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University of Guelph graduate students (it’s my understanding) have been organizing in a serious fashion to take philosophy out of the ivory tower.  A two-day series of events, with six concurrent sessions addresses issues from Einstein to zombies, heuristics, and feminism. 

Philopolis Guelph, inspired by Philopolis Montreal aims to “[do] a better job [than academic philosophers have been doing] of engaging in dialogue with the public: this requires finding a common language, as well as being explicit about the relevance of the ideas at issue. Both academic philosophers and the broader public stand to benefit one another greatly through this kind of exchange—free of jargon, of minced words, and of exclusionary assumptions. ”

Philopolis’ resistance to academic jargon and presumption promises to make philosophy accountable as well as show non-philosophers how valuable philosophy can be.  The development of a common language is a creative endeavour that requires public engagement, and making assumptions explicit is an important principle of critical thinking to put into practice.

Philosophers sometimes think we own “critical thinking,” which is an extremely dangerous assumption in itself.  Sociologists, neurologists and physicists engage in critical thinking too, and are more aware of the limitations to their methods.

I know at Guelph they’ve been talking about this sort of event for years, and I spoke at one such around 2004.  Unfortunately, that lacked the upswell and publicity that supports this event.  Such savvy is to the credit of the graduate students, I expect.

As a faculty brat, I have a long-abiding affection for graduate students from the old days when there were more personal relationships between faculty and graduate students.  While that intimacy could and often did involve a number of problems regarding sexual morality and nepotism, some of us benefited in the most benign ways.  As the numbers of graduate students swell — at least in Canada where governments are putting money into that sector of education (mostly to the exclusion of others), many freshly-minted doctors will be disappointed by their job prospects.  The benefit however (and this is the reason the government puts the money there) is for society in general.  Graduate students have insight, passion, networking skills, and drive that can drive social and intellectual progress.  That power is well-demonstrated by Philopolis Guelph.

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The purpose of this international workshop is to bring together researchers who apply formal methods, widely understood, to natural language argumentation in order to provide a reconstruction which can provide the basis for an evaluation.

A related objective is to make the state of the art accessible to audiences who predominantly reconstruct natural language argumentation with more traditional formal or informal tools.

The workshop will be held 20-21 September 2012, following the GAP.8 conference at the University of Konstanz, Germany.

(more…)

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