View from WMC - T Donaldson


Fall 2020 News from SFU Philosophy

January 27, 2021

Huge congratulations to all our philosophers who made it through the fall term. Whether you’re faculty, instructor, seasoned undergrad, staff or newly arrived student (big wave to our first year undergrads, and to the MA grad program students who have just arrived in Canada) – congratulations! You made it!

In action, Smackdown and bringing home the gnome.

Awards and promotions

Congratulations to Nicolas Fillion on his promotion to Associate Professor in the department. Although currently on research sabbatical this year, Nic is still fully engaged in regional and national Ethics Bowl competitions. The BC heat will take place on Saturday, February 20th as an online competition. Please contact Nic if you’d like to volunteer as a judge or moderator.

Congratulations also to our graduate Chair, Holly Andersen and first-year MA graduate student Aaron Richardson on recent awards.
Holly was recently awarded a research grant from the FQXI Institute. The grant will allow Andersen to extend her ongoing research in the temporal structure of experience and the moment of consciousness to connect it to her other research on mathematical explanations.

Aaron, who also wrote and co-directed the Procrastination 105 video while at The Peak (you might have seen on our Future Philosopher page), received the Special Graduate Entrance Scholarship at the beginning of the fall semester. There’s a cool profile of him on the Grad Studies, where you can also learn a little more about the award.

Defenses and Farewells

While we love successful MA defences, we’re also sad since this often means goodbye. Lauren Perry, who managed to squeeze in writing this excellent piece for Women’s History Month alongside her studies, and Reza Abdolrahmani both successfully defended their pro papers in the fall term. We wish them farewell and all best wishes on the next adventure.

Presentations and Conferences

MA program student, Hesam Mohamadi presented a paper, “What do advanced sex robots teach? "at" the University of Twente in a conference titled "Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations (PHTR)".  

Please click + to show abstract

Abstract: Lily Frank & Sven Nyholm explain that people learn how to interact with human partners in the discourse of the sexual interaction with sex-robots (2017). Therefore, the interaction with sex-robots must require consent, thereby training people that consent is the requirement of any sexual interaction. I consider three proposals for how it is possible – technologically – to embed the ability of granting consent into sex-robots:

1) Ritual-based methods,

2) Randomization-based methods,

3) Rejecting-based methods.

I argue that while the second and the third proposals have certain advantages, each of the proposals would solidify distorted attitudes about the nature of consent and sex in general. People buy sex-robots (in the cases of the commercialized personal sex-robots) and they know that these robots exist exclusively to provide sexual services (in the case of the robots who are rented or serve in brothels). Therefore, if people assimilate sex-robots to humans, the emergence of sex-robots would promote rape-culture, irrespective of whether the robots announce consent. I conclude that we must focus on the question of how to design and regulate the production and the commercialization of sex-robots in the way that people could always acknowledge the difference between sex-robots, on one hand, and humans and other intelligent robots, in the other. If I am right, requiring consent in the interaction with sex-robots can be counterproductive, as it may misguide people to conceive sex-robots as persons.

In addition to his abstract, Hesam has also written an account of his experience in this virtual conference space.

What was the experience like, compared to regular conference presentation?
- In general, it was a good experience, but it was not a real conference.

Positive things: It is always difficult and expensive to travel to conferences. As an Iranian, it is sometimes impossible. The online conferences make it possible for us to attend conferences amidst all our duties.

Negative things: I had a lot to do in the routine of my life when I was attending the conference. In this sense, the conference seemed like an extra activity, devoid of any special weight. Remember the days that we emptied our program for one week when we had a presentation at a conference. We used to travel to new places, experiencing new weather, new foods, and new people, which could re-energize us for the next months. It didn't happen at this conference. I had to wake up at 4 am to attend the conference, which meant I was too sleepy to listen to most of the talks. After my own presentation, I had to run to a tutorial session (i.e. my job as the TA at SFU), which means that I couldn't even hear some of the comments about my own work.

How did you present your work:
- It was very interesting. They asked for a recording of a presentation. On the day of the presentation, they just played the video, and the presenter was there to answer the questions that the audience asked.

What I did for the presentation was just sitting behind the laptop and talking, as if I was in a real presentation. I thought it was the most natural way to handle it, and I thought that that is what everybody would do. It wasn't the case! Most talks (like 90 percent of them) were much like paper-reading than a normal presentation. I think people took their time to make sure their presentation has a uniform tone and that it doesn't include pauses, which I'm not sure is the best thing to happen in a presentation, but anyway, it caused my presentation to seem a little bit off-beat on the day. So, I recommend people to prepare the exact text of their presentation and practice it a couple of times so that their recording doesn't have unnecessary pauses or corrections.

Was any networking on the platform available, and generally how did it differ from being there in person? For example, did you make use of the Mozilla Hubs social space?
- The networking opportunities were substantially less than what I expected. Mozilla Hubs was cool but was not very useful for the purpose of networking. In the breaks, you could find fewer than 10 to 20 people - in total - in the different rooms that they had prepared for discussions (while apparently more than 400 people were registered for the conference). It was quite easy to dominate the discussions of the rooms - people did it a lot. So you could see that more than half of the people in the room left the room without saying even a word.

Incoming MA program student, Sherif Salem presented at VICTR 2020 in December. You can view his presentation, On Modal Truth, captured on YouTube.

In the Media

The current global pandemic is certainly seeing a lot of activity in science and technology, with media appearances from these SFU faculties. But we’ve also seen contributions from our philosophers.

Both department chair, Evan Tiffany and grad chair, Holly Andersen have taken part in media interviews that put forward the philosophical context in these unprecedented events. Note: links to the radio interviews themselves are not permanent and may already be broken at time of reading.

Evan’s framing of dilemma was reported by the CBC online in this story and on radio.

Meanwhile, Holly gave some insight into how our perception of time is altered.


Dai Heide’s article titled “Rationalism and Kant’s Rejection of the Ontological Argument” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Abstract = Kant rejects the ontological argument on the grounds that the ontological argument inescapably must assume that existence is a "determination" or "real predicate," which it is not. Most understand Kant's argument for this claim to be premised upon his distinctive proto-Fregean theory of existence. But this leaves Kant dialectically vulnerable: the defender of the ontological argument can easily reject this as question-begging. I show that Kant relies upon two distinct arguments, both of which contend that the claim that existence is a determination is inconsistent with bedrock ontological set pieces assumed by rationalist defenders of the ontological argument.

We celebrated World Philosophy Day on November 19th with a news post. Professors, grad students and undergrads wrote (and sketched) pieces to dispel the notion that philosophy is the solely the property of dead white European men in togas. Many thanks to faculty, undergrad and MA grad students Jenn Wang, Nic Bommarito, Sherif Salem, Lisa Shapiro, and Matheus Mazzochi for their excellent contributions.

And a somewhat quirky publication also hit the digital world before the winter break. Two of Evan’s PHIL 120W: Moral and Legal Problems students submitted a multi-media piece for a final assignment. Anita Lo and Nicole Feng tackled MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) in this incredible video (YouTube). 
The two students have also given permission to use their work on our department website and to promote the course on social media channels.



Study Philosophy at SFU

Upcoming Events