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CHESS Seminar Series 2021/22 - FULL PROGRAMME

Staff and students are very welcome at the following events hosted by CHESS this academic year. For further information on all our events, including details on how to register, contact us at


Date Title Abstract
Somogy Varga (Aarhus University) Thursday 7th October 2021 (5pm GMT) What is the Aim of Medicine?

Recent debates indicate that the scope and societal role of medicine is fated to be altered in the twenty-first century. The debates raise fundamental questions about the aim of medicine and the main task of the talk is to contribute to clarifying this issue. I start by examining an initially plausible proposal according to which medicine is pathocentric, aiming to restore the health of individuals by curing disease. Discussing and rejecting this as well as competing proposals, I present and defend the Autonomy Thesis, which holds that medicine is not pathocentric, but sanocentric, with the final aim to enhance autonomy. I close by considering the objection that the Autonomy Thesis is overly permissive and allows many highly controversial procedures as legitimate parts of medicine.

Zinhle Mncube (University of Johannesburg) Thursday 23rd November 2021 (5pm GMT) Is testing for predictive biomarkers a reliable strategy to ground therapeutic prediction? Personalized Medicine (PM) is touted as a medical revolution where medical treatment and
diagnosis is tailored to the individual patient, so that it is optimal, safe, and exactly appropriate. In
this talk, I assess the underexplored reliability of what I call PM’s the stratification strategy. This
strategy requires that clinicians make therapeutic predictions based on evidence of commonly
shared molecular biomarker status among patient subgroups. I show that this strategy relies on
assumptions that cannot be presumed to be true. I argue that in many instances of its use, this
strategy can result in imprecise, unpersonalised, and unsafe care for individual patients (contra the
promises of PM).
Juliette Ferry-Danini (FNRS and Université Catholique de Louvain) Thursday 27th January 2022 (5pm GMT)

Mapping the opacity of artificial intelligence in medicine

Artificial intelligence has been met with great enthusiasm by the scientific community. However, philosophers and ethicists have voiced some concerns. The concepts of “opacity” and “transparency” of artificial intelligence have been coined with the presupposition that opacity in AI is something to avoid and conversely transparency is a goal to achieve in the field. Numerous guidelines have been published on the ethics of AI, resulting in several reviews. In these guidelines, transparency is routinely described as one of the key principles the field of AI should follow. The aim of this talk will be twofold: first, to map the different meanings of the concept of “transparency” and its mirror concept “opacity” both in the philosophy of AI, on the one hand, and in the philosophy of medicine, on the other hand. Second, my goal will be to pave the way to understand in which sense – ethical and/or epistemological – opacity should be avoided both in medicine and in AI and a fortiori in AI in medicine. In other words, what is the problem with the opacity of artificial intelligence and does the medical context change anything to the issue?

Janet Stewart (Durham University) Thursday 10th March 2022 (5pm GMT)

Extractive Seeing: Earth Science, Fossil Fuel and the Training of Vision

My paper takes as its point of departure a series of European energy exhibitions produced over the last decade. I argue that it is possible to isolate a clear and distinct logic to the vertical distribution of space around these exhibitions have been constructed. This logic, I will show, derives at least in part from the extensive cultural influence that geology has exercised since the nineteenth century (see O’Connor 2007) and, in particular, from the cultural impact of a particular kind of geological vision. It is my contention that over the last two hundred years or so, the development of earth science, one of the major forms of scientific knowledge connected to fossil fuel extraction, has made a key contribution to the construction of both what might be termed ‘petrosubjectivity’ (Bloom 2015) and ‘extractive seeing’, petrosubjectivity’s attendant form of visuality. A number of scholars have recently helpfully elucidated the nature of the relationship between culture and oil, while a broad range of work in cognate fields including the history of science, visual culture and STS has explored productively links amongst the development of visual technologies, science and the construction of new forms of subjectivity. And still others have thought about the development of Enlightenment vision and a colonial perspective. The specific web of interconnections amongst geology, the extractive industries, visual technology and the training of vision, however, has yet to be fully explored, despite sustained critical interest in understanding geology’s broader cultural influence and a concomitant recent turn to geological modes of understanding and gestures such Gomez-Barrios’s account of ‘extractive vision’ or as Jennifer Wenzel’s reflections on the ‘extractive eye’. In this paper, I pursue these connections through tracing the development of what I call ‘extractive seeing’, by which I mean a dominant way of seeing that has its roots in geology and the extractive industries, but has long since extended its reach beyond this starting point, as indicated by the idea of a ‘geological turn’.

Quassim Cassam (University of Warwick)


Tuesday 26th April 2022 (5pm GMT)

Some Vices of Vice Epistemology

Vice epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, identity, and significance of epistemic vices. Epistemic vices are blameworthy or reprehensible character traits, attitudes, or ways of thinking that get in the way of knowledge or understanding. A vice attribution is the judgement that another person has a specific epistemic vice, such as closed-mindedness or gullibility. Such attributions are often attempts to explain another person’s defective epistemic conduct. However, the assumption that the attributee’s conduct is epistemically defective may be questionable. Furthermore, vice epistemology’s focus on epistemic vices can easily result in a failure to notice other important explanatory factors. In some cases, vice attributions can themselves be epistemically vicious. Among the potential epistemic vices of vice epistemology is insensitivity, which consists in a certain type of inattentiveness to the lives of others. The effects of this vice can be detected in vice epistemological explanations of phenomena such as vaccine hesitancy.  

Keith Lindsey (Durham University)


Thursday 12th May 2022 (5pm GMT)

Systems Biology - what it tells us about how organisms work and evolve

Multicellular organisms (principally plants and animals) represent the more obvious forms of life on earth, because of their size and abundance. Their multicellular nature endows them with a level of structural complexity that allows them to develop three-dimensional forms to exploit diverse ecological niches in ways that single-celled organisms such as bacteria cannot. The plants and animals themselves have diverged, hundreds of millions of years ago, in the way they construct multicellularity, and the growth strategies are the product of complex interactions between thousands of genes expressed in thousands or millions of cells, often (especially in the case of plants) in response to a plethora of environmental signals. This complexity requires a systems approach to thinking about developmental biology, which is different to the more traditional reductionist approach; but presents practical difficulties of how to investigate and present emergent properties from such complex interactions. I will discuss some of these questions with a particular reference to our research on plant developmental biology and genetics.

Sharon Crasnow (Norco College)



Mixed Methods Research: Methodological and Evidential Pluralism

Methodological debates in political science have focused primarily on the question of which methods provide the best evidence for causal claims. King, Keohane, and Verba Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (1994) kicked off these debates with their claim that there is one logic of inference -- that reasoning from evidence produced through qualitative methods should follow the same principles as reasoning from evidence produced by quantitative methods. Responses to KKV included defenses of qualitative methods as producing different kinds of evidence that either alone or in conjunction with quantitative methods (mixed or multi-method research) could support causal claims (Collier, Brady, and Seawright 2010; Goertz and Mahoney 2012). These arguments included justifications for mixed methods research such as, using more than one method allows for diversity of evidence—the more evidence the better – and the weaknesses of one method might be compensated for by the strengths of other methods.

            These seemingly intuitive philosophical rationales appear to be in need of being cashed out in more detail. The version of evidential pluralism argued for by Russo & Williamson (2007) has recently been offered as a way to do this (Shan and Williamson 2021). Shan and Williamson argue that just Russo and Williamson (2007) argued for the biomedical and health sciences, evidence of correlation and evidence of mechanism ought to be presented in order to establish and assess causal claims in the social sciences. When combined with the idea that evidence of correlation and evidence of mechanism are typically produced through different methods – correlation through quantitative and mechanism through qualitative methods -- the Russo-Williamson thesis can thus be extended to the social sciences and offer a rationale for mixed method research there.

            While the Russo-Williamson thesis is a plausible justification for some examples of mixed methods research in political science it neither captures important elements of what mixed methods research offers for knowledge production nor are all mixed methods approaches covered by it. I argue for methodological pluralism and a broader evidential pluralism than that prescribed by Shan and Williamson. I focus on features of Elizabeth Wood’s case study of the civil war in El Salvador to illustrate the argument. Much discussion of causal inference in the social sciences is driven by the idea that causal claims should be “detachable” from their evidential context. A broader understanding of evidential pluralism highlights the importance of context and illustrates the role of theory, local knowledge, and the particulars of the cases in which causes are sought. This richer conception of evidential relations also better reflects research practice in political science.

Ann C Thresher (UCSD)


Tuesday 7th June 2022 (4pm GMT)

When Extinction Is Warranted: Invasive Species, Suppression-Drives and the Worst-Case Scenario

Most current techniques to deal with invasive species are ineffective or have highly damaging side effects. To this end suppressiondrives based on clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR/Cas9) have been touted as a potential silver bullet for the problem, allowing for a highly focused, humane and cost effective means of removing a target species from an environment. Suppression-drives come with serious risks, however, such that the precautionary principle seems to warrant us not deploying this technology. The focus of this paper is on one such risk – the danger of a suppression-drive escaping containment and wiping out the target species globally. Here, I argue that in most cases this risk is significant enough to warrant not using a gene-drive. In some cases, however, we can bypass the precautionary principle by using an approach that hinges on what I term the ‘Worst-Case Clause’. This clause, in turn, provides us with a litmus test that can be fruitfully used to determine what species are viable targets for suppression-drives in the wild. Using this metric in concert with other considerations, I suggest that only three species are currently possible viable targets – the European rabbit, ship rat and Caribbean Tree Frog.