Provocateurs wanted.

Do you enjoy thinking about what others say as much as they enjoy arguing their own views?

The Langara College Department of Philosophy invites you to attend the Philosophers' Jam, a forum for the expression of provocative ideas. This dialogue series is intended for people who want to discuss ideas but whose busy lives prevent them from signing up for a credit course. 

Philosophers' Jams are free and open to all Langara faculty, staff, and students, as well as the general public. Bring a friend or colleague and see you at the next Jam session! Just scroll down to register for any of the upcoming talks.

Philosophers’ Jam 2021-2022 Schedule 

September 30, 2021: 4-6 PM 
Speaker: Regina Rini
Location: Zoom 
Title: Social media algorithms and democratic political culture

AbstractOur online conversations are increasingly arranged by computers. Algorithms determine which content we see and which people we interact with. Algorithms necessarily treat us as statistical objects – bundles of predictive features that can be manipulated to drive ‘engagement’ and ad revenue. What has been less widely appreciated is that living with algorithmically-mediated discourse may be conditioning us to also think about each other in this statistical way. Here I explore that possibility and trace its troubling implications. Can the perceived legitimacy of democracy withstand a shift from thinking about co-citizens as moral equals to one instead thinking about them as just more data? 

Format: This will be a synchronous online talk via zoom.  See below to register.

Bio: Dr. Rini is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at York University and the Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Moral and Social Cognition. Before that, she was Assistant Professor / Faculty Fellow at the NYU Center for Bioethics, a postdoctoral research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University, and a junior research fellow of Jesus College Oxford. Her work focuses on moral agency, moral disagreement, the psychology of moral judgment, partisanship in political epistemology, and the moral status of artificial intelligence. In addition to her many peer-reviewed academic publications, she has also contributed a number of public writings intended for a more general audience.  

December 3, 2021: 3:30-5:30 PM 
Speaker: Maya Goldenberg
Location: Zoom

Title: Rethinking Vaccine Hesitancy

Abstract: Because vaccine hesitancy has been framed as a problem of public misunderstanding of science, vaccine outreach has focused on educating the misguided publics. Where efforts to change vaccine attitudes have failed, cynicism has bred the harsher view that the publics are anti-science and anti-expertise. Yet research into science and the publics lends strong support to the view that public attitudes regarding scientific claims turn crucially on epistemic trust rather than familiarity with science itself. It follows that it is poor trust in the expert sources that engender vaccine hesitancy. This consideration redraws the lines of responsibility, where vaccine hesitancy signals a problem with scientific governance rather than a problem with the wayward publics. In order to improve vaccine communications, we should focus on building that trust rather than educating the misinformed publics or puzzling over the moral and epistemic failings of the publics. Doing this does not discount that public health agencies have the science on their sides. It does mean recognizing that the best science is not enough to ensure public uptake of health recommendations.

Format: This will be a synchronous online talk via zoom.  See below to register.

Bio: Dr. Goldenberg is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Guelph University. Her research addresses the fundamental epistemic question, “How do we know what to believe?” (or when are knowledge claims justified) in health care. Her past work has addressed this question in the pressing context of evidence-based medicine, the decision making framework that relies on clinical trial evidence (especially randomized controlled trials) to inform individual patient care. More recently, she has written on vaccine hesitancy.

February 3, 2022: 6-7:30 PM 
Speaker: Jonathan Fuller
Location: Zoom
Topic: Explaining and Intervening in Epidemics

Abstract: The twentieth century epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose proposed two principles that continue to influence epidemiology today. The first principle states that the causes of cases are different from the causes of the incidence in a population; the second states that population strategies that involve intervening in populations are more effective than high-risk strategies that involve intervening in the lives of vulnerable individuals. Contemporary epidemiologist Nancy Krieger argues that (contrary to a common misconception) epidemiology is a science that is rife with scientific theories. With this in mind, can we understand Rose’s principles as constituting an epidemiological theory? I explore the meaning of Rose’s principles in the context of infectious disease epidemics, using as my example the COVID-19 pandemic. I argue that in contrast to compartment modeling for epidemics, which I suggest is indeed based on an epidemiological theory, Rose’s principles offer a population perspective for epidemiology and are best interpreted as claims about contrastive explanations and predictions in epidemiology.

Format: This will be a synchronous online talk via zoom. 

Bio: Dr. Fuller is an Assistant Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on the philosophy of medicine.  He is currently working on the problem of what general attitude we should take towards the results of biomedical and clinical research, as well as the historical-philosophical question of what makes scientific medicine today fundamentally the same compared to scientific medicine a hundred years ago – and what makes it fundamentally different.  He has also worked and published on a range of topics related to covid-19, the metaphysics and classification of contemporary diseases, the modelling of diseases and medical interventions, causal inference, and the philosophy of psychiatry, among other topics.

March 17, 2022: 4-5:30 PM 
Speaker: Sigal Ben-Porath
Location: Zoom
Topic: Free Speech on Campus

Abstract: Campuses have again become arenas for the culture wars, and free speech is a focal point of this struggle. This talk will focus on the role of truth and inclusion as two core values that help determine the boundaries of campus speech. Dr. Ben-Porath considers both their use and their limitations, and looks at recent speech controversies to illustrate a constructive approach to managing the politics and practice of campus free speech.

Format: This will be a synchronous online talk via zoom. 

Bio: Dr. Ben-Porath is an associate member of the philosophy and political science departments at the University of Pensylvania. She is also an executive committee member of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, and has previously served as a fellow in residence at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard and as a postdoctoral research associate at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.  Her past research focuses on democratic theory and practice, and the ways institutions like schools and colleges can sustain and advance democracy. Her books include Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice is Really About (2019), Free Speech on Campus (2017) and Varieties of Sovereignty and Citizenship (2012), as well as Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice (2010) and Citizenship under Fire: Democratic Education in Times of Conflict (2006). She is currently continuing her work on campus free speech, and is researching the promise of civic dialogue in schools and colleges.

May 26, 2022: 7-9 PM 
Speaker: Christopher C. Yorke
Location: Room L224 
Topic: Bernard Suits and the Paradox of the Perfectly Played Game

Abstract: In Return of the Grasshopper (Routledge 2022; forthcoming) Bernard Suits interrogates the possibility and desirability of seeking “A Perfectly Played Game,” using characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to give voice to various philosophical issues regarding the relationship of skill, luck, and game design to the principle of fairness. This presentation will shed new light on Suits’ utopian thesis (the idea that a life consisting entirely of gameplay is the ‘ideal of existence’) by arguing that utopian games are impossible on his own account, due to his acceptance of the paradox of the perfectly played game. For Suits’ utopians represent perfectly matched (and omniscient) opponents, to whom contests of pure skill would essentially reduce to a series of coin flips, and a lifetime of such contingent outcomes would not constitute sufficiently boredom-defeating or existentially meaningful activity on his utopian schema. However, this result only follows if one accepts Suits’ definition of a ‘perfectly fair game’—as I do not, and instead argue that an alternate conception of fairness, utilizing a more grounded apprehension of the effects of chance, is equally viable. I conclude by outlining potential routes for finding meaning and fairness in well-designed hybrid games wherein skill and chance both play balanced roles, and thereby offer a coherent restoration of the plausibility of Suits’ utopian thesis, at the cost of his paradox of a perfectly played game.

Format: This talk will take place on-campus in room L224, and will follow all provincial and College health guidelines for indoor events that are in place at that time. Register below to receive further updates. 

Speaker Dinner: There will also be a pre-talk dinner with the speaker. Please email kschmor@langara.ca to RSVP for that. 

Bio: Dr. Yorke is a Philosophy Instructor at Langara College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Formerly, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate on an International Olympic Committee-funded project in the philosophy of sport at the Open University (United Kingdom), and an Adjunct Expert in the philosophy of leisure at Zhejiang University (China). His work focuses on ideal societies, human capacities, and meaningful activity. He has published several recent articles on these topics in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport and Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, and has co-edited an unabridged volume of Bernard Suits’ Return of the Grasshopper, which is forthcoming from Routledge later this year.

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