Manchester Metropolitan University

An annual programme of research seminars for Manchester Metropolitan University, hosted by the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy.

The Human Sciences Seminar Series is a research seminar organised by the Philosophy section of Manchester Metropolitan University’s department of History, Politics and Philosophy. Meetings are held regularly in the autumn and spring times for talks given by speakers from multiple disciplines from across the world.

The series was founded by David Melling and Wolfe Mays in 1979, and conceived as a forum for philosophical discussion of topics brought to the seminar by speakers from all disciplines. Its origin was a desire to explore the various human sciences in a systematic way from the standpoint of critical philosophy, and from the outset, it was known as a forum where continental philosophy could be discussed and addressed, as well as related to and informed by the work of other disciplines. It has now run without break for over thirty years.

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Human Sciences Seminar Archive

Human Sciences Seminar – Spring and Autumn 2014

23rd Oct. ‘Derrida and Topic Theory: Musical Semiotics Folded Back into Philosophy’

Simon Clarke (RNCM)

The course of rhetoric’s influence on various discourses from antiquity to modernity has been well charted; in particular, the historical mutation of rhetorical topoi from, for example, Quintilian’s ‘storehouses of trains of thought’ to Curtius’ ‘clichés, which can be used in any form of literature’ is noteworthy. A new era of musical semiotics was inaugurated, however, in 1983 by Leonard Ratner, wherein he sought to read a certain topicality over and above the ostensibly abstract structures of classical music.

There remains a curiosity, nevertheless, as to the precise function of these ‘styles’ within the contexts in which they are found. Certainly, such topoi may coincide with the musical argument at hand (such as this may be), whilst at other times a tropic or allegoric dynamic may be distinguished, leading to all manner of hermeneutic implications. But yet, the topical ‘thesaurus of characteristic figures’ or ‘informal iconography’, for Ratner at least, serves generally to ‘add a final touch of imagery to the [extant] coherence and design of tonal patterns.’ And this leads, on occasion, to a curiously vagrant excess of meaning that resists domestication – a non-dialectical negativity (or, negativity, without working in the service of meaning).

Now, literary-rhetorical topoi are hardly difficult to find in Derrida’s work (e.g. the consolatory orientation of Circumfession or the out-of-joint time of Specters of Marx etc.), but what of styles and types that are connotative over and above a reading of a text about which we may otherwise feel (more-or-less) secure? The consequences for Derrida’s ‘alogical logic’ propel us inexorably towards his problem of ‘aporetology or aporetography’.

30th Oct. ‘Seeing Absences’

Anya Farennikova (University of Bristol) 

13th Nov. ‘Alain Badiou and Georg Lukács: Subjectivity and Philosophy’

Robert Jackson (MMU)

Abstract: This paper examines the theme of political subjectivity in the work of Alain Badiou. In order to assess both the novelty and the limitations of Badiou’s philosophy, it will read his work against the conception of subjectivity developed by Georg Lukács, a thinker at the intersection between ‘Western Marxism’ and the history of communism in Central Europe. In his own time, Lukács sought to re-invent Marxism as a philosophy of praxis and therefore provides a useful prism through which to observe Badiou’s ongoing project. This paper will be of interest to those seeking a clarification of Badiou’s central theme of subjectivity, and its relation to key works in critical theory. The paper will focus on Badiou’s elaboration of the philosophical structure of the exceptional. It will explore the elements of continuity between Badiou’s conception of change as a rupture from the normal routines of material existence with Lukács’s rejection of conventional notions of progress. The paper will argue that pre-figurative moments of Badiou’s formulation of the Event can be observed in Lukács’s writings. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, one such antecedent is Lukács’s concept of Augenblick, the moment in which it is possible to act in a situation. I will test the hypothesis that a juxtaposition of these thinkers can reciprocally highlight underdeveloped aspects of their thought, and open a space for renewed dialogue between contemporary debates in subjectivity and the classical Marxist tradition. Recent research by Nina Power has explored Badiou’s desire to find a mediating path between the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser. I propose that contextualising Badiou’s thought against Lukács’s philosophy will further focus attention on so far underexplored areas of this relationship.

20th Nov. ‘Politics, Impact and the Research Agenda’

Michael Loughlin (MMU, Cheshire)
Although fundamental questions have frequently been raised about the purpose, methods and proper audience of work in applied ethics and applied philosophy more generally (increasingly including the application of epistemology and the philosophy of science to debates as diverse as management theory and medical practice) many academics still, implicitly or explicitly, consider the ultimate goal of work in these areas to be to ‘influence policy-makers’. This idea embodies unsustainable claims about the policy-formation process and misrepresents the nature and value of philosophical argument.

The sustained effect of these false assumptions is that, far from academics improving the standard of discussions of policy and practice, instead a certain type of political discourse increasingly shapes the nature of academic exchange. In a desire to be ‘practical’ and so ‘relevant’ to policy decisions, academics are adopting methods of argument that one might expect to find in popular media and which in some notable cases embody rhetorical fallacies that any first year student of informal logic should be able to expose. If we are to balance meeting the demands of the ‘impact’ agenda with retaining any intellectual and moral integrity, then we have to think carefully about how to say anything that is at once true and worth saying on some of the important questions to which we are increasingly encouraged to ‘apply’ our discipline.

27th Nov. ‘Death’s Role at a Time of Environmental Crisis’

Louise Squire (University of Surrey)
This paper explores links between a contemporary shift toward death-facing and the difficulties posed by the emergence of environmental crisis. In popular and scholarly arenas, one finds signs that the death-denial of the modern West is currently being countered by a death-facing mode, or a turn toward the material. This is at a time when “environment” becomes newly pronounced as a category of thought. The quest for the real is of course not new, and its challenges are well-rehearsed across the course of philosophical history. These difficulties now might be said to manifest in new forms as the world struggles to produce a response to “crisis” in the arena of “real”. For example, if anthropogenic climate change is “real”, how might the personal and / or collective subject respond, and in what ways might this response be compromised?

13th Feb. ‘Seeming Introspectible’

Tom McLelland (University of Manchester)

Tom McLelland (University of Manchester), ‘Seeming Introspectible’


The target of my paper is a recalcitrant phenomenological disagreement concerning inner awareness. One camp says that all consciousness is self-consciousness: that whenever a subject is aware of the world they must also be aware of that very state of awareness. The opposing camp says that although all experiences are potential objects of inner awareness, this potential is only realised during introspection. I consider existing attempts to resolve this dispute but find them wanting. I propose a compromise position according to which all conscious states seem introspectable to their subject. That is, ordinary non-introspective experience does not involve the subject being aware of their experience but does involve the subject being aware of their potential to become aware of their experience. I elaborate on this by drawing an analogy with the contributions affordances make to our phenomenology, and show how my model of inner awareness might resolve this entrenched dispute.

27th Feb. ‘The Shame Project: Shame, Stigma and Sexually Transmitted Infection’

Phil Hutchinson (MMU, Cheshire) 

6th Mar. ‘Moral Self-Evidence: Against Moderation’

Robert Cowan (University of Warwick)

13th Mar. ‘Embodied Existence in Nancy and Merleau-Ponty’

Marie-Eve Morin (University of Alberta)

27th Mar. ‘Negation, Disjunction, and a New Theory of Forces: Deleuze’s Critique of Hegel’

Nathan Widder (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Human Sciences Seminar – Spring 2015

5th Feb. ‘Mereological Nihilism and the Problem of Emergence’

David Cornell (Manchester Metropolitan University)

12th Feb. ‘Leibniz on Freedom and Possibility’ 
Julia Weckend (University of Oxford)

How does Leibniz respond to Diodorus Cronus’s logical fatalism and the paradox in the master argument? What is Leibniz’s notion of freedom, and what is the ontological source of freedom in light of Leibniz’s assumptions about creation, possibility, and future contingents? Does Leibniz’s account of contingency give us reasons for giving up on the claim that freedom and determinism are compatible? Or rather can the problem be solved with the notion of hypothetical necessity? In this paper I engage with these and related questions, which have attracted the interest of scholars (Russell, Adams, Curley, Rescher, et al) and contemporaries of Leibniz (Wedderkopf, Arnauld, Sophie Charlotte, Clarke) alike. I offer my own reading of Leibniz’s account and examine its philosophical viability.

26th Feb. ‘Entanglement: Being-with with Heidegger and Nancy’ 
Philip Armstrong (Ohio State University)

5th Mar. ‘A Solipsist Can’t Tell the Time: On ICTs and Shared Forms of Life’
Dominic Smith (University of Dundee),

12th Mar. ‘The Necessity of Exaggeration: A look at Adorno’s use of the Concept’
Owen Hulatt (University of York)

Human Sciences Seminar – Autumn 2015

22nd October - Stephen Mumford (University of Nottingham)


Abstract: Powers can ground the facts of probability: as a tendency towards a distribution, e.g. a 50/50 propensity is a tendency towards a 50:50 distribution. However, because tendencies can come in degrees, it might be tempting to think that we should explain powers in terms of probabilities, i.e. that each power is a probability of a certain effect. This would suggest that the dispositional modality was reducible to the facts of probability. The possibility of overdisposing shows, however, that there is a difference between having a power to some degree and the probability of the power’s manifestation occurring. The mathematisation of chance has given us probabilties on a bounded scale between 0 and 1 whereas the strength of a power has to be unbounded. No matter how strong a power is, there can always be another that is stronger. This is an in-principle problem, then, of converting propensities to probabilities. Previous attempts, in terms of frequencies, ratios or degrees of belief, have not overcome this. Overdisposing means there can be more than enough for the production of an effect and yet the dispositional modality tells us that the probability of a natural event will always be less than 1.

29th October - Robert Chapman (University of Essex)

‘Clarifying Clarification: Elucidating Wittgenstein’s Ethics through the Lens of Autism’

Abstract: In recent years a debate has arisen as to whether or not Ludwig Wittgenstein may have had Asperger’s syndrome, a “mild” kind of autistic spectrum condition. Whilst this cannot be verified or falsified beyond all doubt, this paper (tentatively) considers that it may be interesting not just as a biographical possibility, but also in regards to how we interpret Wittgenstein’s philosophical output.

In particular, I focus on Wittgenstein’s “clarificatory” ethics. Although his views regarding the best way to achieve clarity changed over time, Wittgenstein always saw striving for conceptual clarity as a deeply personal and ethical pursuit. In a sense, striving for clarity was ethics for Wittgenstein: he rejected all standard approaches to moral philosophy in favour of endorsing a continual overcoming of conceptual confusions via logical and grammatical analysis.

Notably, however, despite the ethical significance Wittgenstein attributed to clarification, the question of how to understand his ethics has remained problematic. The very idea that we should reject moral theories in favour of conceptual clarification is simply baffling for many scholars. And this is especially so given that, despite clarification being unlike any previous ethical ideal, Wittgenstein apparently saw the ethical dimension of clarification (or the clarificatory nature of ethics) as being so obvious that it needed no explanation.

My argument in this paper is that the notion that Wittgenstein was on the autism spectrum can help our understanding of his ethical ideal. I draw on recent literature autistic psychology and moral agency in order to elucidate both the notion of the autistic moral character, and its correlating concerns and problems. Whereas Wittgenstein’s ethics may seem mysterious when we consider him to be neurologically typical (i.e. non-autistic), I argue that the mystery dissolves when we re-read him as via the lens of his (purported) autism. Implications of this possibility are discussed in regards to both understanding Wittgenstein and the practical application of his ethics. 

12th November - Tom Tyler (University of Leeds)

‘The Predator Principle’

Abstract: In her famous essay ‘Being Prey,’ the environmental philosopher Val Plumwood recounts her terrifying ordeal of being attacked by a crocodile in the swamps of northern Australia. The experience gave her, Plumwood argues, a privileged understanding of the vulnerability and violability of human beings: they are, when all grandiosity and pretensions have been set aside, made of meat. In this presentation, I consider Plumwood’s insight in relation to videogames. I look particularly at the mobile game Into the Dead, which I will demonstrate, and which I chew over in relation to Nietzsche’s own disturbing characterisation of predator and prey.

3rd December - Paolo Palladino (University of Lancaster)

‘On transhumance: Making sense of sheep, shepherds and their movement across the landscape’

Abstract: In this paper, transhumance is not the recovered and remembered trace of a long lost past, but the site of critical reflection on the relationship between humans, non-human animals and movement. The endeavour is part of a broader project on sheep, wool and landscape, which aims ultimately to explore how best to combine philosophical reflection and care for the historical constitution of the present moment. On this occasion, the seasonal movement of sheep and shepherds across the landscape serves to open a critical inquiry into Deleuzian notions of ‘becoming animal’ and ‘nomadic thought’. As such, the paper is not a report of any findings, but is intended instead as an exploration of the questions that transhumance would seem to pose and that perhaps deserve further consideration.

Human Sciences Seminar – Spring 2016

All meetings begin at 5.00pm, Room GM 3.31, Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond St. West, M15 6LL

4th February - Liz Tyson (Essex)

‘A Nation of Animal Lovers? Valuing Animals in Theory and Practice’

Respondent: Wahida Khandker (MMU)

Abstract: This presentation considers the widely-held and cited belief that the UK is ‘a nation of animal lovers’ against the backdrop of legal protection provided to animals under UK law. The presentation will challenge assurances offered by government, respected animal welfare and veterinary organisations and animal use industries that animal welfare is effectively protected by law; and instead highlight the myriad ways in which animal cruelty is not only permitted, but facilitated by the current regulatory framework. A discussion will follow, exploring themes of morality, law and animal protection.

18th February - Crystal Addey (St Andrews)

‘Plato’s Women Readers’

Abstract: Women were members of almost every philosophical school and movement that existed in antiquity, including the Epicurean community - the Garden, the Cynic movement where we hear especially of Hipparchia wife of Crates, the Neoplatonic philosophical schools of late antiquity, all of which included female philosophers as well as male, and, if the relevant evidence is reliable, within the Pythagorean communities and within Plato’s Academy. This paper will consider and examine the historical evidence of women reading and engaging with Plato’s texts in antiquity and the evidence for the presence of female philosophers within the Platonic tradition, from the fourth century BC through to the sixth century AD. Female philosophers such as Lastheneia, Axiothea, Sosipatra and Hypatia will be examined. Many later female philosophers were priestesses and prophetesses as well as philosophers and in this respect the figure of Diotima who features in Plato’s Symposium seems to have acted as a crucial role model for some of these women.

3rd March - Bill Fulford (St Catherine’s College, Oxford)

‘Delusion and Spiritual Experience: a Case Study and Consequences’

Abstract: The widely held belief that the diagnosis of mental disorder is a matter exclusively for value-free science has been much reinforced by recent dramatic advances in the neurosciences. In this lecture I will use a detailed case study of delusion and spiritual experience to indicate to the contrary that values come into the diagnosis of mental disorders directly through the language of the diagnostic criteria adopted in such scientifically–grounded classifications as the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).  Various competing interpretations of the importance of values in psychiatric diagnosis will be considered. Interpreted through the lens of the Oxford tradition of linguistic-analytic philosophy, however, diagnostic values in psychiatry are seen to reflect the complex and often conflicting values of real people.  This latter interpretation has the direct consequence that there is a need for processes of assessment in psychiatry that are equally values-based as evidence-based. A failure to recognise this in the past has resulted in some of the worst abusive misuses of psychiatric diagnostic concepts. In the final part of the presentation I will outline recent developments in values-based practice in mental health including some of its applications to diagnostic assessment, and in other areas of health care (such as surgery).

10th March - Victoria Browne (Oxford Brookes)

‘Feminist Philosophy and the Temporalities of Pregnant Embodiment’