MA grad and TA Anthony Nguyen receives his Achievement Award from FASS Dean, Jane Pulkingham


Philosophy News Update October 2019

October 30, 2019

News and updates from the department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University.


Congratulations to philosophy professor, Nic Fillion and to MA grad Anthony Nguyen on their recent awards from FASS (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences).
Anthony Nguyen, who successfully defended his MA paper earlier this year, won a FASS Employee Achievement Award for his work as a TA for our Philosophy undergraduate courses. 
Nic won a Cormack Teaching Award; the committee noted that he’s managed to boost class enrollments in logic through strategic use of humour. In an interview with FASS, Nic also admits to tricking students into critical thinking by creating a course on conspiracy theories. 

Nic Fillion (R) with fellow Cormack Award winners (L-R) Danielle Murdoch (CRIM), Marianne Ignace (FNLP) and Panos Pappas (LING)

Teaching News

Dai Heide steps down as undergraduate chair in the department, with Tom Donaldson stepping into the role. Thank you to Dai for his years managing undergrad education and thank you to Tom for stepping into the role.

Over the summer, Grad Chair Holly Andersen set up a directed reading group with some of the MA program students. As a writing assignment, they prepared submissions to the Pacific APA. Shimin Zhao, Zili Dong, and Weixing Cai all had their papers (related in one way or another to causal modeling) accepted to the program.

As noted by SFU Philosophy chair, Evan Tiffany, this is quite an achievement.
"[As a result of Holly’s] multi-semester reading group aimed at helping students produce professional-quality papers, three students ended up submitting their papers to the annual Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association; all three were accepted into the main program. To put this in context, the APA has an overall acceptance rate of around 25% and all submission are blind reviewed, so the MA submissions are in direct competition with submissions from faculty and doctoral candidates."


Holly Andersen and Nic Fillion also have recent publication success. Holly’s paper on causal modeling, developing a rationalization condition to strengthen inferential power under specific conditions will be coming out in a volume (preprint with info here).

Nic co-wrote Concepts of solution and the finite element method: A philosophical take on variational crimes for Philosophy & Technology [Fillion, N. and Corless, R.M. (2019)]. When he wasn’t catching salmon (photo for proof, or it didn’t happen!!) he also presented the paper in Geneva at the European Philosophy of Science Association and at the Numerical Computations: Theory and Algorithms (as an invited talk) in Crotone in June.

Conferences and Workshops

Chelsea Rosenthal gave a talk in August at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress at University of Colorado, Boulder. The talk was called “Losing Privacy and Living a Sound Bite Life".
Abstract: When we live under observation, not only do others see pieces of our lives, they also overlook a great deal. Surveillance and data monitoring algorithms may only call attention to activities with certain features, social media followers may browse past half of our posts, and no one is likely to experience the full context of our words and actions. I raise two interrelated problems this may cause. First, if others see limited pieces of our private information, this may leave them with epistemically justified, false beliefs about us. Second, these privacy losses may cause us to lead more fragmented lives, crafting lives that increasingly emphasize strings of soundbites and Instagram-worthy images rather than lives that are richer, coherent wholes. Further, I suggest this problem may help explain what is being “chilled” (and why it matters), when privacy scholars worry that losing privacy can have a “chilling effect” on innocent behavior.

Holly Andersen presented a workshop on constitutive relevance with Rutgers and Seton Hall in New Jersey in October, organized by Ken Aizawa and Mark Couch.

MA Program News and Student Research

Our MA program students have been busy presenting their work.
Lauren Perry will be presenting her pro-paper—working title "Provocation's Patriarchal Past: Debunking the Concession to Human Frailty"—at the Midwest SWIP Conference at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio at the beginning of November. 

Abstract: Provocation is a partial defence, which if successful reduces the charge of murder to manslaughter. A killing is provoked if defendant killed in anger because the victim committed a wrongful act or insult. The defence is controversial: many feminists argue the defence should be revised or abolished, because it perpetuates undesirable masculine norms of violence and anger-expression towards women. Others, while sympathetic to feminist arguments, defend provocation on the grounds it acts as a “concession to human frailty.” This paper offers two debunking arguments against the “concession to human frailty.” The first is historical: provocation emerged not as a concession to human frailty but as mitigation for aristocratic men who acted to preserve their honour. Second, I argue that the contemporary defence, despite a reconceptualization in terms of “loss-of-self-control,” functions analogously to the historical defence. Provocation should be abolished: it is a not a concession to human frailty, but mitigation for those who kill to preserve their social and moral status in an unjust system.

Hesam Mohamadi is presenting a paper, "Adaptable Flexibility: An Engineering Lesson from Your Colleagues" at The Public Issues and Public Reason conference (PIPR) at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Abstract: Philosophy of Technology and Value Sensitive Design have gained noticeable attention in recent years, and they have become mature areas of philosophical studies. One of the pillars of Value Sensitive Design is the stress on the claim that technical artifacts and sociotechnical systems (hereinafter “technologies”) should promote the current values of society. To achieve this goal, engineers sometimes ought to design flexible technologies to facilitate promoting different values in different situations (for instance, for the situations that the values of society change), while they sometimes have to design inflexible technologies that only serve a singular value. However, in certain technologies always being flexible or always being inflexible is not desirable. We may need to temporarily take flexibility from a flexible technology or add flexibility into an inflexible technology. Thus, proposing a design approach that enables shifting between flexibility and inflexibility is advantageous. In this paper, I explain that the practice of computer programming has eye-opening intuitions for other engineers in this respect: Programmers have been embedding a feature into their designs that, considering the literature of the subject, can be called as adaptable flexibility, and I propose that the same feature should be considered in all engineering designs.
Computer programmers differentiate between two controlling cores that determine the tasks of technologies. One core is responsible for realizing the direct orders of users. For example, in Care Robots a controlling core is in charge of fulfilling daily needs of the patient. This core embeds flexibility into the technology. Meanwhile, another core is in charge of restricting flexibility if the predominant values are at stake. For instance, in care robots, the tasks of the first core are suspended and the second core takes control when the safety of the patient is in danger. This core thus realizes adaptable flexibility. In this paper, I argue that embedding two excluding controlling cores that are sensitive to different inputs – like in the case of Care Robots – is the key to adaptable flexibility. I propose that other engineers have to pay attention to this feature – if they already do not – as they should consider shifting between flexibility and inflexibility, while embedding adaptable flexibility into their designs is not necessarily desirable in all cases.

Reza Abdolrahmani has delivered a presentation at the WCPA at the University of Lethbridge—"Beliefs Are More Than Solitary Islands: A Bayesian Rebuttal of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism".


It’s time to bring the Ethics Bowl to your classroom. Nic Fillion is recruiting high school classes to train for the second BC Ethics Bowl. There is also a French language version planned so please get in touch or share our invitation.



Study Philosophy at SFU

Upcoming Events