CFP: Philosophical Activism Conference

This is not an Integrity Project event, but may well be of interest.

Philosophical Activism, 30-31 October 2014, Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS), Durham University, Durham (UK)
Philosophy as an academic field has become increasingly interested in the epistemic, political, ethical, social, and moral complexities that surround public policy deliberations.

On the one hand, important theoretical work is undertaken, for instance, on the application possibilities and limitations of scientific findings for good policy practice. There have been calls for something like applied philosophy of the social sciences. Others have sketched a problem-driven rather than theory-driven approach for those moral and political philosophers who aim to make their work more relevant to vexing socio-political issues like health policy, gambling, or economic regulation.

On the other hand, from a more practical angle, philosophers have often served on governmental advisory committees (e.g., Onora O’Neill currently chairing the Equality and Human Rights Commission; Mary Warnock chairing the 1974 Warnock Committee Inquiry on Special Education) and independent bodies and charities aiming to influence public policy and understanding (e.g., Jonathan Wolff currently serving on the Responsible Gambling Trust and Homicide Review Group).

Such contributions, both theoretical and practical, are arguably one cluster of ways to be philosophically active. It also invites philosophical reflection, though, for instance:

  • actual and potential arguments to involve philosophers (rather than, e.g., social or natural  scientists, other humanities-trained professionals, artists, …,) in public policy;
  • what mutual expectations are at play: what do governmental or independent advisory bodies expect from philosophers and what do philosophers expect from the bodies?various ways and levels of philosophical contribution to public policy: is the contribution best understood as situated on the level of the discipline or of the individual? in what forums can meaningful contributions arise? how to understand philosophical partisanship?
  • to what extent public policy needs—if at all—the philosopher’s skills or rather the philosopher’s command of a body of philosophical thought;
  • what are or could be shared concerns (moral, social, religious, secular, …) of philosophers that motivate collective action in public policy; why would or should philosophers (not) engage in collective action?
  • case studies of the complexities of philosophical involvement in public policy;
  • how philosophers’ contributions, both theoretical and practical, may be dependent on regional and national contexts or times.

We invite papers on these and other issues relevant to the wider theme of the workshop, i.e. philosophy and public policy. We aim to bring together philosophers from the UK, continental Europe and beyond in the historic city of Durham. Depending on the quality and amount of abstracts received, it will be a one or two-day workshop.

Please send your abstract (300 words) to by Friday 13 June 2014.

Applicants will be notified of acceptance two weeks after the deadline.

Programme committee:
Anna de Bruyckere –
Nancy Cartwright –
Rune Nyrup –
Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society, Durham University
Tom Claes –
Laszlo Kosolosky –
Gaston Meskens –
Centre for Ethics and Value Inquiry, Ghent University


‘Philosophical Activism’ – Project overview

What is philosophical activism? What makes philosophy into philosophical activism and how does it relate to the widely accepted notion of philosophy as first and foremost a reflective endeavour? If the ‘love of wisdom’ motivates, as it is said, a critical systematic approach and a reliance on rational argument, under what conditions then can this critical stance become an activist stance? How does such an activist stance affect the rationality and credibility of philosophical arguments? And why, in general, should philosophy (not) be considered activism as such?

Answering these questions implies not only reflecting on what philosophy is, can be and perhaps should (not) be, but also on the motivations we might have to engage in philosophy and on the character of the fields and places where the philosopher seeks rapprochement as well as confrontation. Thinking through the question what philosophical activism could or should (not) be, is a self-reflective philosophical quest. At the same time, it is also an activist intervention in the positioning of philosophy in the real world.

‘Philosophical Activism’ comprises a series of one-day workshops that focus on the depths and widths of what it means to be philosophically active.

1) (Meta-) reflections from the field (Ghent, 15 February 2013)
2) Expressing discontent: Appropriate or not? And if so, when, where and how? (Ghent, 25 October 2013)
3) Philosophy and public policy (Durham, 30-31 October 2014)

About Rachael Wiseman

Dr Rachael Wiseman is a post-doctoral researcher in Philosophy at Durham University.
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