academics, and connects them with prospective host universities in other countries. Over 300 scholars who are under threat are hosted each year this way. SAR identifies academics at risk through various means (including individuals who contact the organization directly), and works with them to put together an information dossier for prospective university hosts without endangering them further. The network’s staff (based at New York University) provide an up to date list of scholars seeking host opportunities on its website, and includes such basic details as their country of residence, their status or risk level, their area of research, preferred host region or country (and timing):


    At the University of Guelph, where I teach, our SAR committee has worked over the past few years to build support and funding to host our first scholar at risk. Working closely with the SAR program office, we invited a Turkish historian to come to Guelph for the year. Dr. Evren Altinkas, who has arrived safely in Guelph with his family, will resume his research, teach in his areas of speciality, and raise awareness about issues of academic freedom through public talks. Dismissed from his university teaching position in Turkey, Dr. Altinkas and his family have faced escalating harassment by police and government forces as a result of his research on Kurdish minorities and his wife’s status as a religious minority.


    There are of course numerous possible objections to hosting a scholar at risk in this way. One concerns fairness: why single out academics when journalists, trade union activists, etc., are similarly persecuted? Another worry centers on the fate of the hosted scholar after their placement ends: if their home country is still unsafe for them to return to, and the SAR hosting arrangement can’t offer a path to permanent residency or citizenship, might a hosted scholar be left stranded following a placement stint? Sometimes being chosen as a SAR scholar and being hosted by a foreign university suffices to protect an academic at risk upon their return home. But if significant risks remain, SAR works to secure further opportunities for the scholar in the same country as the original hosting, or in a safe third countries.


    Yes, it’s a drop in the bucket, but the host program is expanding every year, and the organization is bringing more attention to urgent issues of academic freedom and the persecution of professors and students. Dr. Homa Hoodfar, the Concordia social anthropology professor who was imprisoned in Iran for several months in 2016, has become an advocate for academic freedom and assists in SAR’s mission. Known for her work on gender and sexuality in Islam, Hoodfar was held at Iran’s Evin prison by state authorities following her arrest on grounds of ‘co-operating with a foreign state against the Islamic Republic of Iran’.


    Hundreds of universities in over 40 countries are now institutional members of SAR. Is your university among them? At present 20 Canadian universities are members of SAR: If your university or college is not a member, please consider asking your VP for Research or equivalent to agree to your university joining the SAR Network ($1000 USD institutional membership annually).


    Individuals can also become involved through the action campaigns that SAR has initiated, advocating on behalf of particular scholars and students who have been imprisoned or who face serious threats as a result of speaking out or because their research is deemed threatening by the government. The network also coordinates working groups to enable collaborative research and advocacy on matters of urgent concern. One such group is the ‘Protecting Student Expression Project’, which works to publicize the persecution and imprisonment of students — such as the more than 150 university students who have been detained since their arrest during country-wide protests in January 2018.





  • 07 Jun 2018 by Shannon Dea


    [La version française suit.]


    In the past couple of years, controversies about campus speakers have become a staple of the news cycle. This, in turn, has gotten lots of people talking about campus free expression. (Well, probably more folks talk about free speech than free expression, but free expression is more apt in the Canadian constitutional context, so let’s use that term here.)


    Free expression champions often state that free expression is especially important on university campuses compared to other domains, but they tend to do so without argument. In this, the final post in my CPA series on academic freedom, I want to make the case that if free expression is especially important on university campuses, it is so because of the academic mission of the university. Further, academic freedom is the freedom that is distinctive of universities, and free expression is part of that broader rubric.


    In Canada, freedom of expression is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All Canadians, irrespective of whether they work at universities, have freedom of expression. However, that constitutionally protected freedom of expression has limitations, including workplace limitations. If I work at a McDonald’s and tell all of my customers that they should really be going to Wendy’s, my boss can fire me. My freedom of expression doesn’t permit me not to do my job. At universities, just as at McDonald’s, the requirements of one’s job can entail some limits on free expression. If I have been assigned to teach a course on formal logic, I can’t spend every class instead talking about my own personal peccadillos on free expression grounds.


    As I discussed in my last post, university members have a distinctive freedom over and above those freedoms protected by the Charter – academic freedom. And, as we discussed, we have academic freedom because of the university’s academic mission. Academic freedom isn’t just one freedom, but many: the freedoms to decide on lines of inquiry; to choose research topics and methodologies; to create; to curate; to teach; to learn; to disseminate one’s scholarship and creations; to criticize the institution; and to express one’s views extramurally; as well as the freedom from censorship. So, university members have free expression and a whole lot more!


    Notice though, that the free expression that falls under academic freedom is a freedom afforded members of the university in their capacity as scholars who play a part in the academic mission of the university. So, not all campus speakers have the free expression that is a part of academic freedom. In particular, speakers who do not play a role in the scholarly mission of the university don’t have academic freedom, or the particular freedom of expression that flows from it.


    Now, we want to be really careful about excluding too many people from this special academic free expression. After all, speakers can play a part in the academic mission in various ways. I might, for example, bring in a nurse to speak to one of my classes on a matter relating to applied ethics. Even though that nurse isn’t university personnel, they are contributing to the university’s scholarly mission through their participation in my class. By contrast, though, a social club (as opposed to an academic body) that brings in a speaker for an extracurricular event might be doing so for reasons other than the academic mission of the university. If there is no conflict between this event and the academic mission of the university, then no problem. But if the non-scholarly event actually impedes the mission of the university, then the university is within its rights – arguably even duty-bound – to put a stop to it.


    But look – who gets to decide how the university’s mission is operationalized? Well, there is no simple answer to that, but one principle that is pretty fundamental here is collegiality – both the collegial, competitive appointment of well qualified scholars (whom we trust to excellently advance the scholarly mission) and the policies and practices determined by collegial governance, in such venues as department and Senate meetings.


    But let’s step back from governance and remind ourselves of why freedom of expression is part of academic freedom. It is part of academic freedom because we do better scholarship when we are not forced to suppress our sincere views as scholars. Now, this most centrally relates to views related to our scholarly expertise. However, it would be a bad idea to say that scholars only have academic free expression within their areas of expertise. Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons:

    • our expertise can sometimes be hard to demarcate;
    • our scholarly interests and expertise can change over time and in unpredictable ways (six months ago, I had written a couple of emails and Facebook posts about academic freedom, but in the last four months, I’ve published about 60,000 words on the subject);
    • confining free expression to one’s area of expertise can provide a dangerous mechanism for supervisors and senior colleagues to act as gatekeepers to one’s scholarly expression.


    There is a further reason why university scholars should have free expression beyond their wheelhouse. One of the important roles that universities and university scholars provide to the broader society is intellectual leadership. The public and the media look up to professors. They seek professors’ views on matters of social importance. Professors ought to be able to honestly express their views to the public on a wide range of matters without risking their jobs. Put simply: we want a world in which Einstein can speak to the public about world peace without penalty.


    When we allow the public conversation about campus free speech to treat the university just like any other domain, we miss out on the opportunity to vigourously defend academic freedom and the academic mission of the university. The argument from Charter freedoms may be a simpler one, but it does not do justice to the rich variety and important social purpose of academic freedom, nor to the crucial role of free expression that flows from both of these. As I argued in my first post in this series, the threats to academic freedom are wider and more serious than those posed by reactions to controversial campus speakers. It is high time for philosophers – and scholars more broadly – to get the story right.



    Shannon Dea is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Waterloo. She works on history of philosophy, philosophy of sex and gender, teaching and learning, and social philosophy. She is the author of Beyond the Binary: Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough: Broadview, 2016).

    The French translation of this blog post has been done by Guillaume Beaulac, researcher in philosophy and in cognitive science, working in philosophy of cognitive science, on critical thinking and in epistemology (especially social and applied).




    Avoir l’heure juste sur la liberté académique
    et la liberté d’expression sur les campus



    Dans les quelques dernières années, des controverses au sujet de personnes invitées à venir parler sur les campus sont devenues récurrentes dans les cycles de nouvelles. Ceci, à son tour, a amené plusieurs personnes à parler de la liberté d’expression sur les campus. (En fait, probablement plus de gens parlent de la liberté de parole que de liberté d’expression, mais la liberté d’expression est plus juste dans le contexte constitutionnel canadien; nous utiliserons donc ce terme ici.)


    Les champion-ne-s de la liberté d’expression disent souvent que la libre expression est particulièrement importante sur les campus universitaires, plus que dans d’autres domaines, mais celles- et ceux-ci tendent à le dire sans offrir d’arguments. Dans ce billet, le dernier de ma série pour l’ACP sur la liberté académique, je veux défendre l’idée que si la liberté d’expression est particulièrement importante sur les campus universitaires, elle l’est en raison de la mission académique de l’université. De plus, la liberté académique est la liberté qui est propre aux universités et la liberté d’expression fait partie de cette catégorie plus large.


    Au Canada, la liberté d’expression est protégée sous la Charte des droits et libertés. Toutes les personnes canadiennes, peu importe si elles travaillent ou non au sein d’une université, ont la liberté d’expression. Cependant, cette forme de liberté d’expression protégée par la constitution a ses limites, incluant des limites liées au lieu de travail. Si je travaille dans un McDonald’s et que je dis à toute la clientèle qu’elle devrait plutôt aller chez Wendy’s, ma patronne ou mon patron peut me renvoyer. Ma liberté d’expression ne me permet pas de ne pas faire mon travail. Dans les universités, comme chez McDonald’s, les exigences de l’emploi d’une personne amènent des limites à la liberté d’expression. Si l’on m’a demandé de donner un cours de logique formelle, je ne peux pas passer chaque séance de classe à propos de peccadilles personnelles en m’appuyant sur la liberté d’expression.


    Comme j’en ai discuté dans mon dernier billet, les membres d’une université disposent d’une liberté particulière qui va au-delà des libertés protégées par la Charte – la liberté académique. Et, comme nous en avons discuté, nous disposons de la liberté académique en raison de la mission académique des universités. La liberté académique n’est pas qu’une liberté, mais bien plusieurs : les libertés de décider des orientations de leurs recherches ; de choisir leurs sujets de recherches et leurs méthodologies ; de créer ; de conserver ; d’enseigner ; d’apprendre ; de disséminer leur érudition et leurs créations ; de critiquer les institutions ; d’exprimer leurs points de vue en dehors des murs de l’université ; en plus d’échapper à la censure. Ainsi, les membres d’une université ont la liberté d’expression et un bon nombre d’autres !


    Remarquez toutefois que la liberté d’expression qui tombe sous la liberté académique est une liberté qui est donnée aux membres d’une université en leur fonction de chercheur-e-s qui jouent un rôle dans la mission académique de l’université. Ainsi, ce ne sont pas toutes les personnes qui viennent parler sur un campus qui disposent de la liberté d’expression qui fait partie de la liberté académique. En particulier, les conférencier-ère-s qui ne jouent pas de rôle dans la mission de recherche de l’université ne disposent pas de la liberté académique ni de la liberté d’expression particulière qui en découle.


    Maintenant, nous voulons faire preuve d’une grande prudence pour ne pas exclure trop de personnes de cette liberté d’expression particulière au sein de l’université. Après tout, ces conférencier-ère-s peuvent prendre part à la mission académique de plusieurs façons. Je peux, par exemple, inviter un-e infirmier-ère parler d’un sujet en éthique appliquée dans l’un de mes cours. Même si cet-te infirmier-ère ne fait pas partie du personnel de l’université, elle ou il contribue à la mission de recherche de l’université à travers sa participation à ma séance de cours. En contraste, cependant, un club social (en opposition à une organisation académique) qui invite un-e conférencier-ère pour un événement extracurriculaire peut le faire pour d’autres raisons que celles de la mission académique de l’université. S’il n’y a pas de conflit entre cet événement et la mission académique de l’université, alors il n’y a pas de problème. Mais si l’événement, qui n’est pas de nature savante, empiète sur la mission de l’université, alors l’université est dans son droit — elle est peut-être même contrainte par un devoir — de l’arrêter.


    Mais, un instant – qui décide de comment la mission de l’université est mise en œuvre ? En fait, il n’y a pas de réponse simple à cette question, mais un principe qui est plutôt fondamental ici est la collégialité – autant dans l’embauche collégiale et compétitive de personnes savantes bien qualifiées (à qui l’on fait confiance pour avancer de façon excellente la mission de recherche de l’université) que dans les politiques et les pratiques déterminées par la gouvernance collégiale, dans des endroits comme les départements et les rencontres du Sénat.


    Mais laissons la gouvernance de côté et souvenons-nous de la raison pour laquelle la liberté d’expression fait partie de la liberté académique. Elle fait partie de la liberté académique parce que nous produisons de la recherche de plus haute qualité quand nous ne sommes pas forcés de nous museler quant à nos points de vue sincères en tant que chercheur-e-s. Maintenant, ceci est lié de façon surtout centrale à des points de vue liés à notre expertise comme chercheur-e-s. Cependant, ce serait une mauvaise idée que de dire que les chercheur-e-s ne disposent de la liberté d’expression académique qu’au sein de leurs domaines d’expertise. Pourquoi ? En fait, il y a un paquet de raisons :

    • l’expertise est parfois difficile à délimiter ;
    • nos intérêts de recherche et notre expertise peuvent changer au fil du temps et de façon difficilement prévisible (il y a six mois, j’avais écrit quelques courriels et billets sur Facebook au sujet de la liberté académique, mais dans les quatre derniers mois, j’ai publié environ 60 000 mots sur le sujet );
    • confiner la liberté d’expression au champ d’expertise d’une personne peut offrir un mécanisme dangereux pour que les directions de recherche et les collègues séniors agissent comme contrôleurs de l’expression d’une personne liée à ses recherches.


    Il y a une raison supplémentaire pour laquelle les chercheur-e-s universitaires devraient disposer de la liberté d’expression au-delà de leur zone de confort. L’un des rôles importants que les universités et les chercheur-e-s universitaires fournissent à la société au sens large est celui d’un leadership intellectuel. Le public et les médias ont une certaine admiration pour les professeur-e-s. Ils cherchent à avoir le point de vue de professeur-e-s sur des sujets qui ont une importance sociale. Les professeur-e-s devraient pouvoir exprimer honnêtement leurs points de vue au public sur un large éventail de sujets sans risquer de perdre leur emploi. Pour le dire simplement : nous voulons un monde dans lequel Einstein peut parler au public au sujet de la paix dans le monde sans pénalité.


    Lorsque nous permettons que les conversations publiques au sujet de la liberté de parole sur les campus traitent les universités comme n’importe quel autre domaine, nous ratons l’occasion de défendre vigoureusement la liberté académique et la mission académique de l’université. L’argument de la Charte des libertés en est peut-être un plus simple, mais il ne rend pas justice à la grande diversité et à l’objectif social important de la liberté académique, ni au rôle essentiel de la libre expression qui découle de ces deux éléments. Comme je l’ai défendu dans mon premier billet de cette série, les menaces à la liberté académique sont plus larges et plus sérieuses que celles posées par les réactions à des invité-e-s controversé-e-s sur les campus. Il est grand temps pour les philosophes — et les chercheur-e-s plus généralement — d’obtenir l’heure juste.



    Shannon Dea est professeure agrégée en philosophie à University of Waterloo. Elle travaille en histoire de la philosophie, en philosophie du sexe et du genre, sur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage et en philosophie sociale. Elle est l’auteure de Beyond the Binary : Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough : Broadview, 2016).


    La traduction en français de ce billet a été effectuée par Guillaume Beaulac, chercheur en philosophie et en sciences cognitives, travaillant en philosophie des sciences cognitives, sur la pensée critique et en l’épistémologie (surtout sociale et appliquée).




  • 28 May 2018 by Shannon Dea

    [La version française suit.]


    Let’s be honest. In day-to-day campus life, we’re most likely to hear academic freedom invoked by faculty members pushing back against working conditions they disagree with. Whether the university is directing instructors to list “intended learning outcomes” on their syllabi, or adopting a new scheduling system that will give instructors less say about when they teach, profs inevitably respond by citing academic freedom. But, outside of cases like this, it is rare for scholars to actually discuss what academic freedom is and why it’s important.


    Until I started daily blogging about academic freedom, I didn’t know a lot about it either. However, I worried that debates about campus free expression were often misaligned with the principles of academic freedom. So, I set out to learn more and to share what I was learning.


    Academic freedom is defined in a range of international, national, provincial, and university-level statements. Each of them tells a slightly different story. Here are a few key texts:



    Here is a handy overview of these documents.


    As well, most Canadian universities have their own statements on academic freedom – very often in faculty association collective agreements, but sometimes also at the level of university policy.


    What emerges when you start to read these documents is that academic freedom is complex. In general, the fullest statements of academic freedom discuss the following elements:

    As well, some statements of academic freedom include discussion of institutional autonomy – the right of universities to determine their academic mission through the process of collegial governance. (In general, organizations like Universities Canada, which represent the university as employer, regard institutional autonomy as the institutional form of academic freedom. By contrast, CAUT, which represents faculty members as employees, emphasizes the academic freedom of individual scholars and treats institutional autonomy as importantly distinct from academic freedom.)

    While university associations and faculty associations typically characterize academic freedom slightly differently, it is possible to assemble a kind of “composite image” of academic freedom from the various policy statements about it. It looks something like this:

    Universities and university scholars play a special social role in the search for truth and the advancement of knowledge. In order to perform this role, they require academic freedom. Scholars must be free to decide on lines of inquiry; to choose research topics and methodologies; to create; to curate; to teach; to learn; to disseminate their scholarship and creations; to criticize the institution and to express their views extramurally. Further, they must be free from institutional censorship, including censorship of library collections. Academic freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities. In particular, scholars have the duty to use their academic freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research on an honest search for truth. Scholarship (including teaching) should be conducted in accordance with ethical and professional standards. Scholars must not misrepresent their expertise, nor claim to represent the university.

    This composite image covers what most academic freedom statements say about the source of academic freedom, what the subsidiary freedoms are, and what the attendant responsibilities are.

    What my composite doesn’t do is indicate who has academic freedom. This is one of the contested questions in the domain. Everyone agrees that tenure-stream university professors have academic freedom, and most people agree that university librarians have academic freedom. The question is whether non-tenure-stream instructors, post-doctoral researchers, support staff, and students have academic freedom.

    Key academic freedom statements make clear that all teachers and researchers, irrespective of appointment type, ought to have academic freedom. However, there are few de jure protections of the academic freedom of most non-tenure-stream scholars. As we discussed in our last post, universities’ increasing reliance on precarious workers is thus a major threat to academic freedom, and by extension to the important social role played by universities. Finally, there is considerable disagreement over whether students – especially grad students – have academic freedom, and if so what types and to what degree.

    In short, academic freedom is important and complicated. The story gets even more complicated when we consider the interaction between academic freedom and constitutionally-protected freedom of expression, and try to prise apart academic freedom from campus free speech. We’ll take that up in our final post in this series.


    Shannon Dea is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Waterloo. She works on history of philosophy, philosophy of sex and gender, teaching and learning, and social philosophy. She is the author of Beyond the Binary: Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough: Broadview, 2016).

    The French translation of this blog post has been done by Guillaume Beaulac, researcher in philosophy and in cognitive science, working in philosophy of cognitive science, on critical thinking and in epistemology (especially social and applied).


    Qu’est-ce que la liberté académique ? Une image composite


    Soyons honnête. Dans la vie sur le campus, au jour le jour, le plus probable est que la liberté académique soit invoquée par des membres du corps enseignant qui repoussent des conditions de travail avec lesquelles elles et ils sont en désaccord. Que l’université demande aux enseignant-e-s de faire la liste des "objectifs d’apprentissage visés" sur leur plan de cours ou qu’elle adopte un système pour faire l’horaire des cours leur donnant moins d’espace pour s’exprimer au sujet des moments où elles et ils enseignent, les profs répondent inévitablement en mentionnant la liberté académique. Par contre, en dehors de cas comme ceux-ci, il est rare que des chercheur-e-s de véritablement discuter de la liberté académique et de pourquoi elle est importante.


    Jusqu’à ce que je commence à écrire des billets de blogue sur la liberté académique à chaque jour, je ne connaissais pas grand-chose à ce sujet non plus. Cependant, j’étais inquiète que les débats sur la liberté d’expression sur les campus n’étaient pas en phase avec les principes de la liberté académique. Alors j’ai fait en sorte d’en apprendre davantage et de partager ce que j’apprenais.


    La liberté académique est définie dans un ensemble d’énoncés faits aux niveaux international, national, provincial ou au niveau d’une université en particulier. Chacun de ces énoncés propose une histoire un peu différente. Voici quelques textes clé :



    Voici un survol pratique de ces documents.


    Notons aussi que la plupart des universités canadiennes ont leur propre énoncé sur la liberté académique – souvent dans les conventions collectives du personnel enseignant, mais aussi parfois au niveau des politiques de l’université.


    Ce qui ressort lorsque l’on commence à lire ces documents, c’est que la liberté académique est complexe. En général, les énoncés les plus complets proposent une discussion des éléments suivants :


    Notons aussi que certains énoncés sur la liberté académique incluent une discussion de l’autonomie institutionnelle – le droit des universités de déterminer leur mission académique à travers les processus de la gouvernance collégiale. (En général, des organisations comme Universités Canada, qui représentent les universités comme employeur, voient l’autonomie institutionnelle comme étant la forme institutionnelle de la liberté académique. En contraste, l’ACPPU, qui représente les membres du corps enseignant comme employé-e-s, met l’accent sur la liberté académique des chercheur-e-s individuellement et traite l’autonomie institutionnelle comme étant distincte de façon importante de la liberté académique.)


    Alors que les associations universitaires et les associations du personnel enseignant caractérisent généralement la liberté académique de façon un peu différente, il est possible de rassembler une sorte d’ "image composite" de la liberté académique à partir de ces différents énoncés à son sujet. Cela ressemble à quelque chose comme ceci :


    Les universités et les chercheur-e-s universitaires jouent un rôle social particulier dans la recherche de la vérité et de l’avancement des connaissances. Pour remplir ce rôle, elles et ils ont besoin de la liberté académique. Les chercheur-e-s doivent être libres de décider des orientations de leurs recherches ; de choisir leurs sujets de recherches et leurs méthodologies ; de créer ; de conserver ; d’enseigner ; d’apprendre ; de disséminer leur érudition et leurs créations ; de critiquer les institutions et d’exprimer leurs points de vue en dehors des murs de l’université. De plus, elles et ils doivent être libres de la censure institutionnelle, incluant la censure des collections des bibliothèques. La liberté académique porte avec elle des devoirs et des responsabilités. En particulier, les chercheur-e-s ont le devoir d’utiliser leur liberté académique d’une manière qui soit cohérente avec l’obligation savante de baser leurs recherches sur une recherche honnête de la vérité. Ces activités savantes (incluant l’enseignement) devraient être conduites selon des normes éthiques et professionnelles. Les chercheur-e-s ne doivent pas donner une impression incorrecte de leur expertise ni prétendre représenter l’université.


    Cette image composite couvre ce que la plupart des déclarations sur la liberté académique disent au sujet de la source de la liberté académique et de ce que sont les libertés et les responsabilités qui en découlent.


    Ce que mon image composite ne fournit pas est une indication de qui possède la liberté académique. Il s’agit d’une question controversée dans le domaine. Tout le monde est d’accord que les professeur-e-s d’université ayant un poste permanent ou qui mène à la permanence disposent de la liberté académique, et la plupart des gens sont d’accord que les bibliothécaires universitaires en disposent aussi. La question est de savoir si les chargé-e-s de cours ou autres membres du personnel enseignant qui n’a pas de poste qui mène à la permanence, les chercheur-e-s postdoctoraux, le personnel de soutien et les étudiant-e-s disposent de la liberté académique.

    Les énoncés clé au sujet de la liberté académique précisent que tou-te-s les enseignant-e-s et les chercheur-e-s devraient avoir la liberté académique. Cependant, il y a peu de protections de jure de la liberté académique de la plupart des chercheur-e-s n’ayant pas de poste qui mène à la permanence. Comme nous en avons discuté dans le dernier billet, la dépendance grandissante des universités aux employé-e-s à statut précaire est une menace majeure à la liberté académique et, par extension, à l’important rôle social joué par les universités. Finalement, il y a des désaccords profonds en lien avec la liberté académique des étudiant-e-s, principalement aux cycles supérieurs, à savoir de quel type est leur liberté académique et à quel degré celles-ci et ceux-ci peuvent en disposer.

    En bref, la liberté académique est importante et complexe. L’histoire devient encore plus complexe lorsque l’on considère l’interaction entre la liberté académique et la liberté d’expression telle que protégée par la constitution, tout en essayant de distinguer la liberté académique de la liberté de parole sur les campus. Nous allons consacrer le dernier billet de cette série à ce sujet.


    Shannon Dea est professeure agrégée en philosophie à University of Waterloo. Elle travaille en histoire de la philosophie, en philosophie du sexe et du genre, sur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage et en philosophie sociale. Elle est l’auteure de Beyond the Binary : Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough : Broadview, 2016).


    La traduction en français de ce billet a été effectuée par Guillaume Beaulac, chercheur en philosophie et en sciences cognitives, travaillant en philosophie des sciences cognitives, sur la pensée critique et en l’épistémologie (surtout sociale et appliquée).






  • 19 May 2018 by Shannon Dea

    [La version française suit.]


    I  am delighted to launch the new CPA blog with a series of three posts about academic freedom. In 2018, it is more crucial than ever that academics understand and defend academic freedom, and philosophers in particular are well placed to do this work.


    Academic freedom is the foundation of the modern university. Mediaeval universities were associated with particular religious orders, and with the doctrines of those orders. By the turn of the 19th century, however, universities in Belgium and Germany had begun to articulate and defend the freedom to teach and to learn. In 1915, the then year-old American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified academic freedom in its Declaration of Principles. Thereafter, it adapted its principles several times, and ultimately adopted the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which remains a founding statement of the principles of academic freedom.


    The 1940 Statement has been adopted by more than 250 scholarly bodies. While it is therefore of not only historical but contemporary importance, it is just one approach to academic freedom. What exactly academic freedom is remains contested. The various academic freedom statements that guide university policies and practices have lots of overlap with each other, but they also disagree on such questions as who has academic freedom, what responsibilities attach to academic freedom, and whether scholarly institutions have a form of academic freedom.


    At bottom, though, academic freedom is a distinctive class of freedoms possessed by scholarly personnel of certain types of educational and research institutions by virtue of the social role that they – both the personnel and the institutions – fulfill. It is not a single freedom, but rather an umbrella term for a number of freedoms, including the freedoms:


    • to decide on lines of inquiry
    • to choose research topics
    • to design methodologies
    • to teach as our expertise and judgment guide
    • to learn as our conscience and curiosity guide
    • to disseminate our scholarship
    • to publicly express our views as scholars


    While freedom of expression is part of academic freedom, it is not the sum of academic freedom. (And, as we’ll discuss in our final post – there is a difference between constitutionally protected freedom of expression and the freedom of expression that is a part of academic freedom.)


    In our next two posts in this series, we’ll more fully flesh out (1) the contours of academic freedom, as expressed in some key Canadian and international documents, and (2) the complicated relationship between academic freedom and freedom of expression.


    I want to devote the remainder of this post to sketching why I think it is crucial that we understand and defend academic freedom, and by pointing readers to philosophers who are already doing work in this area.


    Defending academic freedom

    Academic freedom exists so that scholars can take chances in their teaching and research – whether those chances amount to risky hypotheses, new methods, or politically controversial approaches. However, since its origins, academic freedom has faced a number of threats. These continue today, with some new ones added to the mix. Here is a quick inventory of just some of the challenges to academic freedom in 2018.


    • the precarification of universities: the purpose of tenure is to allow scholars to take chances in their work. Universities’ increasing reliance on sessionals and untenured instructors has produced a vulnerable academic workforce who are simply not in the position to take the same risks as tenured professors. Relatedly, the line between universities and polytechnics/community colleges is growing blurrier as governments and institutions work to develop better college-university pathways. Correspondingly, the line between college instructors (who do not typically have academic freedom) and university professors (who have academic freedom) is blurring. One Alberta philosopher employed at a polytechnic was recently terminated by employers who told him that he would be a better fit at an institution that values academic freedom.
    • the corporate university: we are increasingly seeing university programs and research projects relying on funding from and partnerships with corporations whose primary interest is profit, not the advancement of knowledge. In some cases, such partnerships compromise the free inquiry of university scholars.
    • the managerial university: the worrisome shift at some Canadian universities from a robust collegial governance model to a managerial model threatens academic freedom both by reducing scholars’ role in directing the university’s academic mission, and, in cases of controversy, by orienting universities toward risk management and public/donor relations rather than toward the defense of academic freedom.
    • threats by government: governments at both ends of the political spectrum have always threatened academic freedom. The Soviet Union strictly controlled research and researchers, and Margaret Thatcher scrapped tenure in the U.K. Today, over 1000 Turkish scholars face trial for their scholarly expression, and many are imprisoned. But government threats to academic freedom are often subtle. In recent years, we have seen Canadian governments targeting particular types of research via federal and provincial funding agencies. When governments produce funding feasts for some disciplines and famines for others, scholars and universities are at less liberty to independently decide on which programs of scholarship to pursue. Moreover, when governments impose on universities the requirement to “differentiate” (as we are seeing in Ontario), they remove decisions about the academic mission from collegial governing bodies – a further threat to academic freedom.
    • controversies over campus speakers: we have all seen recent media and social media flare-ups over controversial campus speakers and events, and over protests about those speakers. While I think that the threats to academic freedom I listed above are more worrisome than current controversies over campus speakers, it is important to recognize that much of the public, and many in government are deeply worried about what they see as the chilling of freedom of expression on campus. No doubt, some recent attempts to shut down controversial campus speakers constitute academic freedom violations. And some responses to so-called no-platforming themselves constitute academic freedom violations. We’ll delve into this stuff more deeply in my final post in this series.
    • internet attempts to blacklist particular scholars and programs: Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist names and shames left-wing professors; a prominent University of Toronto professor recently announced and then abandoned a similar project intended to name and shame social justice oriented professors, courses and programs in the hopes of shutting them down; and there are regular Twitter campaigns to get scholars of various political stripes fired. (Sometimes, these efforts go beyond attempts to get scholars sacked, and extend to threatening physical harm to them and their families.)


    Philosophers can help

    The need to bolster academic freedom is urgent. Philosophers can help with this. However, there has been relatively little recent work on academic freedom by philosophers.


    Here are some philosophers who have made recent contributions to our understanding of academic freedom and the related but distinct topic of campus freedom of expression. (I don’t agree with all of them, but all of them are worth reading.)


    • Sara Ahmed’s blog, feministkilljoys, often touches on issues related to academic freedom and campus freedom of expression and their intersection with equity and social justice. Here is a particularly nice example.
    • In the latest newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, Christina Behme offers a thoughtful analysis of whether there is a campus free speech crisis.
    • Political Philosopher Sigal Ben-Porath’s new book, Free Speech on Campus, deploys the concept of “inclusive freedom” in an attempt to balance free speech considerations with the need to protect vulnerable groups on campus.
    • Joe Heath sometimes writes about campus freedom of expression on the In Due Course blog. Here’s one such piece.
    • Alison Jaggar’s “Teaching in Colorado: Not a Rocky Mountain High; Academic Freedom in a Climate of Repression,” Teaching Philosophy 30.2 (2007) 149-172 discusses challenges to academic freedom in the present context.
    • Bleeding Heart Libertarian Jacob Levy’s talk on “Safe spaces, academic freedom, and the university as a complex association” is some of the smartest work I’ve seen on these questions.
    • Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship president Mark Mercer often weighs in on academic freedom – both on the SAFS website and in the media.


    Last but not least, I have since January been writing daily blog posts at my blog Daily Academic Freedom and tweeting about academic freedom using the hashtag #dailyacademicfreedom. Daily blogging is a massive time-suck, but I keep at it because it seems to me that in 2018 it is crucial to improve the “academic freedom literacy” of both academics and members of the public. I hope that other Canadian philosophers will join me in this work.




    Shannon Dea is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Waterloo. She works on history of philosophy, philosophy of sex and gender, teaching and learning, and social philosophy. She is the author of Beyond the Binary: Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough: Broadview, 2016).

    The French translation of this blog post has been done by Guillaume Beaulac, researcher in philosophy and in cognitive science, working in philosophy of cognitive science, on critical thinking and in epistemology (especially social and applied).



    La liberté académique menacée : une courte introduction pour les philosophes


    Je suis ravie d’inaugurer le nouveau blogue de l’ACP avec une série de trois billets portant sur la liberté académique. En 2018, il est plus important que jamais pour les personnes faisant partie des milieux académiques de comprendre et de défendre la liberté académique. Les philosophes, en particulier, sont bien placés pour faire ce travail.


    La liberté académique est le fondement de l’université moderne. Les universités médiévales étaient associées à des ordres religieux particuliers et aux doctrines de ces ordres. Au tournant du xixe siècle, cependant, les universités en Belgique et en Allemagne avaient commencé à articuler et à défendre la liberté d’enseigner et d’apprendre. En 1915, l’American Association of University Professors (AAUP), n’ayant alors qu’une année d’existence, a codifié la liberté académique dans ses principes fondateurs (Declaration of Principles). Par la suite, l’association a adapté ses principes à plusieurs reprises et a, ultimement, adopté le 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, qui demeure aujourd’hui une déclaration fondatrice des principes de la liberté académique.


    La déclaration de 1940 a été adoptée par plus de 250 entités savantes. Alors qu’elle n’est donc pas seulement d’importance historique mais aussi contemporaine, il ne s’agit que d’une approche de la liberté académique. Ce qu’est exactement la liberté académique est toujours débattu. Les différentes déclarations sur la liberté académique qui guident les politiques et pratiques des universités se chevauchent largement, mais l’on y retrouve aussi des désaccords sur des questions liées à qui dispose de la liberté académique, à quelles sont les responsabilités jointes à la liberté académique et à savoir si les institutions elles-mêmes ont une forme de liberté académique.


    Au fond, cependant, la liberté académique est une classe distincte de libertés possédées par le personnel savant d’un certain type d’institutions ayant des visées d’éducation et de recherche en vertu du rôle social qu’ils—les institutions et le personnel—remplissent. Il ne s’agit pas d’une seule liberté, mais plutôt un terme parapluie pour un certain nombre de libertés, dont les libertés de :


    • décider des orientations de la recherche
    • décider des sujets de recherche
    • élaborer les méthodologies
    • enseigner en suivant le guide de notre expertise et de notre jugement
    • d’apprendre en ayant comme guides notre conscience et notre curiosité
    • de disséminer notre recherche et nos savoirs
    • d’exprimer publiquement nos points de vue en tant que chercheur-e-s


    Alors que la liberté d’expression fait partie de la liberté académique, il ne s’agit pas d’une addition de libertés académiques. (Et, comme nous en discuterons dans le dernier billet, il y a une différence entre la liberté d’expression telle que protégée par la constitution et la liberté d’expression qui fait partie de la liberté académique.)


    Dans les deux prochains billets de cette série, nous allons définir plus précisément (1) les contours de la liberté académique, telle qu’exprimés dans des documents clés au Canada et ailleurs dans le monde et (2) la relation complexe entre la liberté académique et la liberté d’expression.


    Je veux consacrer le reste de ce billet à esquisser pourquoi je pense qu’il est essentiel que l’on comprenne et défende la liberté académique et en suggérant, aux personnes lisant ce billet, des philosophes qui ont déjà fait du travail dans ce domaine.


    Défendre la liberté académique


    La liberté académique existe pour que les personnes au sein du milieu académique puissent prendre des risques dans leur enseignement et dans leur recherche — que ces risques soient liés à des hypothèses elles-mêmes risquées, à de nouvelles méthodes ou à des approches politiquement controversées. Cependant, depuis ses origines, la liberté académique a fait face à de nombreuses menaces. Celles-ci persistent aujourd’hui, avec de nouvelles menaces qui s’ajoutent au lot. Voici un survol rapide de quelques menaces à la liberté académique en 2018 :


    • la précarisation des universités : la raison d’être de la permanence est pour permettre aux personnes travaillant dans des milieux académiques de prendre des risques dans leur travail. Les universités, ayant de plus en plus recours à des enseignantes et des chargé-e-s de cours et des enseignant-e-s qui n’ont pas la permanence, ont produit une main-d’oeuvre universitaire vulnérable qui ne sont pas en position de prendre les mêmes risques que des professeur-e-s ayant leur permanence. De façon connexe, la ligne entre les universités et les instituts polytechniques ou collégiaux devient plus floue alors que les gouvernements et les institutions développent un meilleur passage entre les collèges et les universités. Parallèlement, la ligne entre les enseignant-e-s dans les collèges (qui n’ont généralement pas de liberté académique) et les professeur-e-s d’université (qui l’ont) devient aussi plus floue. Une personne travaillant en philosophie en Alberta dans un institut polytechnique s’est récemment fait renvoyer par son employeur qui lui a dit qu’elle serait plus confortable dans une institution qui voit d’un bon oeil la liberté académique.
    • l’université corporative : l’on voit de plus en plus de programmes universitaires et de projets de recherche qui dépendent de fonds venant de et de partenariats avec des entreprises dont l’intérêt premier est le profit, et non l’avancement des connaissances. Dans certains cas, ces partenariats compromettent la liberté de la recherche des chercheur-e-s universitaires.
    • l’universié managériale : dans certaines universités canadiennes, un glissement inquiétant d’un modèle de robustes pratiques de gouvernance collégiale à un modèle managérial menace la liberté académique autant en réduisant le rôle des chercheur-e-s dans la direction de la mission académique de l’université et, en cas de controverse, en orientant l’université vers la gestion du risque et la relation entre l’université et le public/les donateur-trice-s plutôt que vers une défense de la liberté académique.
    • menaces des gouvernements : les gouvernements aux deux extrêmes du spectre politique ont toujours menacé la liberté académique. L’Union soviétique contrôlait de façon stricte la recherche et les chercheur-e-s, puis Margaret Thatcher a jeté aux ordures la permanence au Royaume-Uni. Aujourd’hui, plus de 1000 chercheur-e-s en Turquie font face à des procès pour l’expression de leur point de vue en tant que chercheur-e et plusieurs sont en prison. Mais les menaces du gouvernement contre la liberté académique sont souvent plus subtiles. Dans les dernières années, l’on a vu le gouvernement canadien viser des types de recherche en particulier à travers les agences de financement fédérales et provinciales. Quand les gouvernements produisent des festins de financement pour certaines disciplines et en affament d’autres, les chercheur-e-s et les universités ont moins de liberté pour décider de façon indépendante quels programmes de recherche poursuivre. De plus, lorsque les gouvernements imposent aux universités une exigence de "différenciation" (comme l’on peut le voir en Ontario), ceux-ci enlèvent une partie des décisions au sujet de la mission académique des corps de gouvernance collégiale — une menace de plus à la liberté académique.
    • controverses autour de personnes invitées à donner une conférence sur le campus : l’on a pu voir récemment dans les médias et sur les médias sociaux des flambées au sujet de personnes ou d’événements controversés sur les campus et autour de protestations autour de l’invitation de certaines personnes à venir donner une conférence dans une université. Bien que je pense que les menaces à la liberté académique énumérées plus haut sont plus inquiétantes que ces controverses, il est important de reconnaître qu’une grande partie du public et plusieurs personnes au sein du gouvernement sont profondément inquiètes à propos de ce qu’ils conçoivent comme un refroidissement de la liberté d’expression sur les campus. Il ne fait pas de doute que certaines tentatives récentes de faire annuler des événements sur le campus constituent une violation de la liberté académique. Et certaines réponses au soi-disant no-platforming (l’idée selon laquelle certaines positions ne sont pas acceptables sur un campus universitaire) constituent elles-mêmes des violations de la liberté académique. Nous creuserons davantage ce sujet dans le dernier billet de cette série.
    • les tentatives d’Internet visant à placer des chercheur-e-s et des programmes de recherche en particulier sur une liste noire : la Professor Watchlist de Turning Point USA nomme et vise à mettre dans l’embarras des professeur-e-s de gauche ; a professeur bien connu de l’Université de Toronto a récemment annoncé, avant d’abandonner, un projet similaire visant à nommer et à mettre dans l’embarras des professeur-e-s, des cours et des programmes ayant des orientations s’apparentant à la justice sociale dans l’espoir de les faire fermer ; et il y a régulièrement des campagnes sur Twitter pour amener des chercheur-e-s d’affiliations politiques diverses à se faire renvoyer. (Parfois, ces efforts vont au-delà de tentatives de faire renvoyer une personne et s’étendent à des menaces physiques contre ces chercheur-e-s et leurs familles.)


    Les philosophes peuvent aider


    Le besoin de faire la promotion de la liberté académique est urgent. Les philosophes peuvent aider en ce sens. Cependant, il y a eu relativement peu de travail récent sur la liberté académique produit par des philosophes.


    Voici quelques philosophes qui ont fait des contributions récentes à notre compréhension de la liberté académique et au sujet, distinct mais relié, de la liberté d’expression sur le campus. (Je ne suis pas en accord avec tous, mais les contributions mentionnées ci-dessous valent toutes la peine d’être lues.)


    • Le blogue de Sara Ahmed, feministkilljoys, s’intéresse souvent à des enjeux liés à la liberté académique et à la liberté d’expression sur le campus ainsi que leur intersection avec des questions d’équité et de justice sociale. En voici un particulièrement bon exemple.
    • Dans le dernier bulletin de la Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, Christina Behme offre une analyse réfléchie sur l’existence (ou non) d’une crise de la liberté d’expression sur les campus.
    • Le nouveau livre de la philosophe politique Sigal Ben-Porath, Free Speech on Campus, déploie le concept "inclusive freedom" (liberté inclusive) dans le but d’équilibrer les considérations liées à la liberté de parole et le besoin de protéger les groupes vulnérables sur les campus.
    • Joe Heath écrit parfois sur la liberté d’expression sur les campus sur son blogue In Due Course. En voici un exemple.
    • L’article de 2007 d’Alison Jaggar “Teaching in Colorado: Not a Rocky Mountain High; Academic Freedom in a Climate of Repression” (Teaching Philosophy, vol. 30, no. 2, pages 149–172) propose une discussion des défis liés à la liberté académique dans le contexte actuel.
    • Le Bleeding Heart Libertarian Jacob Levy a une conférence dont le titre est “Safe spaces, academic freedom, and the university as a complex association” où il présente son travail, parmi le travail le plus judicieux que j’aie vu sur ces questions.
    • Le président Mark Mercer de la Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship donne souvent son point de vue sur la liberté académique — autant sur le site site web de la SAFS que dans les médias.


    Enfin, et ce n’est pas le moindre, depuis janvier j’écris des billets de blogue quotidiennement sur Daily Academic Freedom et je tweete au sujet de la liberté académique en utilisant le mot-clic #dailyacademicfreedom. Écrire des billets de blogue tous les jours est un investissement massif de temps, mais je continue de le faire parce qu’il me semble que, en 2018, il est essentiel d’augmenter la "littéracie au sujet de la liberté académique", autant des personnes faisant partie de la communauté académique que des membres du public. J’espère que d’autres philosophes canadien-ne-s se joindront à moi pour faire ce travail.



    Shannon Dea est professeure agrégée en philosophie à University of Waterloo. Elle travaille en histoire de la philosophie, en philosophie du sexe et du genre, sur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage et en philosophie sociale. Elle est l’auteure de Beyond the Binary : Thinking About Sex and Gender (Peterborough : Broadview, 2016).


    La traduction en français de ce billet a été effectuée par Guillaume Beaulac, chercheur en philosophie et en sciences cognitives, travaillant en philosophie des sciences cognitives, sur la pensée critique et en l’épistémologie (surtout sociale et appliquée).