About

I am professor of philosophy at the University of Western Australia, having taught over the past 25 years in North America at the University of Alberta (2000-2017), the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1996-2001), and Queen’s University (1992-1996), and most recently at La Trobe University in Melbourne (2017-2019). I was born in Broken Hill in New South Wales and grew up there and in Perth in Western Australia. I have a B.A. with first class honours in philosophy from the University of Western Australia, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where I was a Fulbright Scholar from late 1987 until early 1992. A recent interview with Richard Marshallat 3.16am gives more of an idea of stuff I have thought about, and how I got back to where I once started with all this philosophy stuff.

My philosophical interests are various, and on this site you can find representative work in the areas I have published in, such as mind and cognition, biological science, eugenics, social science. You can also check out what I have published via PhilPapers and PhilPeople, since both are relatively up to date and contain copies of nearly all of the papers I have written. Starting around 2005 or so, I also led two large-scale projects in engaged philosophy that aim to integrate philosophical thinking more directly with community-based concerns. While they don’t have your standard academic output—complicated talks and papers that can be understood by the author and at most three other people—they do represent ongoing areas of interest for me and I expect to continue this kind of work in the foreseeable future. More on that below.

My UWA profile pageis written to be more student friendly (so I am told). If there are any undergraduate, honours, or graduate students, postdocs, or others interested in collaborating to develop and deploy their philosophical skills in public and community-oriented spaces, drop me an email on rwilson dot robert at gmail dot com. That also holds true if you see anything else on this site that sparks with you. I particularly welcome inquiries from students at all levels interested in courses of study or mentorship, especially those whose backgrounds make them less likely to otherwise find themselves involved in the study of philosophy.

I have recently been able to fund two PhD students, Lucia Neco and Jorge Mendonca, from my professorship at La Trobe and am looking to recruit further doctoral students later in 2019. For more details, please see here.

Engaged Phil

The first project in engaged philosophy focuses on philosophy in the schools, a long-standing interest that I first explored while I was still an undergraduate. (I spent two months working at the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children in Montclair, New Jersey before running the first Western Australian conference on philosophy for children at Yanchep in 1986.) More recently, I was the founding director for Philosophy for Children Alberta (2008-2015), and as a part of that helped to set up both in-school programs—such as a philosopher in residence program—and an innovative summer day camp, Eurekamp!, directed successively by John Simpson and Jason Taylor, that consistently draws around 250-300 young philosophers over a 4-6 week period. I am currently looking at the best ways to adapt these innovations so that they can integrate with the vibrant philosophy in the schools community in Perth, and Australia more generally. Here I will be working with VAPS at the state level and FAPSA at the national level.

The second project in engaged philosophy focuses on eugenics and disability, and is a direct result—through meeting students whose living relatives had been sterilized, putatively in accord with the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta of 1928—of discovering the sordid history of eugenics in the province of Alberta and the role of my own employer, the University of Alberta, in it. Leading the federally-funded Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project from 2010 until 2015, and helping to establishing the public and free resources at EugenicsArchive.ca, were two tangible contributions here. The documentary film, Surviving Eugenics(2015), which I co-directed with Jordan Miller and Nicola Fairbrother, and my book The Eugenic Mind Project (MIT Press, 2018), are further community-accessible resources that are available as a result of this work. I am currently looking to make the film available via streaming together with purchase of the book; it’s currently available for institutional purchase through our distributor, Moving Images Distribution in Vancouver. All of this work was made possible by the courage of eugenics survivors to tell their own difficult stories, the hard work of a team of about 80 people (most of whom were students), and the generous funding from the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program of Canada’s federal funding agency SSHRC. Central to the project has been an exploration of the relationship between past eugenic ideas, policies, and practices and their ongoing effects. I would expect to explore these further in the Australian contexts of the cultural eugenics of stolen generations, contemporary views of immigration restriction and the dehumanization of refugees, and the ongoing reproductive marginalization of people (especially girls and women) with disabilities.

You can find more on my work here immediately below, as well as in the section Eugenics, Disability, & P4C. I have recently started the group Philosophical Engagement in Public Life (PEiPL) in Melbourne, and anyone interested in the scope and activity of the group should get in touch with me. Developing it will be the focus of my attention for 2019.

Recent Stuff

  • in press, “Preface: Eugenics and its Study”, in Frank W. Stahnisch and Erna Kurbegović (eds.), Exploring the Relationship of Eugenics and Psychiatry: Canadian and Trans-Atlantic Perspectives 1905 – 1972. Athabasca University Press. Completed April 2015, updated December 2018, 2500 words.Link

  • in press, “Dehumanization, Disability, and Eugenics”, for the Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization edited by Maria Kronfeldner. Final submitted version, January 2020; 8000 words. Link

  • 2020, “Rethinking Incest Avoidance: Beyond the Disciplinary Groove of Culture-First Views”, Biological Theory. 10 000 words. To appear in a special issue, “Rethinking the Evolution of Kinship”. Link

  • 2019, “Eugenics Undefended”, Monash Bioethics Reviews. First online, 19 July, 2019: Link

  • 2019, “Review of Agents and Goals in Evolution”, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, in press. Link

  • 2019, “Incest, Incest Avoidance, and Attachment: Revisiting the Westermarck Effect”, Philosophy of Science. 86 (July 2019) pp. 391–411. Link

  • 2019, (with Matthew J. Barker) “Biological Individuals”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This is a revised version of “Biological Notion of Individual”. Link

  • 2018, “Eugenic Thinking”, precis of The Eugenic Mind Project, for multiauthor book review (with discussions by Catherine Kendig and Alan Love), Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. Link, PDF

  • 2018, "Well-Being, Disability, and Choosing Children" Mind (coauthor: Matthew J. Barker), Here

  • 2018, The Eugenic Mind Project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Here is the finalized table of contents and the first chapter.

  • 2017, "Contemporary Forms of Eugenics", eLS Wiley Online Library. Link

  • 2017, "Collective Intentionality in Non-human Animals", in Marija Jankovic and Kirk Ludwig (eds), Routledge Handbook on Collective Intentionality. Routledge: New York, pp.420-432. Link

  • 2017, "Group-level Cognizing, Collaborative Remembering, and Individuals", in Michelle Meade, Penny Van Bergen, Celia Harris, John Sutton, and Amanda Barnier (eds.), Collaborative Remembering: Theories, research, and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Link

  • 2017, "Externalism and Internalism in the Philosophy of Mind", Oxford Bibliographies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396577/obo-9780195396577-0352.xml Subscription needed for full access; annotated list of 170 articles. Link

  • 2017, "Eugenics and Philosophy", Oxford Bibliographies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396577/obo-9780195396577-0350.xml Subscription needed for full access; annotated list of 160 articles. Link

  • 2016, "Thinking about Relations: Strathern, Sahlins, and Locke on Anthropological Knowledge", Anthropological Theory 16 (4), pp.327-349 [Appears with a reply from Marilyn Strathern] Link Reply

  • 2016, "Kinship Past, Kinship Present: Bio-Essentialism and the Study of Kinship", American Anthropologist 118 (3), pp.570-584. Link

  • 2016, "The Sound of Music, Externalist Style" (with Luke Kersten), American Philosophical Quarterly 53(2): 139-154. Special issue on externalism in epistemology / mind. Link

  • 2016, "Eugenics and Disability" (with Joshua St. Pierre), in Patrick Devlieger, Beatriz Mirandaa-Galarza, Steven E. Brown and Megan Strickfaden (eds.)Rethinking Disability: World Perspectives in Culture and Society. Antwerp: Garant Publishing), pp.93-112. Link

  • 2016, "Primary and Secondary Qualities", in Matthew Stuart (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Locke, pp.193-211. Link

  • 2015, "Ugly Laws" (with Susan Schweik), entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2015, "The Role of Oral History in Surviving a Eugenic Past", in Steven High (ed.), Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, pp.119-138. Link

  • 2014, "Ten Questions Concerning Extended Cognition" 27 (1), pp.19-33. Special issue of Philosophical Psychology edited by Thomas Sturm and Anna Estany. Link

  • 2014, "Extended Mind and Identity" (with Bartlomiej A. Lenart), for Handbook of Neuroethics, Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (eds.), Springer, pp.423-439. Link

Mind & Cognition

My principal focus as a doctoral student and junior faculty member was in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. From early on, partly under the influence of Kim Sterelny (during a Vacation Scholarship at ANU in Canberra while and undergraduate) and Frank Keil (in my first year of graduate work at Cornell), I thought of the philosophy of mind as strongly informed by the philosophy of cognitive science, and that, in turn, by the philosophy of science, something reflected in my early publications. I maintain active research and teaching interests here, despite having worked on a number of other topics since that time. In general terms, my interest in mind and cognitive science have broadened from a focus on traditional issues to include those at the intersection of philosophy of mind and biology, group-level cognition, and the philosophy of psychiatry. My coauthors here include Andy Clark, Frank Keil, Carl Craver, John Sutton, Georg Theiner, and Lucia Foglia, as well as former graduate students Luke Kersten and Bart Lenart.

Chief topics and themes:

  • individualism, computationalism, psychological explanation, realization
  • group-level cognition, collective intentionality and memory
  • embodied cognition & the extended mind: implications & applications

Books

Journal Articles

  • 2016, "The Sound of Music, Externalist Style" (with Luke Kersten), American Philosophical Quarterly 53(2): 139-154. Special issue on externalism in epistemology / mind. Link

  • 2014, "Ten Questions Concerning Extended Cognition", special issue of Philosophical Psychology edited by Thomas Sturm and Anna Estany, 27 (1), pp.19-33. Link

  • 2008, "The Drink You Have When You're Not Having a Drink", Mind and Language 23 (3), June 2008, pp.273-283. Link

  • 2008, "A Conceptual and Empirical Framework for the Social Distribution of Cognition: The Case of Memory" (with Amanda Barnier, John Sutton, and Celia Harris), Cognitive Systems Research, 9 (1-2) March 2008, pp.33-51. Link

  • 2005, "What Computers (Still, Still) Can't Do: Jerry Fodor on Computation and Modularity", in R. J. Stainton, M. Ezcurdia, and C. D. Viger (eds), New Essays in Philosophy of Language and Mind. Supplementary issue 30 of the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, pp.407-425. Link

  • 2005, "Collective Memory, Group Minds, and the Extended Mind Thesis", special issue Cognitive Processing, 6 (December 2005): 227-236. Link

  • 2004, "Realization: Metaphysics, Mind, and Science", Philosophy of Science 71 (December 2004, Proceedings): S985-996. Link

  • 2001, "Group-Level Cognition", Philosophy of Science 68 (2001 supp.), S262-S273. Link

  • 2001, "Two Views of Realization", Philosophical Studies 104 (May 2001), pp.1-30. Link

  • 1994, "Wide Computationalism", Mind 103 (July 1994), pp.351-372. Link

  • 1994, "Causal Depth, Theoretical Appropriateness, and Individualism in Psychology", Philosophy of Science 61 (March 1994), pp.55-75. Link

  • 1993, "Against A Priori Arguments for Individualism", Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74 (March 1993), pp.60-79.

  • 1992, "Individualism, Causal Powers, and Explanation", Philosophical Studies 68 (November 1992), pp.103-139. Link

  • 1988, "Moving" (with M.S. Candlish), Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (June 1988), pp.174-187.

Other Papers and Articles

  • 2017, "Collective Intentionality in Non-human Animals", in Marija Jankovic and Kirk Ludwig (eds), Routledge Handbook on Collective Intentionality. New York : Routledge, pp.420-432. Link

  • 2017, "Group-level Cognizing, Collaborative Remembering, and Individuals", in Michelle Meade, Penny Van Bergen, Celia Harris, John Sutton, and Amanda Barnier (eds.), Collaborative Remembering: Theories, research, and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Link

  • 2017, "Externalism and Internalism in the Philosophy of Mind", Oxford Bibliographies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396577/obo-9780195396577-0352.xml Subscription needed for full access; annotated list of 170 articles. Link

  • 2015, "Extended Mind and Identity" (with Bart Lenart), for Handbook of Neuroethics, Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (eds), Springer, pp.423-439. Link

  • 2014, "Psychology", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenic Traits", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2013, "Group Mind" (with Georg Theiner), in Byron Kaldis (ed.),Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences . Thousand Oaks CA: Sage, pp.401-404.

  • 2013, "Embodied Cognition" (with Lucia Foglia), WIRES Cognitive Science 4: 319-325. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1226 Link

  • 2011, "Embodied Cognition" (with Lucia Foglia), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/embodied-cognition/

  • 2010, "Extended Vision", in N. Gangopadhyay, M. Madary, and F. Spicer (eds), Perception, Action and Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.277-290. Link

  • 2010, "Meaning Making and the Mind of the Externalist", in Richard Menary (ed.), Externalism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.167-188. Link

  • 2010, Review of Robert Rupert, Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind. New York: Oxford University Press),Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=19128

  • 2009, "How to Situate Cognition: Letting Nature Take its Course" (with Andy Clark), in Murat Aydede and Phillip Robbins (eds), Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition, pp.55-77. Link

  • 2007, "Social Reality and Institutional Facts: Sociality Within and Without Intentionality", in Savas L. Tsohatzidis (ed.), Intentional Acts and Institutional Facts: Essays on John Searle's Social Ontology (Dordrecht: Springer), 139-153. Link

  • 2007, "Realization" (with Carl Craver), in Paul Thagard (ed.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Volume 12, Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Elsevier, pp.81-104. Link

  • 2006, "Critical Notice of Mohan Matthen's Seeing, Knowing, and Doing: A Philosophical Theory of Sense Perception (Oxford, 2005), Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36 (March 2006): 117-132. Link

  • 2005, "Persons, Social Agency, and Constitution", Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (Summer 2005), pp.49-69. Also published in Ellen Frankl Paul, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Jeffrey Paul (eds), Personal Identity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005

  • 2005, "Philosophy of Psychology" in Sahotra Sarkar and Jessica Pfeiffer (eds), The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, 2 volumes. New York: Routledge, pp.613-619.

  • 2004, "Recent Work in Individualism in the Social, Behavioural and Biological Sciences", Biology and Philosophy, 19 (June 2004), pp.397-423. Link

  • 2003, "Externalism", in Lynn Nadel et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. London: Macmillan Publishers, pp.92-97.

  • 2003, "Individualism", ch.11 of Stephen Stich and Ted A. Warfield (eds) Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. New York: Blackwell, pp.256-287. Link

  • 2001, "The Cognitive Sciences: A Comment on 6 Reviews of The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences", Artificial Intelligence, 130 (August 2001):223-229. [Phil Husbands, Catherine Carr, Bonnie Dorr, Donald Peterson, Yoshi Okamoto, George Lakoff.]

  • 2000, "The Mind Beyond Itself", in Dan Sperber (ed.), Metarepresentations: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Volume 10, Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.31-52.

  • 2000, "Explaining Explanation" (with Frank Keil), editors' introduction to Explanation and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.1-18.

  • 2000, "The Shadows and Shallows of Explanation" (with Frank Keil), in F.C. Keil and R.A. Wilson (eds), Explanation and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.87-114. Modified version of 2. below. Link

  • 1999, "The Individual in Biology and Psychology", in Valerie G. Hardcastle (ed.), Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.357-74.

  • 1999, "Philosophy: Introduction", in R.A. Wilson and F.C. Keil (eds), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.xv-xxxvii. Link

  • 1999, "Individualism", in R.A. Wilson and F.C. Keil (eds), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.397-99.

Bio & Social Sciences

Although my principal early career focus was in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, my first appointment at Queen’s University was in the philosophy of science. I taught my first class in the philosophy of biology while there more than twenty years ago, and have maintained both research and teaching interests there since that time. My most recent interests cluster around anthropology and kinship, eugenics, the interface between mind and biology, and biological individuality; I have recently completed a book manuscript, Relative Beings, on kinship that I hope to see published in 2018. My coauthors in this general area include two outstanding former graduate students, Matthew Barker and Joshua St. Pierre.

Chief topics and themes:

  • philosophical anthropology; kinship; explanations of incest avoidance
  • essentialism in biology, the nature of species, levels of natural selection, group-level cognition, organisms
  • explanation, pluralism, natural kinds, realism
  • eugenics / newgenics, bioenhancement, sorts of people

Books

Journal Articles

  • 2020, “Rethinking Incest Avoidance: Beyond the Disciplinary Groove of Culture-First Views”, Biological Theory. 10 000 words. To appear in a special issue, “Rethinking the Evolution of Kinship”. Link

  • 2019, “Eugenics Undefended”, Monash Bioethics Reviews. First online, 19 July, 2019: Link

  • 2019, “Review of Agents and Goals in Evolution”, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, in press. Link

  • 2019, “Incest, Incest Avoidance, and Attachment: Revisiting the Westermarck Effect”, Philosophy of Science. 86 (July 2019) pp. 391–411. Link

  • 2019, (with Matthew J. Barker) “Biological Individuals”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This is a revised version of “Biological Notion of Individual”. Link

  • 2016, "Thinking about Relations: Strathern, Sahlins, and Locke on Anthropological Knowledge", Anthropological Theory 16 (4), pp.327-349 [Appears with a reply from Marilyn Strathern] Link Reply

  • 2016, "Kinship Past, Kinship Present: Bio-Essentialism and the Study of Kinship", American Anthropologist 118 (3), pp.570-584. Link

  • 2010, "Cohesion, Gene Flow, and the Nature of Species" (with Matthew J. Barker), Journal of Philosophy, CVII (2), pp.59-77. Link

  • 2004, "Recent Work in Individualism in the Social, Behavioural and Biological Sciences", Biology and Philosophy, 19 (June 2004), pp.397-423. Link

  • 2005, "Collective Memory, Group Minds, & the Extended Mind Thesis", special issue Cognitive Processing, 6 (December 2005), pp. 227-236.

  • 2004, "Test Cases, Resolvability, and Group Selection: A Critical Examination of the Myxoma Case", Philosophy of Science 71 (July 2004), pp. 380-401. Link

  • 2003, "Pluralism, Entwinement, and the Levels of Selection", Philosophy of Science 70 (July 2003), pp.531-552. Link

  • 2001, "Group-Level Cognition", Philosophy of Science 68 (2001 supp.), S262-S273. Link

  • 2000, "Some Problems for 'Alternative Individualism' ", Philosophy of Science 67 (December 2000), pp.671-679.

  • 1996, "Promiscuous Realism", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (June 1996), pp.303-316.

Other Papers and Articles

  • 2017, "Contemporary Forms of Eugenics", eLS Wiley Online Library. Link

  • 2017, "Eugenics and Philosophy", Oxford Bibliographies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396577/obo-9780195396577-0350.xml Subscription needed for full access; annotated list of 160 articles. Link

  • 2016, "Eugenics and Disability" (with Joshua St. Pierre), in Patrick Devlieger, Beatriz Mirandaa-Galarza, Steven E. Brown and Megan Strickfaden (eds.)Rethinking Disability: World Perspectives in Culture and Society. Antwerp: Garant Publishing), pp.93-112. Link

  • 2015, "The Role of Oral History in Surviving a Eugenic Past", in Steven High (ed.), Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, pp.119-138. Link

  • 2014, "Eugenics: positive vs negative", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Sorts of People", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Science, role of", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Family Studies", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Sociobiology", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenic Traits", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenics", central node for Connections at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2012, "The Biological Notion of Individual" (with Matthew J. Barker), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/biology-individual/

  • 2010, "The Primal Path to Kinship: A Critical Review of Bernard Chapais, Primeval Kinship (Harvard University Press, 2008), Biology and Philosophy 25 (1), pp.111-123. Link

  • 2002, "I, Primate", Biology and Philosophy 17, pp.285-299. Extended review of Sarah Hrdy's Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection. (Pantheon Books, 1999) and Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan's Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society. (U of Chicago Press, 2000). Link

  • 2007, "When Traditional Essentialism Fails: Biological Natural Kinds" (with Matthew J. Barker and Ingo Brigandt), invited paper for issue of Philosophical Topics 35 (1 and 2): 189-215. Link

  • 2007, "Social Reality and Institutional Facts: Sociality Within and Without Intentionality", in Savas L. Tsohatzidis (ed.), Intentional Acts and Institutional Facts: Essays on John Searle's Social Ontology (Dordrecht: Springer), 139-153. Link

  • 2007, "Levels of Selection", in Mohan Matthen and Christopher Stevens (eds), Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Volume 3, Philosophy of Biology, Elsevier, pp.155-176.

  • 1999, "The Individual in Biology and Psychology", in Valerie G. Hardcastle (ed.), Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.357-74.

  • 1999, "Realism, Essence, and Kind: Resuscitating Species Essentialism? ", in R.A. Wilson (ed.), Species: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.187-207. Link

  • 1999, “Introduction”, in R.A. Wilson (ed.), Species: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.ix-xvii. Link

Eugenics, Disability, & P4C

Philosophy for children has been a strong, driving interest of mine since I was an undergraduate, and philosophical and moral issues connected to disability have emerged in much of the work I have undertaken in the past 10 years. While my philosophical activities in other areas has involved its share of professional involvement (e.g., chairing conference programs, serving on executive committees), my work here has required a deeper level of collaboration, institution-building and community engagement. Workshops, public talks, and grant administration (sigh) subsequently occupied a disproportionate amount of the dividend pie and in my daily life. The core of the work here has been highly collaborative, and would not have been possible without the shared leadership shown by John Simpson and Jason Taylor in the philosophy for children (2008-2015), and by Gregor Wolbring, Erika Dyck, Nicola Fairbrother, and Moyra Lang, and our team of about 80 people—more than half of whom were students—in the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project (2010-2015).

Chief topics and themes:

  • eugenics / newgenics, bioenhancement
  • sorts of people, human variation
  • engaged inquiry, dialogical pedagogy

Institutional groundwork and community leadership

  • Team Initiator, What Sorts of People Should There Be? www.whatsorts.net, 2006

  • Founder and Director, Philosophy for Children Alberta, p4c.ualberta.ca 2008-2015; includes development of Eurekamp p4c.ualberta.ca/eurekamp/ directed by Dr. John Simpson (2009-2013) and Dr. Jason Taylor (2014 – 2016).

  • Principal Investigator, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada eugenicsarchive.ca , 2010–2015. Community-University Research Alliance project, leading approximately 80 team members (colleagues, students, community members).

Publications

  • in press, “Preface: Eugenics and its Study”, in Frank W. Stahnisch and Erna Kurbegović (eds.), Exploring the Relationship of Eugenics and Psychiatry: Canadian and Trans-Atlantic Perspectives 1905 – 1972. Athabasca University Press. Completed April 2015, updated December 2018, 2500 words.Link

  • in press, “Dehumanization, Disability, and Eugenics”, for the Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization edited by Maria Kronfeldner. Final submitted version, January 2020; 8000 words. Link

  • 2018, “Eugenic Thinking”, precis of The Eugenic Mind Project, for multiauthor book review (with discussions by Catherine Kendig and Alan Love), Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. Link, PDF

  • 2018, "Well-Being, Disability, and Choosing Children" Mind (coauthor: Matthew J. Barker), Here

  • 2018, The Eugenic Mind Project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Here is the finalized table of contents and the first chapter.

  • 2017, "Contemporary Forms of Eugenics", for eLS Online John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. Link

  • in press, "Preface", in Frank W. Stahnisch and Erna Kurbegović (eds.), Exploring the Relationship of Eugenics and Psychiatry: Canadian and Trans-Atlantic Perspectives 1905 – 1972. Athabasca University Press. Link

  • 2016, "Eugenics and Disability" (with Joshua St. Pierre), in Patrick Devlieger, Beatriz Miranda-Galarza, Steven E. Brown & Megan Strickfaden (eds)Rethinking Disability: World Perspectives in Culture and Society, 2nd edition. Antwerp-Apeldoom: Garant Publishing, pp.93-112. Link

  • 2015, "The Role of Oral History in Surviving a Eugenic Past", in Steven High (ed.), Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, pp.119-138. Link

  • 2014, "Eugenics: positive vs negative", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca

  • 2014, "Psychology", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Sorts of People", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Science, role of", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Family Studies", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenic Traits", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenics as Wrongful", entry for Encyc at eugenicsarchive.ca.

  • 2014, "Eugenics", central node for Connections at eugenicsarchive.ca.

Talks, workshops, and presentations since 2010

  • "Knowing Agency from the Margins", Department of Philosophy, Central European University, Budapest, December 9th, 2014, and Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna, December 12th, 2014.

  • "Eugenics, Newgenics, and Disability", Department of Philosophy, Central European University, Budapest, December 8th, 2014.

  • "Plenary comment", short response as chair of concluding plenary session, Early Career Scholars Conference in Philosophy of Psychiatry, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, November 21-22, 2014.

  • "Eugenics, Disability, Standpoint, Philosophy" (with Joshua St. Pierre and Alan McLuckie), Philosophy Colloquium, University of Alberta as part of Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2014, October 23, 2014.

  • "The Role of Oral History in Understanding a Eugenic Past", Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta as part of Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2014, October 22, 2014.

  • Workshop for Balwin Summer School counselors (with Luke Kersten); 3-hour workshop for 15 camp counselors, Edmonton, Alberta, 4 July, 2014.

  • Workshop for Eurekamp Counselors; 3-hour workshop for 20 camp counselors, Edmonton, Alberta, 3 July, 2014.

  • "From Participant to Facilitator", public workshop for Philosophy for Children Alberta, Edmonton, 22 March, 2014.

  • "Standpoint Eugenics", Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week, Edmonton, Alberta, 16 October, 2013; also version given as an invited keynote, Das Netzwerk Philosophie der Lebenswissenschaften (Philosophy of the Life Sciences Network) working meeting, Gut-Siggen, Germany, August 21-24, 2013.

  • Discussant, panel on "Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality", with Lise Gotell and Lane Mandlis, Pride Week, University of Alberta, Mar 20, 2013.

  • "Two Kinds of Folk Experience and the Enthusiasm of Philosophers", keynote address, Thompson Rivers University Philosophy, History, Politics Conference, Kamloops, British Columbia, January 18-19, 2013.

  • Philosopher in Residence, Saint Maria Goretti School, Edmonton, Nov 5-9, 2012. 5 full days of classes with students, plus teacher development sessions." Introductory Comments", 40th

  • Anniversary of the Repeal of the Sexual Sterilization Act, Commemorative Public Event, City Hall, Edmonton, October 17, 2012

  • "Of Enthusiasm, Philosophers, and Folk Experience", keynote address, Australasian Association of Philosophy annual conference, University of Wollongong, 1st–7th July, 2012.

  • "Collaborative Inquiry Out of School: Philosophy Boot Camp, or the Endless Summer?", keynote address, Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations, biennual meeting, University of Wollongong, 3rd-5th July, 2012.

  • "Of Philosophers, Folk, and Enthusiasm", Annual Public Lecture, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, 27 April, 2012;

  • "Bio Low Tech: Persons, Marked Human Variation, and the Sub-Human", conference, Human Gizmos, Penn State University, April 13-15, 2012.

  • "Can a River Flow Uphill?", informal talk to Philosophy for Children Alberta, 16 February, 2012.

  • Philosopher in Residence, Aquinas College, November 2011, and Perth Montessori School, December 2012, Perth, Western Australia. 5 days of workshops & presentations working with students, teachers, and parents.

  • "Psychiatric Taxonomies: The Case of Personality Disorders", plenary symposium panel, The Future Relationship of Psychiatry, Psychology and the Neurosciences in the Light of the Past – Reductionism or Complementarity?, first joint meeting of the International Society for the History of Neuroscience and Cheiron, June 16-23, 2011, Calgary & Banff.

  • "Witnessing and Complicity: Sexual Crimes and Wrongful Accusation", invited keynote lecture, Banff Workshop held with the first joint meeting of the International Society for the History of Neuroscience and Cheiron, Calgary and Banff, June 16-23, 2011.

  • Philosopher in Residence. Leo Nickerson School, St. Albert, September, 2010. Taught 36 hours of classes (3 hours in each of 12 classrooms), grades 1-6, over 10 days. First philosopher in residence program in the Edmonton area, and taught jointly with Dr. John Simpson.

  • Workshop presentations on Pixie to 130 teachers, Edmonton Catholic School Board, Inquiry-based learning project. With John Simpson and Jason Taylor, March 2010.

  • Workshop presentations on Pixie, Lisa, Mark, and Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery to 100 teachers, North Central Teachers Convention of Alberta, Shaw Conference Centre, February 2010.

  • Workshop presentation and talk on Philosophy for Children, Edmonton Catholic School Board, Inquiry-based learning project, to 70 teachers (with John Simpson, Howard Nye, and Jason Taylor), Fantasyland Hotel, West Edmonton Mall, February 2010.

Other Philosophy

Finally, I have systematic research interests in a few other areas, particularly within metaphysics and the history of modern philosophy (esp. Locke), and I simply list the publications here.

  • 2016, "Primary and Secondary Qualities", in Matthew Stuart (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Locke, pp.193-211. Link

  • 2009, "The Transitivity of Material Constitution", Noûs 43 (2), June 2009, pp.364-378. Link

  • 2008, "Material Constitution and the Many-Many Problem", Canadian Journal of Philosophy 38 (2), June 2008, pp.201-218. Link

  • 2007, "A Puzzle About Material Constitution and How to Solve It: Enriching Constitution Views in Metaphysics", Philosophers' Imprint Vol. 7, No. 5 (July 2007), pp.1-20. Link

  • 2007, "Social Reality and Institutional Facts: Sociality Within and Without Intentionality", in Savas L. Tsohatzidis (ed.), Intentional Acts and Institutional Facts: Essays on John Searle's Social Ontology (Dordrecht: Springer), 139-153. Link

  • 2007, "Realization" (with Carl Craver), in Paul Thagard (ed.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Volume 12, Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Elsevier, pp.81-104. Link

  • 2005, "Persons, Social Agency, and Constitution", Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (Summer 2005), pp.49-69. Also published in E. Frankl Paul, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Jeffrey Paul (eds), Personal Identity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005

  • 2004, "Realization: Metaphysics, Mind, and Science", Philosophy of Science 71 (December 2004, Proceedings): S985-996. Link

  • 2002, "Locke's Primary Qualities", Journal of the History of Philosophy 40 (April 2002), pp.201-228. Reprinted in Peter Anstey, John Locke: Critical Assessments (Volume III: Metaphysics). London: Routledge. Link

  • 2001, "Two Views of Realization", Philosophical Studies 104 (May 2001), pp.1-30.

  • 1988, (with M.S. Candlish), "Moving", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (June 1988), pp.174-187.

Mentoring

Apart from my formal supervisions of MA and PhD students, my roles directing Philosophy for Children Alberta and the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada over the past dozen years have involved a lot of work informally mentoring students, teachers, and others through workshops, employee supervision, directed studies, and research assistantship direction. I currently supervise two PhD students, Lucia Neco and Jorge Mendonca, both working in the philosophy of biology. Please contact me if you are interested in graduate work at the University of Western Australia in this area or any others that I have published or worked in.

The blurbs and links from the following graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and co-instructors should give you some idea about what you might get out of studying philosophy and where it might take you, and what it’s like working with me as a student, co-mentor, or collaborator of some other kind.

  • Alan McLuckie

    I am currently serving as the Managing Editor for the Journal of the History of Philosophy, presently housed at the University of Alberta, where I earned both my B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. After completing my Ph.D. in philosophy at Stanford University, I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Izaak Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellowship under Rob’s supervision. While my philosophical interests have tended to be historical (my M.A. thesis was on Nietzsche, my dissertation on Kant, and I completed the Joint Program in Ancient Philosophy at Stanford), those interests have always been informed by the way the texts have helped me to navigate my own experiences and existential questions (or crises, as it were). Collaborating with Rob et al. on the Living Archives on Eugenics program provided me the opportunity to connect my historical interests with more urgent, practical matters. In terms of research, Rob’s interdisciplinary approach has helped me make questions I work on in Kant’s ethics relevant to pressing social and political issues surrounding, e.g. eugenic thinking. In terms of teaching, my experiences with the Eugenics Archive project has been an invaluable resource in helping me to engage students in a way that gets them excited about philosophical questions relevant to their own discipline and lives.

  • Anco Peeters

    My philosophical journey has led me to meet great like-minded people all over the world. Born and raised in the Netherlands, where I studied philosophy and artificial intelligence at Radboud University Nijmegen, I sought my philosophical fortune in the land Down Under, meeting Rob. In my doctoral project at the University of Wollongong (2016–2019), I pursued my interest in the cognitive dimension of our interactions with emerging technologies by developing an embodied enactive account of mind–technology interaction, visiting the University of Edinburgh during 2018 as part of my studies. Though Rob joined my project at a relatively late stage, both the ease with which he jumped on board and connected my research to important related discussions in the philosophy of mind and science, as well as his supportive mentoring skills greatly helped the completion of my dissertation move forward. My training as a philosopher has enabled me to better distinguish what people say they do and what they actually do, both in and outside of academia. Currently, I am working as a postdoc on the Philosophy of Memory at the Ruhr-University Bochum, in Germany. Home page

  • Bart Lenart

    The critical engagement with ideas and the rigorous analysis involved in philosophical thinking has served me well in my continuing adventures through academia. I’m currently the Research and Learning Librarian for Philosophy and Education at the University of Calgary, and find that a PhD in philosophy has been a great asset; philosophy opened many intellectual doors for me since there is always a need for a philosophical perspective. While I continue to engage with traditional philosophical problems as part of my scholarly duties at the UofC, I’ve also discovered a wide range of interesting issues and research topics, which benefit from the kind of philosophical rigour that only training in philosophy can provide. Rob’s enthusiasm for interdisciplinary inquiry has not only shaped the direction of my dissertation work, but also my current scholarly interests and pursuits!

  • Ben McMahen

    Studying philosophy, if nothing else, has provided me with a certain porousness — an openness to ideas, a receptivity to others, and a humbleness in one's own beliefs. Though I have long since stopped a formal study of philosophy, these skills, amongst others, have helped me both in my career as a product developer and designer, and in my day to day life. I'm currently a Front-end Developer at Frame.io in New York. Home page

  • Emma Peng Chien

    I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in Philosophy at National Tsing Hua University (2019-) in my native Taiwan. My research focuses on philosophical issues in autism, especially emotions, self-awareness, and first-person narratives. I completed my Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Alberta in Canada. Before that, I finished a B.Sc. in Biology and a M.A. in philosophy, and was a M.Sc. student in both Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan. I had studied with Rob for more than six years, from 2010 to 2017. Rob was my mentor when I entered the PhD program at UofA, and later became my dissertation supervisor. On top of that, my time at UofA overlapped with Rob’s Living Archives project and his endeavor in Philosophy for Children, both of which had influenced my philosophical approach. The Philosophy for Children’s interactive and engaging style became the backbone of my teaching at UofA. Having the chance to take part in the Living Archives project, I started to reflect upon the socio-political impacts of the philosophical issues in mind and science that I was originally interested in. This line of thinking fueled the framework of my dissertation “Beyond Cognition: Philosophical Issues in Autism,” in which I discussed issues in other minds, emotions, narratives, the self, and interconnected socio-political issues in autism. Feel free to take a look of my dissertation, esp. its acknowledgement, to learn more about my experience of working with Rob.

  • George Theiner

    Born and raised in Vienna, I am Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy, and Affiliate of the Cognitive Science Program, at Villanova University. After completing BA and MA degrees in Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Vienna, I received a Fulbright scholarship to study at Indiana University, where I earned my PhD in Philosophy, with a Joint PhD in Cognitive Science and a Minor in the History and Philosophy of Science. From 2008-10, I was fortunate to hold a Killam postdoctoral fellowship under Rob’s supervision, whose diligent mentoring and interdisciplinary outlook on philosophy greatly helped me launch my own professional career. I have wide-ranging research interests in the philosophy of mind & cognitive science, the philosophy of language & linguistics, social epistemology & ontology, and have published over 25 articles and book chapters in those areas. I am also author of the monograph Res Cogitans Extensa: A Philosophical Defense of the Extended Mind Thesis (Peter Lang, 2011). I currently serve as Executive Editor of the journal Social Epistemology and am passionate about exploring the use of innovative technologies in teaching, learning, and outcomes assessment. Home page

  • James Bachmann

    I completed my PhD in philosophy at the University of Alberta, where I specialized in philosophy of mind and appreciated Rob's flexible style as my supervisor. As I transition to a career in librarianship, I continue to find philosophy highly relevant. Perhaps more than any other discipline, philosophy improves critical thinking skills, which allow for greater insight in all areas of professional and personal life. I have been enjoying finding more and more ways to apply these skills in the library context, most recently with a focus on applied ethics.

  • Jorge Piaia Mendonca Junior

    I'm from Brazil and my background is in philosophy. In my PhD, I'm focusing on issues related to the problem of altruism in biology. Rob has been a great adviser. I think he will be crucial for my goal of getting rich and famous in a quick and easy way, which is what brought me to philosophy.

  • Joshua St. Pierre

    Philosophy has given me invaluable tools for life. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta and I specialize in critical disability studies at the intersection of contemporary political theory. I am interested in the ways that ableist norms of communication foreclose political spaces and how an attention to disability can widen our conceptions of political action and belonging. Philosophy has taught me to think carefully and critically about the world—to be humble at the limits of knowledge. But perhaps more importantly, I’ve become committed to the idea that philosophy is meant to be put into practice and to be useful for society.

  • Karen Bland

    I love philosophy! I discovered it when I was a 30-something-year-old hospo-working undergrad at UNSW, Sydney and now am a late 40-something PhD graduate from The University of Adelaide. Over the years I have taught casually at UNSW, UofA and La Trobe University and now hold my first ‘real’ job as a lecturer and philosophy for children (p4c) practitioner at the University of Western Australia – thanks to Rob!!! I see philosophy as very practical – a method of thinking carefully and critically about ethical issues. I also value it as an educational tool for the exploration of ideas and engagement with contemporary problems for people of all ages. I look forward to working with Rob and developing a p4c school holiday program akin to Eurekamp (which I worked with him on in Canada), here in WA. By our powers combined, philosophy will take over the world.

  • Kenneth Bond

    Upon completing my MA, my hope was to find a job where I could be a bridge between philosophers doing interesting work and the rest of us just doing work. As the Director of Health Technology at the Institute of Health Economics (Edmonton, Canada; www.ihe.ca), I have the opportunity to, if not live the dream completely, at least feel that I am getting closer to it. I've found that an awareness of philosophical issues and techniques to help explicate and address them have been very helpful in a field dominated by health services researchers and health economists. This perspective has allowed me to make unique contributions to the growing field of ethics in health technology assessment and as deputy editor for the International Journal for Technology Assessment in Healthcare.

  • Lucia Neco

    I was trained as a biologist (UFBA) and ethologist (USP) in Brazil. While science was giving me great opportunities, I was always flirting with philosophy approaches. I met Rob when he was screening “Surviving Eugenics” at a philosophy of biology conference in 2015 and I offered myself to make the subtitles of the movie in Portuguese. From that moment, I started to get familiar with Rob’s projects and his commitment to them. He was crucial in supporting my decision to embrace philosophy as a future career. Now, I'm exploring the unknown realms of philosophy as a PhD Candidate at the University of Western Australia. I'm very interested in the concepts we use in science practice and how to make more sense of them. Specifically, I study the application of concepts and classifications to the diversity of social behaviors that exist out there. In summary, I like to talk about social stuff and to explore strange new worlds. Live long, and prosper! Home page

  • Luke Kersten

    Originally a small town hockey player, I am now completing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Before joining Edinburgh, I spent time completing degrees in cognitive science and philosophy in my native Canada. I am interested mostly in topics related to the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with side interests in the philosophy of science and computing. Home page

  • Matt Barker

    At first, doing philosophy sharpened my thinking, helped me harmonize priorities, and probably made me a better person. Later, it became a career. Rob helped a great deal with all of that. At Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario) in 1998 I finished a BSc in biology and was nearly finished a BA in philosophy. Then I worked at home and abroad for a few years, thinking I might eventually return to school to finish the BA and apply to grad school. I did that in 2003 after finding Rob, and I finished my MA on species in biology with him in 2005 at the University of Alberta. He guided my transition into the PhD program in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, under Elliott Sober. Rob and I have written several papers together since then. Currently I’m an Associate Professor and Department Chair in Philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Home page

  • Nicolas J. Bullot

    Rob was the supervisor of my second PhD degree at the University of Alberta, Canada (my first PhD was an interdisciplinary research in cognitive science). Rob helped me link my research about human cognition to social philosophy and ethics; and for this I am truly grateful. I now work as lecturer in philosophy at Charles Darwin University, in the Northern Territory of Australia. I greatly respect Rob’s social engagement for vulnerable individuals. Studying the ideas of a philosopher is not always sufficient to understand why philosophy matters. To grasp why philosophy matters, one may rather try to act and live in a way that is genuinely philosophical. For example, instead of just talking about philosophy, let’s cooperate in order to enact socially transformative project motivated by philosophical learning. This kind of socially engaged practice in philosophy is exemplary illustrated by Rob’s work as a mentor and an investigator of social cognition and the disabled mind. Thus, what I greatly appreciated in Rob’s mentoring is his constant effort to link philosophy of mind to social engagement. Home page

  • Peter Asaro

    Studying the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, gave me the intellectual tools to save the world from killer robots. Home page

  • Rosemary Renton

    After completing my MA with Rob at Queen's, I became a teacher and a librarian in Barrie, Ontario. I'd tell you more, but after reading Shashy's bio, I just Kant.

  • Shashy Das

    I started my studies really knowing Foucault about philosophy, but i soon figured out my Engel. Not wanting to put Descartes before the horse, I completed my MA with Rob at Queen's before I dropped my Kierkegaard and became a computer programmer. Married to Rosemary, (also one of Rob's graduates), and dad to Noah and Sophie. Do i Socratease them with bad jokes? Don't even get me Sartred!

Teaching

Much of the teaching I have done has been with primary and secondary students and their teachers as part of my involvement in philosophy in the schools. At the university level, I have taught in a broad range of areas, including the philosophy of mind, psychology, and cognitive science, the philosophy of biology, and the history of philosophy. Here are eight representative syllabi from my time at Alberta, ranging from the earliest to the most recent courses. Graduate / upper level courses are taught as seminars; intermediate courses are taught lecture-style (with discussion). I have also taught (and enjoy teaching) large-lecture introductory courses, and will be teaching PHI1QTM—Questions That Matter—for the next few years at La Trobe.

Advanced: Science 2017 Eugenics 2013 Mind 2003 History 2003 Bio 2001

Intermediate: Bio 2016 Psych 2012 Bio 2005

Contact

Email me at rob dot wilson at uwa dot com dot au