CEKAS Seminars



Ranked in the UK Top 20 in The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024

CEKAS Seminars

CEKAS Seminars

CEKAS Seminar: Sandra Leonie Field

Dr Sandra Leonie Field (Yale-NUS)
6 October 2021, 15:00-16:30
‘Marx, Spinoza and True Democracy’


It is common to assimilate Marx's and Spinoza's conceptions of democracy. Indeed, Marx appears to have drawn his ideas of the naturalness of democracy and of the people's concrete power fairly directly from his study of Spinoza. In this paper, to the contrary, I draw a sharp distinction between Marxian and Spinozist democracy. Philosophically, I argue that both the naturalness of democracy and the people's concrete power mean something fundamentally different in the two authors. And as a matter of social theory, I argue that the gap between civil society and the state which so troubles Marx is a development of modernity that has not entered Spinoza's premodern field of view. The deep differences between the philosophers bring to the surface some critical questions for contemporary theorists of democracy trying to square the circle between popular power and rule for the common good.


Sandra Leonie Field is the author of Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). She is Assistant Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. Her research topics include early modern European political philosophy; democratic theory; and concepts of power. She has also written on non-Western political philosophy.

This talk will take place online. For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk

CEKAS Seminar: Dominic Smith

Dr Dominic Smith (Dundee)
20 October 2021, 15:00-16:30
‘Disastrous Communication: Walter Benjamin's “The Railway Disaster at the Firth of Forth”’


- February 1932, Berlin/ March 1932, Frankfurt: Walter Benjamin presents a live broadcast of a twenty-minute radio piece, ‘The Railway Disaster at the Firth of Tay’ (Die Eisenbahnkatastrophe vom Firth of Tay).

- May 2018, Dundee: A group of twenty 8–13-year-olds meet for a two-hour comics and visual communication workshop. A quick survey shows that they know all about a famous railway disaster that befell the bridge linking Dundee and Fife across the Firth of Tay in 1879, but not about an obscure 1932 radio piece by Walter Benjamin, the translated text of which will form the stimulus for their workshop.

This essay charts a series of miscommunications and transformations occurring to Benjamin’s ‘Railway Disaster’ piece between and beyond these dates. Picturing Benjamin sitting alone in his radio booth in 1932, it is tempting to view ‘Railway Disaster’ as a communication that was disastrous: as symptomatic of a career going astray, or as a part of a constellation of Benjamin’s other radio works that allegorise the disastrous rise of European fascism. Placed in the context of an afterschool club without foreknowledge of Benjamin, however, another perspective on ‘Railway Disaster’ emerges: as a focus on a disaster that becomes a site for transmedial and intergenerational communication/miscommunication.

Part one of this talk fills in some of the blanks surrounding the history of 'Railway Disaster' to give these transformations context. Part two then describes how the piece figures as part of a ‘Localising Philosophy’ educational project I have been working towards in Dundee. In part three, I position this work on ‘Railway Disaster’ as continuous with an approach to philosophising with and through technologies pursued in my 2018 book Exceptional Technologies.

This talk will take place online. For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk

CEKAS Seminar: Tom Carson

Prof Tom Carson (Loyola)
17 November 2021, 15:00-16:30
‘How Misplaced Trust and Distrust Create Misinformation and Enable Lying and Deception in Politics and Public Policy’


"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both"  (James Madison)

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” (Daniel Moynihan).

“I beseech you... think it possible you may be mistaken...” (Oliver Cromwell).

“the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome,” (George Orwell).

“When the facts change I change my mind, sir.  What do you do?” (John Maynard Keynes).

Public policies tend to go badly and sometimes produce extremely bad consequences when the people who shape them are poorly informed.  I illustrate this claim with some salient historical and contemporary examples.  In the United States, lying and misinformation have created seemingly intractable disagreements, conflicts, and hatreds that seriously threaten American democracy.

At present, political misinformation and the success of political lies are largely the result of misplaced trust and distrust in sources of information.  The distrust of science and trust in wild conspiracy theories, such as Qanon, are particularly serious problems.  Misplaced trust and distrust can cause us to have false beliefs or deprive us of knowledge and reasonable beliefs.  Misplaced trust and distrust are preventing the United States and other nations from taking desperately needed action to try to avert catastrophic consequences from climate change and also greatly hindering its response to the Covid pandemic.  Social media and the development of the internet (which has spawned a huge number of purported authorities and are the site of numerous attacks on reliable authorities) have greatly aggravated the problem of misplaced trust and distrust.

This talk will take place online. For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk

CEKAS Seminar: Dr Natalie Ashton (Stirling)

Dr Natalie Ashton (Stirling)

‘Productive Online Environments: Why Twitter Is (Epistemically) Better Than Facebook’

Date- 2 February 2022, 3-4.30pm


Encountering viewpoints that we disagree with can be difficult, but it can also, in the right circumstances, be productive; this idea is neatly captured by Jose Medina's term epistemic friction. But what are 'the right circumstances'? Especially in online environments, it can seem like we're always at risk of being exposed either to too much epistemic friction (think of twitter pile-ons or forum trolls) or to too little (facebook filter bubbles). In this paper I draw on the work of Medina and other political epistemologists to formulate two guidelines for creating productive epistemic environments: (1) elevate marginalised voices, and (2) foster epistemic respite. I then discuss the privacy settings of  two platforms - Twitter and Facebook - to explore how productive environments can be fostered online.


For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk


CEKAS Seminar: Prof Chris Fraser (Toronto)

Prof Chris Fraser (Toronto)

‘Finding a Way Together: Interpersonal Ethics in the Zhuāngzǐ’

Date- 16 March 2022, 3-4.30pm


The various threads of discourse preserved in the Zhuāngzǐ (3rd century BC) present a radical challenge to prevailing ways of thinking about ethics, whether in the texts’ own day or our own. The dominant stance in the Zhuāngzǐ is to reject orthodox moral norms or values on the grounds that they are ineffective guides to dào (the way). In their place, Zhuangist writings focus directly on the concepts of dào and (power, agency), along with interrelated conceptions of the well-lived life.


In this essay, I inquire into how this approach shapes the attitudes and conduct of the Zhuangist adept toward other persons. I suggest that on a broadly Zhuangist understanding, interpersonal ethics is simply a special case of competence in applying (power, agency) and following dào (ways). The general ideal of exemplary activity is to employ our to find a fitting, free-flowing dào by which to navigate through contingent, changing circumstances. Interpersonal ethics is an application of this ideal to cases in which other agents and our relations with them are prominent features of our circumstances. The ethics of interacting with others is thus not a distinct subject area but an application of more general views about dào, , and exemplary activity. Instead of wandering the way on our own—the Zhuangist ideal for the individual—interactions with others present situations in which we must find our way together.


An important consequence of the Zhuangist approach is that discussions of our conduct toward others are not framed in terms of doing what is morally right or permissible. Instead, judgments as to whether actions are morally right or wrong are supplanted by judgments about the quality of our activity as a performance of dào—whether it is adept or clumsy, free-flowing or obstructed, in accordance with the situation or at odds with it. Accordingly, Zhuangist ethics offers a distinctive alternative to mainstream ethical views, both in its own day and in ours.



For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk


CEKAS Seminar: Kathrin Glüer-Pagin

‘Reflections on Knowledge Resistance, Fact Polarization, and Motivated Reasoning’

Date- 30th March 2022, 3-4.30pm

Talk about knowledge or fact resistance and polarization is everywhere in public debate. Such talk often remains loose and metaphorical, yet aims at capturing something important and potentially dangerous. In this talk, I shall reflect on how to usefully understand the core phenomena of knowledge or fact resistance and polarization. I shall also look at one kind of psychological mechanism possibly underlying knowledge resistance: motivated reasoning. That politically motivated reasoning is one of the major factors explaining fact polarization is the currently dominant hypothesis, but things are complicated.


For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk

CEKAS Seminar: Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge (Birmingham) - CANCELLED

Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge (Birmingham)

Title TBC

Date- 27 April 2022, 3-4.30pm


For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk