How does philosophy compare to other subjects?

Most people who study philosophy will agree that it is very different to most other things they have studied! It is not easy to generalize about what makes philosophy different, but here are two ways in which philosophy at least typically differs from other disciplines.

First, philosophers focus on somewhat different questions than are addressed by other researchers. In particular, philosophers are often concerned to find out the truth about the foundations of our knowledge or our practices. Some of the most important philosophical questions to have been studied are: What is the nature of consciousness? and could a machine be conscious? Is there an objective basis to morality, given that there do not seem to be any moral truths to be discovered in the natural sciences? Is there a compelling rational argument for or against the existence of God? Are space and time fundamental? How can we be sure that we have knowledge of an external world, given that it is possible that we are dreaming?

Second, philosophers use methods and approaches that can appear a bit different from other disciplines. In particular, because philosophers are interested in providing the strongest possible arguments for their views, they sometimes use techniques borrowed from formal logic to help formulate their ideas. But not all philosophy is like this. Some philosophers work closely with scientists in empirical disciplines such as psychology or neuroscience; others focus on historical approaches; and yet others draw inspiration from art and literature. In virtually all cases, however, philosophers are careful to make their reasoning and methods explicit, and this partly explains why philosophy is so useful for developing critical reasoning skills.

Why study philosophy?

There are lots of good reasons to study philosophy, and we cannot hope to survey all of them here. We think the best reason to study philosophy, however, is a very simple one: because you enjoy it.

If you are lucky enough to be studying in a Faculty as diverse as the Arts Faculty at Monash, you can choose between a wide array of subjects. All of them are intellectually rigorous and will develop your ability to think critically, to weigh evidence, to write and to communicate. Given that, why not develop these useful abilities doing something that you are passionate about, find challenging, exciting, and interesting?

Philosophy at Monash

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that philosophy is one of the most popular first-year units offered in Arts at Monash. And perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear, as well, that philosophy is a very popular major with Arts/Law students… or that the philosophy department is one of the main departments involved in the cognitive science program at Monash… or… and so we could go on!

We hope that you too will find in the vast array of philosophy units available at Monash a challenging and stimulating course of study, a course of study that will contribute in a fundamental way to your overall program of study at Monash.

Many units you take at university will teach you interesting and important facts. But it is the nature of facts that you sometimes forget them. Though philosophy too will teach you some facts, it will primarily teach you a way of thinking to which you will have recourse for the rest of your life.

Have a chat to the Undergraduate Coordinator via email arts-philosophy-enquiries@monash.edu

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Philosophers in other academic units at Monash

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Mid-year publications round-up, Part II

And here is part two of our publications round-up

Journal articles and book chapters

Ross, Alison. ‘The Distinction Between Mythic and Divine Violence: Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” from the Perspective of “Goethe’s Elective Affinities”’, New German Critique, Vol.41, No1, 121, Winter, 2014, pages 93–120.

Ross, Alison. ‘The Problem of the Image: Sacred and Profane Spaces in Walter Benjamin’s Early Writing’, Critical Horizons, Vol. 14, No. 3, pages 355–379.

Ross, Alison. ‘The Image: Historical, Conceptual, Aesthetic, Moral’, Critical Horizons, Vol. 14, No. 3, pages 265–270.

Saward, Mark. Collins’ core fine-tuning argument. International
Journal for Philosophy of Religion

Schmidtz, David and John Thrasher “The Virtues of Justice," in Virtues and their Vices, edited by Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd, Oxford University Press (2014), pp. 59–74.

Sparrow, R. 2014. “Egalitarianism and moral bioenhancement,” American Journal of Bioethics Apr;14(4):20–8. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2014.889241.

Sparrow, R. 2014. “Reproductive technologies, risk, enhancement, and the value of genetic relatedness,” Journal of Medical Ethics

Sparrow, R. 2013. “Book review: Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement, by Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy. DOI: 10.1080/00048402.2013.860180.

Sparrow, R. 2014. “Ethics, eugenics, and politics.” In Akira Akayabashi (ed) The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 139–153.

Sparrow, R. 2014. “What we can – and can’t — learn about the ethics of enhancement by thinking about sport.” In Akira Akayabashi (ed) The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 218–223.

Sparrow, R. 2014. “(Im)Moral technology? Thought experiments and the future of ‘mind control’.” In Akira Akayabashi (ed) The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 113–119.

Sparrow, R. 2014.“The real force of ‘procreative beneficence’.” In Akira Akayabashi (ed) The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 183–192.

Thrasher, J. “Uniqueness and Symmetry in Bargaining Theories of Justice,” Philosophical Studies, 167, no. 3 (2014): pp. 683–699.

Thrasher, J. “Reconciling Justice and Pleasure in Epicurean Contractarianism,“ Ethical Theory & Moral Practice 16, no. 2 (2013): pp 423–436

Thrasher, John and Keith Hankins, “When Justice Demands InequalityThe Journal of Moral Philosophy (2014).DOI: 10.1163/17455243–4681035

Thrasher, John and Kevin Vallier, “The Fragility of Consensus: Public Reason, Diversity and StabilityThe European Journal of Philosophy (2014) DOI: 10.1111/ejop.12020

Thrasher, J. “Ordering AnarchyRationality, Markets and Morals 5, no. 1 (2014), pp. 30–46.

van Doorn, G., Hohwy, J., Symmons, M. 2014. Can you tickle yourself if you swap bodies with someone else? Consciousness & Cognition 23: 1–11. Philosophy Compass 9.6 (2014) pp 368–381.

Windt, J. M. (2013): Reporting dream experience: Why (not) to be skeptical about dream reports. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.

Windt, J. M. (2013): Minding the dream self: Perspectives from the analysis of self-experience in dreams. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(6), 633.


New lecturers in Philosophy [updated]

The Philosophy Department has recently appointed two new lecturers to continuing positions.

John Thrasher (Ph.D. Arizona, 2013) specializes in political philosophy and moral theory. He has published on a variety of topics, including contractarianism, Adam Smith, the stability of consensus, and Epicurean political thought. John will be commencing work in the department in July 2014.

Jennifer Windt (Ph.D. Mainz, 2012) works in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and has a forthcoming book with MIT press, on both empirical and philosophical approaches to dreaming. Jenny will be commencing at Monash in February 2015, but she will also be making a brief visit to the Department in July this year.

Update: The Department has more recently appointed Alexei Procyshyn to a three-year Lecturer position in European Philosophy and Critical Theory.

Alexei completed undergraduate and MA studies in Canada, followed by a PhD at the New School for Social Research in 2013. His doctoral research focused on the concept of critique in the work of Walter Benjamin. He comes to us from a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Macau, and will be commencing in July.



Philosophy, mid-year publications round-up, Part I

Lots of new publications since our last round-up, so we’re splitting the announcement in two. Tune in next week for part two.



Hohwy, J. 2013. The Predictive Mind (Oxford University Press).

Journal articles and book chapters

Bayne, T. Hohwy, J. 2014. Global Disorders of Consciousness. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Cognitive Science 5(2): 129–138.

Bhattacharya, Aveek, and Simpson, Robert Mark (2014), “Life in overabundance: Agar on life-extension and the fear of death”, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (2): 223–36.

Broad, Jacqueline. “Women on Liberty in Early Modern England”, Philosophy Compass 9, no. 2 (2014): 112–22.

Broad, Jacqueline. “The Equality of the Sexes: Three Feminist Texts of the Seventeenth Century [book review]”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, published online 7 May 2014.

Chadha, M., (2014). “On Knowing Universals: The Nyāya way.” Philosophy East and West 64:3. pp.287–303

Chadha, M., (2014). “A Buddhist Explanation of Episodic Memory: From Self to Mind” Asian Philosophy 24:1, pp. 14–27.

Chadha, M. (forthcoming) “Time-Series of Ephemeral Impressions: The Abhidharma-Buddhist View of Conscious Experience“, Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences.

Chadha, M. (forthcoming). “Meditation and Unity of Consciousness: A perspective from Buddhist epistemology.” Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences.

D’Agostino, Fred, Gaus, Gerald and Thrasher, John, “Contemporary
Approaches to the Social Contract
”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of
(Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Daniels, Paul. “Occupy Wall: A Mereological Puzzle and the Burdens of Endurantism”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 2014; 92 (1): 91–101

Daniels, Paul. “Endurantism and Paradox.” Philosophia 2013; 41 (4): 1173–1179

Emerton, P. and T. Handfield. 2014. Understanding the political defensive privilege. In The Morality of Defensive War, ed. C. Fabre and S. Lazar. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 40–65.

Gaus, Gerald and John Thrasher “Social Evolution,” in The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy, edited by Gerald Gaus and Fred D’Agostino, Routledge (2013), pp. 643–655.

Hohwy, J. (2014) Elusive phenomenology, counterfactual awareness, and presence without mastery. Cognitive Neuroscience.

Hohwy, J. 2014. The self-evidencing brain. Noûs.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Aggregation and Idempotence’, to appear in Review of Symbolic Logic.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Zolin and Pizzi: Defining Necessity from Noncontingency’, to appear in Erkenntnis.

Oppy, Graham & Saward, Mark. Molinism and Divine Prophecy of Free
. Religious Studies, Volume 50, Issue 2, June 2014, pp 235–44.

Palmer, C., Paton, B., Barclay, L., Hohwy, J. 2013. Equality, efficiency, and sufficiency: Responding to multiple parameters of distributive justice during charitable distribution. The Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4(4) 659–674.

Procyshyn, Alexei. ‘Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy of Language.’ Philosophy Compass.


Project: Prospects for an Ethics of Self-Cultivation

 hi-res‘Prospects for an Ethics of Self-Cultivation’ is a two-year-long research project which will investigate the revival of ethical self-cultivation in modern European philosophy, particularly in the works of Nietzsche and Foucault. The project is organised by research students from the philosophy departments at Monash and the University of Warwick, UK and is funded by the Monash-Warwick Alliance. Each institution will host a three-day workshop and conference, as well as produce a collection of video resources on the topic of self-cultivation.

The first event, ‘Hellenistic Ethics from Nietzsche to Foucault,’ will be held at The University of Warwick, UK during 25-27 September, 2014. A call for abstracts and more information can be found on the conference webpage: www2.warwick.ac.uk/selfcultivation. Future news is available on the project’s Facebook page: facebook.com/selfcultivation2014.


Visitors to the Department, Semester 1

The Philosophy Department is pleased to welcome the following visitors in first semester this year.

Dr Ole Koksvik. Dr Koksvik will be visiting with the Department for the whole of first semester. He currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Bergen, and is working on projects in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and rational choice. Dr Koksvik will be giving the Departmental seminar on 7 March.

Dr Josh Skewes. Dr Skewes will visit the Cognition & Philosophy lab from January to April. He is working at the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark, and has a background in both philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. While at Monash, Dr Skewes will collaborate with Jakob Hohwy, Bryan Paton and Colin Palmer on experiments in social cognition and autism.

(Arrive Feb 2; depart April 1.)

Professor Yukihiro Nobuhara. Professor Nobuhara will visit the Cognition & Philosophy lab in March. He is director of the Centre for Philosophy at University of Tokyo. This is part of ongoing collaboration between Philosophers at the University of Tokyo and Monash University. March 12 there will be a joint workshop on philosophy of mind and moral psychology.

 (Arrive March 8; depart March 18.)

Professor Tim Bayne. Prof Bayne will visit the Cognition & Philosophy lab in February. He is professor of philosophy and University of Manchester. Bayne is collaborating with Jakob Hohwy on several projects related to philosophy of mind and the science of consciousness.

(Arrive Feb 2; depart Feb 11)

Dr Peter Fazekas. Dr Fazekas will visit the Cognition & Philosophy lab from May to August. He is a research fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary, having completed his PhD at Edinburgh. Fazekas will collaborate with Jakob Hohwy on projects relating to predictive coding.

 (Arrive May 20; depart August 2.)


Andrew Benjamin on Walter Benjamin

Andrew Benjamin’s new book, Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy has just been published in Europe. Coinciding with its publication, Andrew has been elected to the Executive Committee of the International Walter Benjamin Gesellschaft.


TechDebates: Lethal Autonomous (“Killer”) Robots

TechDebates series: Lethal Autonomous (“Killer”) Robots

This video is of the inaugural debate in the TechDebates on Emerging Technologies series, which focused on Lethal Autonomous “Killer” Robots. LARs are machines that can decide to kill. Such technology has the potential to revolutionize modern warfare and more. The need for understanding LARs is essential to decide whether their development and possible deployment should be regulated or banned. This TechDebate centers on the question: are LARs ethical?

Ron Arkin, Robotics Professor at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing,
Rob Sparrow, Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University.

The TechDebates on Emerging Technologies is a debate series presented by the Center for Ethics and Technology (CET) at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


Jakob Hohwy in New Scientist, on self-perception and tickling oneself

Can you tickle yourself if you are fooled into thinking that someone else is tickling you? A new experiment says no, challenging a widely accepted theory about how our brains work…

More details here.


Publications round-up, October

Below is a round up (probably incomplete) of recent works by members of the Philosophy Department (including graduate students and adjuncts) to appear in print over the last few months:

Bales, Adam, Daniel Cohen, and Toby Handfield. Decision theory for agents with incomplete preferences. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Bayne, T., Hohwy, J. Consciousness: Theoretical approaches. In A.E. Cavanna, A. Nani, H. Blumenfeld, S. Laureys (eds.), Neuroimaging of Consciousness, 23. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Broad, Jacqueline (ed.), Mary Astell’s The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies and Iter Publishing.

Clarke-Doane, Justin. Moral Epistemology: The Mathematics Analogy. Noûs.

Clarke-Doane, Justin. What is Absolute Undecidability? Noûs. Vol. 47: 467–81.

Clarke-Doane, Justin. Morality and Mathematics: The Evolutionary Challenge. This paper, first published in Ethics, has been selected for the 32nd volume of The Philosopher’s Annual.

Green, Karen. Women’s Writing and the Early Modern Genre Wars. Hypatia 28(3) (2013), pp. 499–515.

Handfield, Toby. Rational choice and the transitivity of betterness. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

Heil, John. Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction, 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Heil, John. ‘Mental Causation’. In E. Lepore and K. Ludwig, eds. A Companion to the Philosophy of Donald Davidson Oxford: Wiley–Blackwell, 126–40.

Heil, John. ‘Contingency’. In T. Goldschmidt, ed. The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? London: Routledge, 167–81.

Heil, John. ‘Mental Causation According to Davidson’. In G. D’Oro, ed. Reasons and Causes: Causalism and Non-Causalism in the Philosophy of Action. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 75–96.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Inverse Images of Box Formulas in Modal Logic’, Studia Logica 101 (2013), 1031–1060.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Replacement in Logic’, Journal of Philosophical Logic 42 (2013), 49–89.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Aggregation and Idempotence’, to appear in Review of Symbolic Logic.

Humberstone, Lloyd. ‘Zolin and Pizzi: Defining Necessity from Noncontingency’, to appear in Erkenntnis.

Jones, Tessa. The Constitution of Events. The Monist 96(1): 73–86.

Kaplan, David M. The complex interplay between three-dimensional egocentric and allocentric spatial representation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36(5): 553–554.

Manolopoulos, Mark. ‘A Loving Attack on Caputo’s “Caputolism” and his Refusal of CommunismPolitical Theology 14.3: 378–389

Manolopoulos, Mark. ‘Caputo in a Nutshell: Two Introductory (and Slightly Critical) LecturesPostmodern Openings 4.2: 21–43

Manolopoulos, Mark. ‘Religious Diversity Within the Limits of Radical Neo-EnlightenmentJournal of Inter-Religious Dialogue 12 (Spring): 23–31

Oppy, Graham. The Best Argument against God. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Oppy, Graham. Lowe’s Ontological Argument. In C. Meister, J. Moreland and K. Sweis (eds.) Debating Christian Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 72–84.

Oppy, Graham. Moreland’s Argument from Consciousness. In C. Meister, J. Moreland and K. Sweis (eds.) Debating Christian Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 131–46.

Palmer, C., Paton, B., Hohwy, J., Enticott, P. [Movement under uncertainty: The effects of the rubber-hand illusion vary along the nonclinical autism spectrum](https://www.dropbox.com/s/4uom0hgzeg3mgo0/Accepted MS Neuropsychologia copy.pdf). Neuropsychologia 51(10): 1942–1951.

Silva, Paul. Ordinary Objects and Series-Style Answers to the Special Composition Question. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 94: 69–88.

Silva, Paul. Epistemically self-defeating arguments and skepticism about intuition. Philosophical Studies 164: 579–589.

Simpson, Robert Mark. Un-Ringing the Bell: Mcgowan on Oppressive Speech and The Asymmetric Pliability of Conversations. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Sparrow, Robert. Gender eugenics? The ethics of PGD for intersex conditions. American Journal of Bioethics 13 (10): 29–38.

Sparrow, Robert. Better living through chemistry? A reply to Savulescu and Persson on “moral enhancement”. Journal of Applied Philosophy.

Sparrow, Robert. Sexism and human enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics.

Savulescu, Julian & Robert Sparrow. Making better babies: Pros and cons. Monash Bioethics Review 31 (1): 36–59.


Philosophy Units for 2014

The Philosophy Department has recently finalised its intended unit offerings for 2014. Below is a list of all on-campus units. We offer the same list of off-campus units every semester.

Note that this list is not the official list. It may be superseded by later changes. So before making your enrollment choices, be sure to check the information contained in the university handook, available online here. Continue reading


Undergraduate Study in Human Rights

4724314267_e69f64540d_qThe Philosophy Department oversees the administration of the Human Rights area of study within the Bachelor of Arts Degree.

Human rights is an interdisciplinary area of study, drawing upon units from International Studies, Politics, Criminology, Philosophy, and other areas.

For more information, go to the Human Rights page.


Adam Bartlett – New Adjunct Research Fellow

bartlett-adamThe Department is pleased to welcome Dr Adam Bartlett (PhD, Melbourne 2010), who has recently been appointed an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Philosophy Department. Adam’s research interests are in European philosophy, with special interests in Badiou and Plato.


Justin Clarke-Doane – new adjunct appointee

justin_clarke-doane-profile2Justin Clarke-Doane recently departed his position as Lecturer in Philosophy in order to take up a Birmingham Fellowship at the University of Birmingham. The Department is pleased to announce that we will continue our formal association with Justin, who has just been appointed an Adjunct Research Fellow.


Welcome to Alison Ross

IMG_2262The Department is pleased to welcome Associate Professor Alison Ross to the Philosophy Department. Until recently, Alison has been located in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies.

Alison will be undertaking an ARC Future Fellowship for the next four years, after which time she will return to a teaching and research position in Philosophy.



Welcome to Andrew Benjamin

Andrew BenjaminWelcome to Andrew Benjamin who, as of July, joins the Philosophy Department and ACJC, both within SOPHIS, as Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought (having previously been appointed in the School of English, Communications, and Performance Studies). Andrew’s most recent books are: Place, Commonality and Judgment: Continental Philosophy and the Ancient Greeks (Continuum, 2010); Of Jews and Animals (Edinburgh, 2010); Writing Art and Architecture (Re:Press Books, 2012); and Architectural Projections (RMIT Press, 2012).


Considering Honours in Philosophy in 2014 (or 2015)?

For all students who are thinking about studying for an Honours year in philosophy, please come along to our information day in room S617 (Menzies Building), on Friday the 13th of September, from 12.00-1.30pm. From 12.00-1.00pm you’ll see presentations by three of our current Honours students, based on the research they’ve been conducting over the last six months. Then, from 1.00-1.30pm, we’ll present some information about what the Honours year involves, and give you an opportunity to ask questions if you have them. There’s no need to RSVP, but if you have any questions you’d like to ask in advance of this day, please contact the honours coordinator, Bob Simpson (bob.simpson@monash.edu).


David Simpson – new Adjunct Senior Research Fellow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADavid Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Wollongong is undertaking his OSP at Monash over the coming semester. In conjunction with his visit, he has been appointed an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in the Department. 


New lecturers in Philosophy

The Department is very pleased to welcome four new lecturers who will commence in July.

David M. Kaplan (PhD Duke, 2007) specialises in philosophy of neuroscience and comes to us from a recently completed postdoctoral fellowship at the Washington University in St Louis.

Mark Kelly (PhD Sydney, 2007) works primarily on the philosophy of Michel Foucault, and has taught at the University of Western Sydney and Middlesex University.

Bob Simpson (DPhil Oxford, 2013) is a political and legal philosopher with a special interest in hate speech and offense.

Paul Silva (PhD Connecticut, 2013) works primarily in epistemology but also has interests in metaphysics and ethics.

David and Paul will together be teaching Intro Philosophy B (Time, Self, and Mind) in second semester 2013. David will also teach Philosophy of Mind, and Paul will also take an honours seminar in epistemology. Bob will be teaching Human Rights Theory 2, as well as contributing a few lectures to Language, Truth, and Power. And Mark will be teaching After the Death of God: Continental Philosophy of Religion as well as an honours seminar on Foucault.