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We have two exciting updates in this post. One is a summary of an event recently held by the project, and the second is the launch of a new initiative (and corresponding website) that resulted from this event.
1) Early Career Workshop
Vienna recently hosted the Early Career Workshop on Relativism, Pluralism and Contextualism (February 24-25, 2017), an event designed to bring together Ph.D students and early career researchers to present their current work and to discuss career planning, job prospects and funding opportunities in today's European academia. This was the second event of its kind, the first being hosted at CEU in Budapest.
This time around, the event was held under the auspices of the ERC-funded project “The Emergence of Relativism”, and featured talks on relativism, pluralism and contextualism in connection with a number of different areas of investigation: epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics and politics. A separate panel was devoted to career planning, comprising an open discussion on writing applications for philosophy positions and a talk by Professor Elisabeth Nemeth about the current state of European academia. Besides early career speakers from the university of Vienna, the workshop was organized so as to gather young researchers from central-eastern Europe, thus achieving a diverse representation of universities and of national backgrounds.
The first panel on February 24, dedicated to relativism, pluralism and contextualism in epistemology, was opened by Anne-Kathrin Koch (Vienna) speaking about the relationship between epistemic relativism and scepticism. She defended a view whereby the relativist is a sceptic after all - contrary to the standard representation of epistemic relativism as a “cure” to scepticism. Dirk Kindermann (Graz) took issue with invariantist theories about “know that” which explain the contextual variability of knowledge ascriptions through pragmatic mechanisms, arguing that they face a dilemma: either they are unable to explain phenomena like embedded implicatures, or they must opt for a pragmatic account that goes against their main invariantist tenet. Tom Fery (Vienna), closed the panel with a talk defending an optimistic view about philosophical knowledge: by adopting a form of contextualism about “know”, he argued against the sceptic that there is philosophical knowledge after all.
Relativism, pluralism and contextualism in the philosophy of science were the topics of the second panel, whose first speaker was Lisa Heller (Bielefeld). Heller's main thesis was that different conceptualizations of the context-notion are affecting the potential to enable relative stability - thus opposing allegations to the effect that relativism necessarily causes arbitrariness and breeds instability. Reflections about relativity in authors like Feyerabend and Fleck provided the inspiration for qualifying the view. Matthew Baxendale and Michele Luchetti (CEU Budapest) turned to the concept of levels of organization, pointing out that these can be recast as constitutive principles for scientific theories, playing a preconditional role in framing scientific inquiry. Finally, Raffael Krismer (Vienna) defended Pragmatism in the philosophy of science, with a special focus on the pragmatist interpretation of quantum mechanics and with a reflection on the pragmatist's stance towards the facts/values distinction.
The meeting started again on February 25 with an open session led by myself - Delia Belleri (Vienna/Hamburg) - whose main aim was to report on recent studies tracking the careers of doctorate holders in the Euro area and to provide practical guidelines for application planning and application writing in the current European job market. Professor Elisabeth Nemeth's (Vienna) talk provided a sociological perspective on the changes undergone by European academia in the last twenty years, ranging from the prominence acquired by third-party funding to the internationalization of research programs and evaluation standards; these changes were interpreted in light of Bourdieu's theory to the effect that academic institutions live a constant tension between their educational role (adverse to change) and their scientific role (aimed at innovation).
The final panel explored relativism, pluralism and contextualism in ethics and politics. Mirela Fuš (Oslo/St. Andrews) focussed on generics associated with hate speech, shedding light on their semantic and ethical complexity and arguing that they suffer from a form of inscrutability which makes them recalcitrant to a systematic treatment. Ladislav Koreň (Hradec Králové) advocated a moderate version of moral relativism whereby differences in moral sensitivities are compatible with universal values, reviewing a number of recent experimental results which provide grist to the mill of the moderate relativist. Finally, Katharina Sodoma (Vienna) closed the event with a talk about relativism and moral progress, challenging traditional criticisms by maintaining that relativism is compatible with the improvement of our moral system.
2) New Early Career Network
The workshop was closed by a general discussion regarding future editions of the event. The idea on which all participants agreed is that there is a need for a network of early career philosophers where it is possible openly to share experiences and information about career opportunities and planning. Those present committed to the following measures to establish such a network:
(a) to organise further events in other European universities, where the presentation of ongoing research by early career scholars is combined with open sessions devoted to how to navigate the job market. This event-format is meant to fill a gap in the current training of European Ph.D students, resulting from the little importance their institutions attach to providing adequate information and advice concerning job prospects and methods of job search and application.
(b) to create a web-site where informative material can be uploaded, where young researchers can share their experiences and give tips about job application and where future events can be announced. The website is now live, so you can find out more about the network here.