Abstracts in Alphabetical Order

Women, Truth, Action

Marije Altorf (St. Mary’s University College): Thinking as an Act of Resistance: Arendt and the Practice of Socratic Dialogue

At the beginning of her last, unfinished work, The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt returns to the Eichmann-trial. Like the Dutch author Harry Mulisch, whom Arendt quotes in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt  believes Eichmann’s crime to be a new kind of crime.[1] She famously analyses Eichmann’s actions as caused by thoughtlessness – the absence of thinking.

In the first part of The Life of the Mind-Thinking Arendt analyses thinking as ‘two-in-one’: when I am alone, I no longer am one, but I am in conversation with myself. I’ll only become one again when ‘the outside world intrudes upon the thinker and cuts short the thinking process.’ (185) This analysis of thinking turns upside down the usual (metaphysical) primacy of the world of thinking over that outside the thinker’s mind. From the start of The Life of the Mind Arendt argues for the primacy of the world of appearance, ‘the value of the surface’ (26ff). Thinking as two-in-one confirms this overturning of priorities, in that thinking is modelled after dialogue, rather than that dialogue is understood as an expression of thought. Moreover, the book is preceded by the curious quote contributed to Cato: ‘never is a man more active than when he does nothing, never less alone than when he is by himself.’ (vii, 7-8)

This paper will question to what extent thinking can be an act of resistance. It will first present a form of socratic method, viz. as first developed by the German philosopher and mathematician Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) and others. It then examines how this method compares to Arendt’s notion of thinking, and lastly how it has fuelled resistance, especially in Nazi-Germany, where Nelson’s student Grete Hermann (1901-1984) travelled the country to conduct Socratic dialogues with people of the resistance[2].

Ulrika Björk (University of Uppsala):  Political and Subjective Freedom: Reading Hannah Arendt with Julia Kristeva

This paper investigates the interdependence of politics and subjectivity by turning to the thought of Hannah Arendt and Julia Kristeva. In “Europe divided: Politics, Ethics, Religion” (1997) Kristeva claims that if European political life is to be made meaningful, a positive idea of subjective freedom must be re-established. She finds such an idea articulated in the Western moral and philosophical tradition. At the intersection of Greek, Jewish and Christian experience, Kristeva argues, an identification of the subject with freedom crystallized. This identification, deepened by the Enlightenment, led to “a definition of freedom coextensive with the self: to an equating of the speaking subject with freedom.” Auto-commencement, spontaneity and sovereignty are words that describe this idea of subjective freedom.

Starting with The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt ([1951] 1976) argues the other way around. In her view, individual spontaneity is conditioned by a political space that we, as citizens, share; one that guarantees the rights and freedoms of all. She famously draws on Greek and Roman experience to articulate an idea of politics in which both individuality and human plurality can flourish. However, when she examines the meaning of political freedom more closely, Arendt (1968; [1971] 1978) thematizes its “hidden source”: our human talent for initiative and spontaneity. She evokes both Kant and Augustine in order to theorize the “faculty of freedom itself” as a distinctively human capacity for initiation and action.

My paper begins by examining this seeming tension or contradiction in the Arendtian concept of freedom. Is individual spontaneity dependent on a free political space? Or is politics conditioned by a human and ontologically based faculty for beginning, for initiatory action? With this analysis in place, I then compare Arendt’s idea of subjective freedom (a phrase she would scarcely approve of) to that of Kristeva. In this comparison, I pay particular attention to the meaning of spontaneity and its relation to sovereignty.


Arendt, Hannah ([1951] 1976) The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Inc.
Arendt, Hannah (1968) “What is Freedom?”, Between Past and Future. New York: Penguin Books, pp. 142-169.
Arendt, Hannah ([1971] 1978) The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

Kristeva, Julia ([1998] 2000) “Europe Divided: Politics, Ethics, Religion”, Crisis of the European Subject, trans. Susan Fairfield. New York: Other Press, pp. 111-162.

Eyja Brynjarsdottir (University of Iceland; Bifröst University): Misogyny’s object

We often think of misogyny as something possessed and expressed by people we would call anti-feminist or sexist. Misogyny, whatever it exactly is, is what feminists unite to fight against. If so, can it ever make sense to accuse a feminist of misogyny? Of course a feminist can, as any other member of a patriarchal society, partake in misogynistic institutions and be guilty of all kinds of unintentional misogyny. But can there be a kind of misogyny that is specific to (some) feminists?

The aim of this talk is to examine two important issues regarding misogyny. Under the assumption that misogyny involves contempt for women or for female characteristics, the question of what being a woman or having female characteristics means stares us in the face. Misogyny involves contempt for…what exactly? I also consider whether and in what way there can be such a thing as feminist misogyny. I argue that these two issues are closely connected.

In her paper “Feminist Misogyny: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Paradox of “It Takes One to Know One””, Susan Gubar cites examples of Wollstonecraft‘s misogyny and claims that an element of misogyny is widespread in feminism[3]. Responding to this accusation, Barbara Taylor claims that the “woman” to which Wollstonecraft attributes all these vices is a construct and not something essential to all those belonging to the corresponding category.[4] Furthermore, Taylor points out that Gubar neglects to explain what misogyny is.

If misogyny is contempt for those who are women or for characteristics frequently possessed by or ascribed to those who are women, it seems to be based on the presumption that there is such a thing as being a woman. In other words, misogyny may seem to assume gender essentialism. I consider whether this must be the case and whether misogyny is really required to have something like a female gender essence as its object. Furthermore, I argue that even though many feminists, in the same vein as Wollstonecraft, can be said to hold certain oppressive (traditionally) female characteristics in contempt, the object of their antipathy is not the same as the object of anti-feminist misogyny.

Sara Cohen Shabot (Haifa University): Towards a Phenomenology of Childbirth and Mothering: the Grotesque on Fleshing Out the Mothering Subject

My argument goes on to prove the phenomenological experience of giving birth as an experience which – mainly through pain – connects us to our embodied selves and prevents alienation. Using a Beauvoirian analysis, I try to relate to this experience as one which perfectly embodies the ambiguity of the subject as constituted by immanence and transcendence, an experience which can be clearly regarded as a kind of project in the existentialist and the phenomenological sense.

Additionally, I argue that the concept of the ”grotesque mother” might help to solve the contradiction in terms, between feminism, as a way of giving individual identity and existence to women, and on the other hand as challenging the mere concept of subjectivity as individuality. It seems as if the woman who decides not to have children might be able to ”escape” this dilemma, or contradiction, and might be able to reserve for herself a classic meaning of feminist identity, consisting of individuality, rights and privileges such as the ones that liberal feminism has strived to achieve. In opposition to this, the mother – the feminist  mother – has to struggle within this dilemma, namely, a need for an individual, free identity, and on the other hand, a need for challenging the mere meaning of subjectivity and its definition in liberal terms, which cannot represent in any way the polymorphous subjectivity of the mother. I propose that the concept of the ”grotesque mother” – representing an ambiguous, exceeding subject grants us with a new formulation to tackle the problem.

Marion Godman (University of Helsinki): In what sense, if any, is gender not a natural kind?

Traditional essentialist accounts of natural kinds are commonly rejected as either implausible or too restrictive – not only for the social sciences, but also for the biological sciences. But instead of throwing out the concept of natural kind along with essentialism, many prefer to opt for an account of natural kinds that rejects essentialist commitments and is precisely tailored to the possibility of real kinds in the life and social sciences, such as Boyd’s homeostatic property cluster account (1991) and Millikan’s historical kind account (1999). While most theorists in the metaphysics of gender debates maintain that gender is not a natural kind, it is not obvious why this should be the case given that an essentialist account of natural kinds is no longer the (only) option around. This paper considers some recent objections to why gender is not a natural kind and argues that current flexible accounts of natural kinds have credible replies to these concerns.

First, inspired by the work of Hacking (2007), some hold that gender is not a natural kind since categories of gender only becomes instantiated when people causally interact with institutions and regimes of suitable labelling practices. In short, gender is not a natural kind since it is “invented” prior to being “discovered”. This is not persuasive. Many behavioural kinds of human evolution are also invented and still become natural kinds when they acquire a life of their own, such as when the traits are transmitted to future generation through learning, thus supporting generalizations across historical instances of the kind. For similar reasons, one can counter the claim that gender is not a natural kind since the generalizations are dependent on historical and local contingencies, since biological generalizations are equally contingent on history and environment (Bach 2012). A third objection is that any empirical generalizations about gender are primarily grounded in certain social arrangements, power structures etc. (Haslanger 2006). To the extent that gender is a kind, it is surely a social category rather than a natural one. The problem is that even most social constructivists think that one’s gender has biological and psychological causes and effects as well as social ones. The most plausible motivation for not treating gender as a natural kind is therefore a type of social interventionism: the idea that inequitable gender roles can and should be intervened (primarily) on the social level, rather than on, say, a biological one. But in lack of a well-motivated dichotomy between the social and the natural this rather suggests that we should regard gender as a natural kind as well as a social kind.


Theodore Bach (2012) “Gender is a Natural Kind with a Historical Essence“, Ethics, 122, pp. 231-272.

Richard Boyd (1991) “Realism, Anti-Foundationalism and the Enthusiasm for

Natural Kinds”, Philosophical Studies, 61: 127–148

Ian Hacking (2007) “Kinds of People: Moving Targets”, Proceedings of the British Academy, 151: 285–318.

Sally Haslanger (2006) “What Good Are Our Intuitions? Philosophical Analysis and Social Kinds”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 80: 89–118.

Ruth G. Millikan (1999) “Historical Kinds and the Special Sciences”, Philosophical Studies, 95: 45–65.

Saara Hacklin (University of Helsinki): Alternative bodies and memories: The implications of Merleau-Pontian understanding of the body in contemporary performance

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body has influenced many contemporary artists since 1960s onwards. Its effects can be seen in the so-called spatial turn of the visual arts as well as in the birth of the performance art – an art form favoured by many women artists from early on. Between the early reception and the 21st century readings of phenomenology, there is, however, a gap. The early reception of Merleau-Ponty emphasized the bodily experience, turning critics to claim phenomenology solipsistic and unable to encounter the sexual difference or to discuss political or cultural implications. The later interpretations of Merleau-Ponty answer this criticism aptly, but its application within the contemporary art is still scarce.

The paper discusses examples from contemporary woman artists that, as I argue, use bodily experience as a tool to understand history and otherness in a manner that challenges in a fruitful way the early reading of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and open onto discussion beyond our own immediate bodily experience. The examples discussed include performance art, but are not limited into it. Rather, the works explore the limits of performance or body art and bring forth subject matters that have been in the margins of (art) history writing.

In my paper I am following in the lines of art historian Amelia Jones, whose influential reading of performance art uses Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Jones has proposed that the suggested narcissism of performance art – it is the body of the artist that the spectator is asked to look – actually opens to the intersubjective dynamic. I suggest that the Merleau-Pontian understanding of self and other relations including an instability, inaccessibility, offers a possibility to a reading that widens our understanding of ourselves and others. It is by approaching what is inaccessible – often also the overlooked and neglected – the artworks offer new understanding of both self and other, as well as the past, and thus they suggest new perspectives into history.

Lena Halldenius (Lund University): Experiencing unfreedom. What feminism does to republicanism

Feminists have been wary of the concept of freedom, preferring equality instead. Equality has seemed a more promising concept if you are concerned with the subtleties of oppression rather than the crudeness of force. From a feminist perspective there is no reason to dispute that coercion makes you unfree, but there is good reason to dispute that lack of coercion is enough for freedom. Gendered norms, expectations of female goodness and inoffensiveness, low or no pay, and sheer misogyny need involve no coercion at all but are very effective impairing contingencies. Herein is a feminist reason to see a potential in a different conception of freedom, which I refer to as a republican notion of freedom. On this conception, a restriction on freedom can be quite intangible: the very fact that I am under the arbitrary power of another, someone who could restrain and coerce me without being contested, is enough to make me unfree, even if that power is never exercised. A full theory of freedom needs to address a number of questions. What are the circumstances within which issues of freedom arise? What do freedom and unfreedom mean? And why should we care? In this paper I will attempt to give republican answers to these questions in a way that makes republicanism both feminist and supportive of a particular conception of human rights.

Ari-Elmeri Hyvönen (University of Jyväskylä): Conjuncture, momentum, judgment: Re-reading Arendt on the temporal context of action

The paper addresses one of the central themes in Hannah Arendt’s political theory – namely, her conception of political action. The concept of action, perhaps more than any other of her concepts, divides Arendt’s commentators in diverse camps. Others emphasize action’s communicative and consensual aspects (the “Habermasian” reading presented, inter alia, by Seyla Benhabib). Others point to its agonal features, and to the ways in which political acts disclose the identities of actors (the “Nietzschean” reading, presented positively by Bonnie Honig and critically by Hanna Pitkin).

Still others debunk Arendt’s conception as vain nostalgia for the Greek polis. I will argue that there is a common shortcoming in these various perspectives in that they fail to reckon to a sufficient degree with the worldly context of political action. Therefore they also fail to illuminate the capacity of action to change the world. The paper seeks to patch this deficiency by reading Arendt as a theorist of political conjuncture. In all of Arendt’s writings, her stand derives from an analysis of the political present. I will further emphasize this strand by discussing Arendt’s readings of the phenomenological and the republican traditions. As a sort of combination of the two, a conjuncture is understood as a ‘world disclosure’ seen from the point of view of the actor. It may present to varying degrees a momentum for action.

 While a lot has been written on Arendt’s debt to Heidegger and Augustine, I will emphasize the influence of Machiavelli and Montesquieu on Arendt’s theory of action. Both the principles guiding action and the specific form it takes are transient and versatile – both because of their own nature and because they have to respond to the constantly changing assemblage of the political world. This way the temporal web of relationship constituting the context of each political act can be better focused on and connected to Arendt’s writings on judgment.

Finally, the paper closes with a discussion with some of the specific requirements for political action in the current conjuncture of neoliberal hegemony. It will be pointed out that an uncritical espousal of Arendt’s concept of natality may not serve real political change in the same manner as it may have in the past. To effectuate a proper change in the present political constellation, Arendt’s concept of power (defined as ‘acting together’) – in addition to the themes discussed above – must be given a serious reconsideration.

Nora Hämäläinen (University of Helsinki): The Blind Spot of an Ethics of Vision?  – Sabina Lovibond, Iris Murdoch and Feminism

In her book Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy (2011) Sabina Lovibond argues that Iris Murdoch’s philosophical and literary work is covertly dedicated to an ideology of female subordination. The most central and interesting aspect of her multifaceted argument concerns Murdoch’s focus on the individual person’s moral self-scrutiny and transformation of consciousness. Lovibond suggests that this focus is antithetical to the kind of communal and structural criticism of society that has been essential for the advance of feminism. She further reads Murdoch’s dismissal of “structuralism” as proof of Murdoch’s alleged conservatism and anti-feminism.

In this paper I will argue that this line of argument 1) gives a misleading picture of Murdoch’s contribution and 2) establishes a deeply problematic (though not unusual) antagonism between moral self-scrutiny and social criticism.

Lovibond’s interpretation of Murdoch’s dismissal of structuralism is misguided, partly because it is anachronistic: Murdoch, as a philosopher of her time and context simply did not see the critical potential of the structuralist/post-structuralist tradition that is obvious for many feminists (and post-colonial critics) of the following generations. When criticizing structuralism (in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, 1992) she was specifically concerned with Derrida’s work, who, on her reading, appeared to be presenting an image of language as a cage out of which we cannot break. The exegetical merits of Murdoch’s discussion may be questionable, but her criticism does not reveal an antipathy for “structural” thinking.

 In fact there is a close affinity between Murdoch’s focus the transformation of consciousness, and a contemporary “post-structuralist” collective critique of biased and oppressive vision. Like contemporary feminist and post-colonial thinkers (of broadly post-structuralist influence) she wrote with a heightened awareness of the fact that different people see different words, and that these different visions are something that we can and must work upon in order to gain moral clarity, (an unusual perspective in late 20th century Anglophone ethics). Murdoch’s was most interested in the inner moral world and moral work of the individual, and paid only limited attention to our possibilities for collective transformations of consciousness. But her focus on the individual is not the right wing/conservative thinker’s individualization of collective challenges (as Lovibond suggests). It is not a move away from, but rather a move towards the kinds of insights that help us become aware of and combat structural inequality and oppression.

Carolyn McLeod (University of Western Ontario): Non-pragmatic compromise: The domain of professional life

This talk will focus on compromise as a solution to moral disagreement, particularly in professional life and with a focus on physicians. In previous work, I accepted an instrumentalist view on this topic, according to which good reasons for compromise are pragmatic, that is, based on the consequences that a compromise will likely bring about. But I now want to rethink this view, and discuss whether physicians could indeed have non-pragmatic reasons to compromise with patients with whom they disagree, particularly about the morality of abortion. By reflecting on the role of the physician as a professional and the affective attitudes that physicians can have in this role, I will argue that non-pragmatic compromise is possible for physicians, including those who morally object to abortion. This conclusion is important because physicians can have few pragmatic reasons for compromise; because of the power they wield in their relationships with patients, it can be rare that the consequences for them of striking a compromise are better than digging in their heels.

The talk will proceed as follows. First, I will discuss the nature of compromise and distinguish it from rational persuasion and capitulation. Second, I will describe a distinction philosopher Simon C. May makes between pragmatic and principled compromise. (With the latter, the reasons for compromise are grounded in a principle one holds that concerns reasonable disagreement: e.g., “when I have reasonable disagreements with others, I ought to respect their sincerity and intelligence.”) Contra May, I will argue that this distinction is not exhaustive; it fails to describe all of the different kinds of compromise that are open to professionals, among others. I will introduce a form of compromise that I take to be both non-pragmatic and non-principled—what I call an “identity-preserving compromise”—and will explain how physicians who conscientiously object to abortion could agree to such a compromise.

Maj Paanala (University of Jyväskylä): Ontological realism and transgender phenomena

In my presentation I am evaluating the possibility of ontological realism in the context of transsexuality. Nominalism regarding sex and gender has been the dominant view in feminist philosophy since 1990’s and the transfeminist discussion has mostly gone with the nominalist solution as well. Drawing on the criticism of nominalism by Sally Haslanger and Mari Mikkola, I try to find ways to formulate a non-nominalistic model of transsexuality and transgender phenomena in general.

The benefit of finding an objective criteria for what it means to be a transgendered person is the clarity regarding the target for transfeminism. If transgendered people share a common feature, it is very easy to form a political group. Realism also offers a stronger ground for the experience that is being transgendered. Theories with a strong social constructionist base do not seem to effectively represent the transgender experience.

Realism does easily run into troubles with essentialism, which has been something to avoid in feminist philosophy. However, realism doesn’t necessarily mean essentialism in the inevitably harmful way that it is often claimed to mean. The problem of articulating what is the universal through which the transgendered experience can be shared is a difficult one, but mere difficulty of the project isn’t a motivation enough to avoid finding such an universal.

The problem is relevant especially in countries in which government provides treatments for transgendered people. As the treatments require filling certain criteria, it seems that there is a minimal requirement for at least strategic essentialism when it comes to transgender phenomena. Arranging the treatments solely through gender experience seems highly problematic, but the history of clinical treatment of transsexuals also show that too strict criteria are harmful and biased. The concept of ”true transsexual” from 1960’s excluded trans men and required trans women to be of very certain type of femininity. My aim then is to offer an attempt of ontologically realistic definition, which captures the experiences of transgendered people and also manages to guarantee the treatments for the people who fall under the definition.

Alice Pugliese (University of Palermo): Who did this? Otherness in action

Traditional descriptions of action characterize it as the direct consequence of a conscious deliberation. Action is meant to be the realization of a certain willing act, the immediate product of a decision, the mere externalization of a previously accomplished internal state of mind. The contemporary lively debate on the theory of action focuses therefore mainly on modalities and conditions of such realization distinguishing between causal and non-causal descriptions (Davidson ….).

The phenomenological tradition does not provide an explicit theory of action. Still its reflection about the fundamental issue of the structure of consciousness and the emerging of experience can be considered as the necessary starting point to understand action in a non-naturalistic way as the expression of a subjective living being.

Moreover we can find in the work of Husserl a certain characterization of action connected with the notion of personhood and strictly related with the ethical context. In such framework the husserlian position about action seems to be very close to the traditional one: the sphere of action immediately refers to the possibility to realize a good or bad intention. It represents the external manifestation of a conscious decision and is therefore related to judgment and self-reflection.

In my view the published and unpublished work of Husserl does entail the possibility of a more complex explanation of human action. Both with the observations about drives and instinct in the framework of the genetic phenomenology and with the extended analyses about Intersubjectivity Husserl provides an approach to consciousness that drifts from the classical egological position allowing a dynamic and multilayered description of the concrete bodily an socially relevant subjectivity. On this new basis it seems possible to develop an approach to action which motives are not exclusively referred to a reflective subjectivity, but rather enact deeper pre-conscious motivations as well as motivations deriving from others. Action emerges than not as an exclusive private matter, but as a complex process involving different aspects of the self as well as the intertwined social environment.

It is than not only the material expression of our superior independence, but the place of a complex and infinite process of balancing our independency with the many dependencies which constitute ourselves.

Sanna Tirkkonen (University of Helsinki): Rethinking Political Subjectivity – the Challenge of Populisms

The rises of European populist movements and extreme right political parties challenge the ideals of poltical subjectivity based on activity and participation. Populisms challenge the modern project of progressive liberation, constant education and the spirit of Enlightenment. From the perspective of the populists, its values are projected to the People who are the requisite for progress. The obscurity of the political culture lies indeed in the fact that there is no evidence we exercise power, or that somebody is doing so on our behalf. According to Giorgio Agamben, misery and exclusion become truly scandalous in the democratic system, which is based on the idea of equal possibility to get one’s voice heard. Also Michel Foucault addresses the paradox of democracy:

“In times like ours […] I think it might be a good idea to recall this old question, which was contemporary with the functioning of Athenian society and its crises, namely the question of true discourse and the necessary, indispensable, and fragile caesura that true discourse cannot fail to introduce into democracy which both makes this discourse possible and constantly threatens it. (Foucault 2008.)”

Populist movements have been analyzed both as opposite to democracy and – on the other hand – as symptoms of the problems of representative systems. Those who find populisms opposite to democracy often use Claude Lefort’s theoretical model, in which the locus of power, embodied by the monarch, now remains empty as the democratic rulers cannot identify themselves as the locus when power is circulated. The symbolic locus of power is defined as an open stage of political battles, transfigured representations of diversity and social conflicts, where the unifying principle is the irreducible individuality and diversity of the citizens. For these theorists the populist logic closes the locus of power by the image of people as a homogenous body, or by a charismatic leader, who is willing to listen and thus has the immediate access to the alleged general will.

However, those who view populisms more symptomatic find Lefort’s idea of democracy optimistic presupposing that the political opponents would usually be seen legitimate contesters and met with a presupposition of mutual recognition and inclusion. The ideal of an empty locus of power is purely theoretical and bodyless, but in practice it is questionable whether the locus has ever been empty. Rather, it indeed is experienced to be embodied. This is exactly why rethinking the embodied subjectivity – material and the flesh – is needed in democratic thought. Populisms introduce us a negotiation process concerning the definition of the excluded: supporters of populist movements have expressed the fear of becoming outsiders in plural society. At the same time the populist logic is based on the idea of imaginary non-gendered unity, a unified subjectivity, which can be ensured only by the constant elimination of the other, “not-People”. Through the critical Foucauldian-Agambenian (and Merleau-Pontyan) framework of democratic theory my paper will open up the most essential populist vocabulary and call for political philosophy, in which celebrating mere paradoxes is no longer enough.

Susanne Uusitalo (University of Turku): Agency, please! Conceptual considerations on the agency of addicts

The discussions around addiction are heated beginning from the diagnostical discussion for DSM-V to addiction science advanced by the US National Institute of Drug Abuse; it is a matter of debate what is addiction and how it should be treated, if at all. Whether or not addiction means one or many things capturing one or many phenomena, addicts are seen as rational agents making unwise choices, victims of a brain disease, myopic hedonists and weak-willed individuals. In the presentation I will provide a characterization of addiction that is based on a phenomenal account by R. Jay Wallace  (1999) that cohere with the recent neuroscientific research on addiction, e.g. research on attentional bias and subjective craving (see Field & Cox 2008). However, the understanding of addicts as problematic agents highlights the problems of conceptualizing agency in general.

Conceptualizing addicts as non-autonomous agents can lead to questionable policies as the Norwegian § 10-3 legislation illustrates; pregnant addicts can be subjected to incarceration (Söderström & Skolbekken 2012, 169). In the presentation I will offer an account of addicts’ agency that will take into account the challenges they may face in their action due to addiction. Whilst maintaining the control condition of responsible agency in addicts, I argue that the everyday life addicts lead may well be the kind that makes it understandable that they maintain their habit. My account involves acknowledging the moral dimension of individual agency and taking socially and culturally contextual aspects into account. It is in line with feminist critique of (moral) agency (see for instance Meyers 1998) in the sense that the impartiality and atomistic view on agency falls short of providing an account that can make justice to the actual experiences of addicted agents.


Field, Matt & Cox, W. Miles. 2008. “Attentional bias in addictive behaviors: A review of its development, causes, and consequences” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 97: 1–20

Meyers, Diana Tietjens. 1998. “Agency” In Jaggar & Young (eds.) A Companion to Feminist Philosophy. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford. 372-382.

Söderström, Kerstin & Skolbekken, John-Arne. 2012. ”Pregnancy and substance use – the Norwegian §10-3 solution. Ethical and clinical reflections related to incarceration of pregnant women to protect the foetus from harmful substances” Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 29(2): 155–171.

Wallace, R. Jay. 1999. ”Addiction as defect of the will: some philosophical reflections” Law and Philosophy 18(6): 621–654.

Charlotte Witt (University of New Hampshire): Essentialism and Intersectionality

In The Metaphysics of Gender I argue for the claim:  Gender is uniessential to social individuals.  One key conceptual distinction I draw is between essentialism as a theory about kind membership, and essentialism as a theory about how individuals are unified.  My question is:  How are we unified as individual social agents? My argument is intended to establish that our gender is uniessential to us, not that it is a Kripkean individuating essence or a Lockean kind essence.

When I talk about the book I often spend most of the time introducing the concepts that I use in framing the argument.   In my talk today I will begin with the argument for gender essentialism and introduce concepts, distinctions (and objections) as they are needed to make the argument intelligible.

One important objection to gender uniessentialism is that it is incompatible with the concept of intersectionality, as it has been developed by feminist theorists and others.  And if intersectionality, roughly the idea that our identities are complexes of multiple social locations, is incompatible with gender uniessentialism, then we ought to reject the view.  Naturally, I disagree.   I will argue that the most plausible interpretation of intersectionality is fully compatible with gender uniessentialism.  And so I will argue that the objection from intersectionality does not give us reason to reject gender uniessentialism.


[1] H. Mulisch (2005 (1961)). Criminal Case 40/61: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann – An Eyewitness Account. University of Pennsylvania Press.

[2] Raupach-Strey (2004). ‘The Contribution of Socratic Dialogue to Democratic Aims in Civil Society’. P. Shipley, H. Mason (eds.). Ethics and Socratic Dialogue in Civil Society. Münster: Lit Verlag, pp. 199-204.

[3] Gubar, S. (1994). ”Feminist Misogyny: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Paradox of It Takes One to Know One.” Feminist Studies, 20(3): 453-473.

[4] Taylor, B. (1999). ”Misogyny and Feminism: The Case of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, 6(4): 499-512.