Friday, January 24, 2020

Too much to do

In a perfect world I'd be submitting something to each of these:

1. Contextual Ethics II: Methods and Approaches
The 11th conference of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society
May 8-9, 2020. Åbo Akademi University, Finland
This conference brings together moral philosophers and ethicists in neighboring fields to reflect on how to do ethics in close conversation with a range of contexts where real life moral decisions are made. It responds to a range of shifts in shared sensibilities among a growing number of ethicists.
The role of the moral philosopher is changing, from that of a solitary theorist in debate with other philosophers, to different roles as author, critic and interlocutor in increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative research ventures. The roles of theory seem to multiply. From having been conceived as the main product of the philosopher’s work, theories are increasingly considered and used as adaptable tools for furthering understanding and analysis in context-bound discussions. The role of moral community as conceived of or implied in the philosophers’ work is also undergoing change. Where normative moral theorists have previously often seen theory as a necessary corrective to the ordinary lives of people, we see an emerging low-key sensibility, where the challenge to think, the intelligence to solve problems and the power to change lie within moral communities. The philosopher’s role is not to be an ethical master mind, but a facilitator in responsible and reflective moral thinking among equals.
But what does it mean to do ethics or moral philosophy in context? What are the theoretical tools, methods and approaches at our disposal?

Invited speakers:
Avner Baz, Tufts University
Camilla Kronqvist, Åbo Akademi University
Hilde Lindemann, Michigan State University
Sarin Marchetti, Sapienza University of Rome

We invite ground-up, contextually embedded and methodologically reflective contributions from ethicists at all career stages, with a variety of theoretical backgrounds, including but not limited to pragmatism, feminist ethics, ethics after Wittgenstein, analytic ethics, and theological ethics. We welcome interdisciplinary contributions from bio-ethics, environmental ethics, ethics in education, animal ethics, sexual ethics, ethics and public policy, and so on. Abstracts of no more than 400 words, for 30 + 15 minute presentations should be sent to by February 15th, 2020.

2. Special Issue: Sats: Northern European Journal of Philosophy
Contextual Ethics
Developing Conceptual and Theoretical Approaches

The importance of context is increasingly in focus in contemporary moral philosophy. Among the reasons for this is the popularity of ’ground-up’ approaches to a large range of topics such as hope, human nature and moral change. Philosophers engage history, anthropology, literature, and empirical research in order to investigate and answer their questions (e.g. Nussbaum 1990; Lear 2006; Appiah 2008, 2010; Guenther 2013). Another reason is  a growing interest in the idea that ‘the ethical’ cannot be exhaustively captured theoretically but is inherently open and interwoven with numerous aspects of human life; a point developed in the work of moral philosophers such as K.E. Løgstrup, Cora Diamond, Alice Crary and Margaret Urban Walker. Approaches such as these give context ethical prominence.

The prominence of context has important consequences for work in moral philosophy and is central in the developing meta-ethical stance that we have coined ‘contextual ethics.’ The aim of the proposed issue is to discuss how to integrate contextual concerns into moral philosophy and develop adequate conceptual and theoretical frameworks for contextualized ethics. Its main focus is thus meta-philosophical: how we are to understand and conceptualize a truly contextual form of moral philosophy. Possible themes of the issue include:

·         How are we to understand the role of context in moral philosophy? What determines the relevant context and how does the inclusion of context affect philosophical work?
·         What is the role of moral theory? Should we continue to consider theories the main product of the philosopher’s work or should they rather be conceived of and used as adaptable tools for furthering understanding and analysis in context bound discussions?
·         What theoretical and conceptual tools are needed to do contextualized ethics?
·         What is the role of the moral philosopher? Is this role changing from that of a theorist in debate with other philosophers, to different roles as author, critic, conceptual  designer and discussant in increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative research ventures?

Guest-editors of the special issue are Cecilie Eriksen, University of Aarhus and Anne-Marie S. Christensen, University of Southern Denmark.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. All manuscripts should adhere to the guidelines for Sats. Northern European Journal of Philosophy, see here: Manuscripts relevant for the special issue will be refereed through a peer-review process.
Manuscripts should be submitted to Deadline for submission is April 17, 2020.

3. Call for Papers
Moral Change
Interdisciplinary workshop organized by the Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value, University of Pardubice, The Czech Republic, 20-21.5.2020

This workshop explores the dynamics of change in the everyday moral frameworks we live by. What happened when slavery became unacceptable in 19th century US? How did the common vice of pawing one’s female employees become an offence that disqualifies a person as leader? How did the father lose his power to rule over the productive, social and sexual lives of spouse and adolescent or grown up children in mainstream western settings? What happens when the previously admired life style of the well to do middle class is, due to climate change, increasingly conceptualized as a moral problem? How should we understand the dynamics of the current conservative backlash, where principles of human rights are supplanted by nationalist concerns? What are the implications of such changes for moral thought?
            Although change is a defining feature of human communal life, explicit attention to it has had a negligible role in the formation of modern Anglophone moral philosophy. Centered on Universalist and general meta-ethical and normative theories, philosophers’ interest in historicity and moral renegotiations has been thin, in spite of important openings toward the history of ethics in late 20th century virtue ethics.
            Against this backdrop of a predominantly ahistorical universalist ethics a pattern of new philosophical work on change is currently emerging, with contributions by Kwame Anthony Appiah (2010), Jonathan Lear (2008), Rahel Jaeggi (2018), Michele Moody-Adams (1997), Philip Kitcher (2011), Nigel Pleasants (2010, 2018), and Cecile Eriksen (2019) among others. Also the booming fields of moral anthropology and the sociology of valuation are currently lively sites for philosophical thinking about moral change. This workshop offers an interdisciplinary platform for continuing and initiating such conversations.

Confirmed speakers:
James Laidlaw, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Megan Laverty, Teachers College, Columbia University
Cecilie Eriksen, Philosophy, Aarhus University
Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen, Philosophy, SDU, Odense
Niklas Forsberg, Centre for Ethics, University of Pardubice
Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon, Centre for Ethics, University of Pardubice

We welcome abstracts from scholars in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, law, education and neighboring fields for papers (30 + 15 min.) on changes of collective moral/ethical norms, concepts, virtues, frameworks and conceptions of personhood, and the  kinds of normative, theoretical and meta-theoretical issues they raise. We are especially interested in cases where fundamental criteria of moral evaluation seem to be in motion.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words should be sent by February 16, 2020 to our conference secretary Philip Strammer: For all queries, please contact Nora Hämäläinen: 

Friday, December 27, 2019

2019 in review

This was a pretty big year for me as I became an empty-nester. Other memorable events were going to Helsinki for a workshop on Wittgenstein's editors, and going to Tokyo for a conference on meaning in life. In Helsinki I spent a day reading correspondence between Anscombe and von Wright, and was struck by how often Anscombe begins her letters by apologizing for not having written sooner. She sounds exhausted and perhaps depressed. Not that she complains or makes excuses, and not that I'm qualified to make any kind of diagnosis on the basis of a few letters, but I think of her now as someone very much working against the odds: a woman in a man's world, a Catholic in a largely secular (and otherwise mostly Protestant) world, and a working mother with seven children and a mostly absent husband (Geach came home from Birmingham only on weekends when he was working). 

I thought about doing a "Two days in Tokyo" post but didn't get around to it. (I was there for longer than that, but an itinerary that includes "attend conference" wouldn't be very interesting) So here goes. Warning: I walked so much that I was limping by the end of each day. The subway is easy to use, and at least some stations seem to have people whose whole job is to help people like me. They speak English too. So maybe I should have made more use of public transport.

Day One: Starting from Hotel Gracery (as seen in the opening credits of Midnight Diner, pronounced as if it were a store selling grace, not one selling grass), walk to the Meiji Shrine (above). It opens at 5 a.m., so you can get there early. This was my single favorite sight, partly because it wasn't too crowded first thing in the morning. Then on to Shibuya Crossing. The best view is from above, inside the Starbucks that Scarlett Johansson walks towards in Lost in Translation. Breakfast in the hotel is expensive and not good, but other places (well, Krispy Kreme anyway) don't open till nine (and if you're jet-lagged as I was you might find yourself getting up around six), so a good idea might be to save breakfast for this Starbucks (maybe get something light first thing from the very nice 7-Eleven in the hotel building). I had a sweet potato drink that was delicious. Next stop: the Hie Shrine. Then on to the Imperial Palace. If you plan ahead (i.e., make a reservation or at least look up what ID you need to join a tour if places are available) you can go on a free (?) guided tour (I didn't). But it doesn't sound great--tour groups are very large and you have to stay with the group the whole time. It takes about two hours. Frankly, since you can't actually go into the palace (even tour groups don't go inside any buildings, as far as I know), it's not super impressive. The walk did take me by the parliament, though, which I hadn't expected, and one of the heavily armed police guarding it saluted me, which was about the friendliest encounter I had while I was there. Japanese people seem to be very polite but reserved. That's a total of 17.5 kilometers walking, according to Google maps, plus walking around at the Meiji Shrine (essential) and the Imperial Palace (not). For lunch I went to a Lawson store and had an egg salad sandwich, two drinks (walking is thirsty work) and some kind of incredibly delicious mochi. (Warning: the things I call delicious above are quite possibly just very sweet. They seemed delicious at the time.) After all that it's time for a hot bath and back out for dinner.

Day Two: Take the subway to Ueno Park, where there are several temples and shrines worth seeing, and visit the Tokyo National Museum. It's actually several museums in one place, and has an excellent restaurant. Then explore Yanaka and Nezu Shrine before hobbling back to the subway station.

At some point--I think it must have been at the end of one of the conference days--I took the subway to the Sensoji Temple, which is very crowded and touristy, but worth seeing. So maybe three days would be better than two. According to Wikitravel, the main things to see are the Meiji Shrine, Sensoji Temple, and the Imperial Palace, so this itinerary covers those bases. Others say the main things are Shibuya Crossing (also covered) and the nightlife of Shinjuku (covered if you stay at Hotel Gracery and go out for dinner). I got out just before Typhoon Hagibis struck, which was lucky.

So that was Tokyo.

What else happened? I went to three concerts (Belle and Sebastian, Kacey Musgraves, and Elvis Costello) and found that how much I enjoyed it varied a lot and was directly proportional to how close I sat to the front. I think I liked Joker best of the movies I saw, but I still haven't seen Marriage Story, The Two PopesLittle Women, or Parasite, so it's too early for me to make my all-important pronouncement on best film of the year. Finally, TV. Of the shows listed here, my favorites are BoJack Horseman and Bron-Broen. My top other three of the decade would be Babylon Berlin, 30 Degrees in February, and Watchmen.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Bernt Österman on G. H. von Wright

I haven't read it yet, but the latest from the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy is sure to be good:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

New Nordic Wittgenstein Review

Vol 8 No 1-2 (2019): Volume 8 / Number 1-2 (2019) is here. Featuring James Klagge, Randy Ramal, and others, and book reviews by Lars Hertzberg, Camilla Kronqvist, and others. The books reviewed include ones by Oskari Kuusela, Sean Wilson, and Rupert Read. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Wittgenstein reviews

Here's Anat Matar on Wittgenstein in the 1930s. She likes it, calling the collection:
a fantastic example of what "philosophy as activity" actually means: a blessed anti-dogmatism and philosophical unease which yield moments of pure, genuine philosophy. The present volume, then, does a great service for Wittgenstein scholars and followers -- not only because of the depth and quality of the essays comprising it but also in reminding us what philosophy "as an activity" may mean.
I suspect this link won't work, but my review of Ethics in the Wake of Wittgenstein is up at Philosophical Investigations. Here's the conclusion:
the collection as a whole is successful. Whether non‐Wittgensteinian ethicists will pay much attention‚ is another question. They will not if they misunderstand Wittgensteinian views, which is why contributions such as Lovibond's and Taylor's are especially valuable. Nor will they if Wittgensteinian ethics appears to be backward‐looking, with nothing new to offer, which is one reason why the work of philosophers such as Christensen and Diamond is exciting. Two of the most insightful papers, by Hertzberg and Diamond, bring up questions about truth, reasoning, forms of life, and what it means to have a shared reality. These are very much the kinds of issues that Wittgenstein himself addressed, and we might also hope that these essays will help encourage non‐Wittgensteinians to see that there is much to be gained from paying attention not only to those who work in his wake but to Wittgenstein himself. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Forma de Vida 17 (Anscombe)

The Portuguese journal Forma de Vida has a special issue on Anscombe with articles in English by me, Nuno Venturinha, and others, and (not new) articles in Portuguese by Alasdair MacIntyre, Cora Diamond, James Conant, and others. It looks really good, partly because of photography by Ana Frias. My article is a re-working of thoughts that started out in this post.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"A lot of things happened."

Candace Vogler's autobiographical essay is remarkable, and not only for the horrors she recounts having been done to her (and others). I hesitate to say anything critical given this context, but along the way she says this:
I had started reading work by G.E.M. Anscombe in graduate school. I loved Intention. It seemed likely that there was a ghost writer at work in that slender volume, and it seemed clear that it wasn’t Aristotle. I knew that Anscombe was a devout Catholic, a convert, so I suspected that the ghost author could be Aquinas.
Exactly what "there was a ghost writer at work in" Anscombe's book means is hard to say: it could mean that only a few parts were 'ghost-written', or that it all was. But I think this is a bad way to approach Anscombe's work. No doubt she was influenced by Aquinas, as she was by Wittgenstein and Aristotle (whom she openly talks about). It is, nevertheless, her work, the product of very difficult and careful thinking. And she deserves full credit for it. (I don't think Vogler would deny this at all, but inviting the inference is a danger inherent in what she says here. And she's not the only Anscombe scholar who makes remarks like this.)