International PhD Studentships, deadline 31 January 2019

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Ten Years after Lehman: Professor Emma Borg on the Financial Crisis

On Reading’s Connecting Research blog, Professor Emma Borg considers how we might avoid another financial crisis.

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Dr James Stazicker: connecting philosophy and science

James’ research into consciousness and sensory perception is crossing the boundaries between philosophy and science, and is discovering pressing questions for humankind around artificial intelligence.

James teaches a first-year module on artificial intelligence at the University of Reading, which is informed directly by his research. James participated in a joint project alongside a Professor of Psychology at the University, exploring the theory that vision is action-based: the way artificial intelligence approaches vision suggests it has more in common with our motor actions than we’ve previously thought. James introduced questions about the potentials and limits of the theory, to get a better understanding of what could be achieved.

This research-led teaching enables students to be a part of his discoveries as his project evolves.

Through his teaching James stresses the importance of trying to understand which artificial systems really are intelligent like humans, and which might come to matter in the way that humans matter. A lot of things get called artificial intelligence – for example, driverless cars and computer-based systems for diagnosing diseases – but perhaps aren’t actually conscious.

James is exploring how we can tell when something has true consciousness: the difference between being something and stimulating it. These are going to be compelling questions for humans over the next few decades.

James hopes to continue to connect the philosophy and the science in his pursuit to understand a person’s conscious state. He is driven by wanting to understand how our brain does things, how we connect with the world, and how an understanding of consciousness can improve people’s lives.

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International Women’s Day – Eva Van Herel

We continue to celebrate #InternationalWomensDay by speaking with Eva Van Herel, Executive Support Administrator for the School of Humanities. Join in the conversation using  #UoRWomen.

Area of work
Executive Support Administrator at the School of Humanities.

How did you get into this line of work?
By accident. A friend suggested it might suit my personality and pointed me towards a vacancy.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The people! While I’m a bit of a geek and can be happily absorbed in spreadsheets or mail-merges, the joy of work is in the people I work with.

What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment in your career?
Learning to give up on the right things. The word career doesn’t really apply as my work history is, shall we say, diverse. I’ve done a bit of everything. As a result I am not very high up the career ladder, and that’s all right with me. I have taught refugee children a new language, started a business and failed at it, was a stay at home mother, coded websites, taken photographs which have been used on greeting cards, and was recently Chief Hatmaker for Terry Pratchett’s Masquerade at the Progress Theatre.

At my day job, apart from keeping the exec support office ticking over, I like to have a project or two on the go. Next up is creating some short help videos on how to use the CRM software to edit the university websites. I’m also part of the group that created a community of practise for the Executive Support administrators, which brings together the almost 100 of us who are spread out all over the Reading campuses, and I look forward to keeping it the useful group it has become.

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to embark upon a career in the same field?
To be honest I have no idea. Advice is no use if it is not made to measure. If you wish generic advice, read Marcus Aurelius. Please do something that will make you happy – life is a journey, if your job is not a good fit, try something else!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?
The people in the toastmasters group I joined over ten years ago. I found my self-confidence there and learned a lot. 

What are your aspirations for the future?
I’m to be costume manager for the Jesus Christ Superstar production at the Progress Theatre this autumn, although that’s a voluntary role of course. At work I’d like to wiggle my way into a role that focuses even more on projects or that would allow me more interaction with people, working on some common goal.

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International Women’s Day – Professor Emma Borg

Today is #InternationalWomensDay. To celebrate we are speaking to Professor of Philosophy, Emma Borg about her work in the philosophy of mind, language and pain. Join in the conversation using #UoRWomen.
Research/teaching specialisation
Philosophy of mind and language – in particular the difference between literal meaning and communicated meaning, and what you might have in your mind/brain which makes language understanding possible. I also specialise in the philosophy of pain, and recently I’ve been working on behaviour and ethical practice in the workplace (particularly with respect to the financial services sector).
What inspired you to work in academia in this area?
Initially I went to King’s College London to study English, but I found didn’t like it at all – there didn’t really seem to be any wrong answers, rather it seemed to be just a matter of opinion. So then I thought about trying Art History but was told I’d need to study German and Italian in the first year and I didn’t fancy that. The only other A-level I had taken was Ethics and Religious Studies, so finally I went to the King’s College London Philosophy Department and asked if I could try Philosophy. They said yes, and as soon as I began I fell in love with the subject. It was just the right combination of the creativity and essay writing of an arts subject, with the rigour and objectivity of a science, where you get to try to ask and answer the most fundamental questions possible. So I’ve stuck with it ever since.
Was there a moment when you realised that you had become a successful academic?
It always still surprises me when I meet someone at a conference and introduce myself and they already know who I am or have read something I’ve written! That always makes me feel pretty successful. Also when you get the sense that people are taking your views seriously in meetings, that’s a kind of academic success too.
What advice would you give to prospective students wanting to become involved in this area of research, or to embark on an academic career?
First, be resilient. It is commonplace for early career academics now to have a succession of short-term contracts before finally landing a tenured job (if they’re lucky) and that lack of security, and the need for mobility, is obviously really hard. As is the need to perform on all fronts (publication, teaching, admin) when you don’t necessarily know where you’ll be from year to year. So you need to be pretty strong to cope with what the academic job market is likely to throw at you.
Second, preserve your passion. It can be easy to lose track of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and get swallowed up by aspects of the job that aren’t so rewarding (like admin). So finding time to focus on why you actually want an academic job, and what it is that you love doing, can help.
Who inspired you to get to where you are now?
Not a very original answer, but my Mum. I grew up in a single-parent family and she always instilled in me the belief that it was fine to have a go at things even if you didn’t know how they’d turn out. Whether it was becoming a motorcycle courier (my first job) or a philosopher, she always made me feel I could do anything I wanted to.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I’d like to do more research carrying over my views in philosophy of language to more applied areas (like the study of law and regulation). And if we could manage to deliver some answers from the collaborative project I am working on in the philosophy of pain – which actually succeeded in helping those who are suffering from pain (particularly chronic pain) – even just a bit, that would be pretty wonderful.
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Spring Term 2018 Visiting Speakers

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International PhD studentships: deadline 26 Jan.

The Department of Philosophy has been successful in the past with these highly competitive, university-wide PhD grants for international (non-EU) students. See here for further information.

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Chancellor’s Awards 2017: Amy Hodgman, BA Philosophy

The University of Reading Chancellor’s Awards are presented to our brightest and best students from across the University’s broad range of academic disciplines.
We spoke to one of the Department’s winners, Amy Hodgman, about why she chose to study Philosophy, and about her time here at Reading.
What inspires you about Philosophy?
Studying philosophy provides me with the opportunity to learn about the many differing ways in which people understand our world and how we should behave in it. Philosophy has allowed me to question, and then strengthen, my own ideas about life, as well as gain a much greater appreciation for others’ beliefs.
Why did you choose to come to Reading to study?
I chose to study here because of the wide range of modules the Department offer. Last year I got the chance to learn about many diverse areas of philosophy, from world religions to more modern, radical philosophies. In particular, I was really excited about studying elementary logic as this was completely new to me. Also, the campus truly felt like a community with so many on-campus bars and cafes, a brilliant Students’ Union, and a beautiful, green campus.
What was the highlight of 2016/17?
Being able to meet so many new people, and making lots of friends that I can share my time here with! I lived with a lovely group of people, joined many societies, and took up a part-time job in the local area. It was great because I have also been able to meet people of many different backgrounds to myself and have learnt a lot about the world we live in!
What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time?
I want to be teaching religious studies at a secondary school. I believe a lot of current social problems are down to society’s lack of understanding and tolerance towards others’ beliefs and ways of life. To change this, I feel it is important to educate each generation in the many religions now practised in our society.
What’s the best thing about life at Reading?
I love that there is always something to do. The town centre is close by and has many delicious restaurants I love to eat in! There are some beautiful places to walk around, from the on-campus Harris Garden, to a walk along the river to Sonning. I also enjoy being a part of different societies, such as Reading University’s Christian Union and the Domestic DIY Society.
Can you sum up the University of Reading in three words?
Full of opportunities!
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Autumn Term Visiting Speakers

Philosophy Department Speaker Series Autumn Term 2017

All talks are at 2-4pm.

Thursday 28th September Chancellor’s Building, G12. Philosophy Society: Dr. Richard Rowland (ACU). ‘Skepticism about Blameworthiness: Normative not Metaphysical’

Thursday 5th October Miller Building, G05. Work in Progress Seminar. Dr. James Andow (Reading). ‘Moral and Aesthetic Testimony’

TUESDAY 10th October Edith Morley Building, 127 PPE Talk. Prof. Elizabeth Harman (Princeton). ‘There is No Moral Ought and No Prudential Ought

Thursday 19th October. No talk.

Thursday 26th October Miller Building, G19 Research Seminar. Dr. Wouter Kalf (Utrecht).  ‘In Defence of Presupposition Moral Error Theory’

Thursday 2nd November. No talk.

Thursday 9th November Agriculture, 1L16 Research Seminar. Dr. Anna Mahtani (LSE). ‘Names for “merely statistical people”’

Thursday 16th November Palmer Building, 105 Philosophy Society.Prof. Alex Voorhoeve (LSE). ‘Epicurus on Pleasure, a Complete Life, and Death: A Defence’

Thursday 23rd November Edith Morley Building, G44 Research Seminar. Prof. Michael Brady (Glasgow). ‘The Appropriateness of Pride’

Thursday 30th November Edith Morley Building, 126 Research Seminar. Dr. Eugen Fischer (UEA). ‘Experimental argument analysis’

TUESDAY 5th December Edith Morley Building, 128 Research Seminar. Prof. Tim Mulgan (St Andrew’s). TBA

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Philosophy Society visiting speaker: Dr Richard Rowland

Our first visiting speaker event this term is a meeting of the Philosophy Society, for a talk by Dr Richard Rowland (Australian Catholic University). Richard completed his PhD at Reading in 2013. Details below. All are welcome.
2-4pm on Thursday 28th September (Week 1) in Chancellor’s G12 
Skepticism about Blameworthiness: Normative not Metaphysical
This paper argues that although there are non-instrumental reasons to have pro-attitudes and certain con-attitudes there are no non-instrumental reasons to blame; call this view No Reason. If No Reason is correct, then although some people are admirable and praiseworthy and some things are desirable and others undesirable, no one is blameworthy. This paper’s argument for No Reason provides a normative case for skepticism about blameworthiness rather than providing what we might call a metaphysical case for skepticism about blameworthiness deriving from skepticism about free will. Accordingly this normative case for skepticism about blameworthiness avoids the problems faced by skepticism about blameworthiness that derives from skepticism about free will. The idea that a non-metaphysically based, normative or evaluative, case for skepticism about blameworthiness might be made is in the air in the recent literature on blame. But such a non-metaphysically-based case for skepticism about blameworthiness has not been made. This paper makes such a case. This paper argues that there is a non-instrumental reason to have a token of attitude type T only if it is sometimes non-instrumentally better to have a token attitude of type T. But it is never non-instrumentally better to blame others than to not blame others. So, there are no non-instrumental reasons to blame. However, A is ϕ-worthy or ϕ-able only if there are non-instrumental reasons to ϕ in response to A. So, given that there are no non-instrumental reasons to blame, no one is blameworthy.
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