Philosophical / Theoretical Dissertations as Advancing Knowledge

10–12 October 2018, 10–12 am & 2–4 pm daily. Room: KTK314

The course examines issues in producing a philosophical or theoretical dissertation as a product of scientific research and as a product advancing human knowledge. The themes and questions to be explored include:

  • In what sense does philosophical research produce new knowledge? Or is there philosophical research which does not aspire to further our understanding of the world as opposed to, for example, developing new kinds of attitudes towards human life?
  • Conceptual theoretical work does not often rely on empirical results. In what ways can results of empirical research inform philosophical work? Can the results of previous conceptual inquiry be conceived of as the “data” of philosophical research?
  • Philosophical and theoretical work usually advances by way of a consideration and development of arguments. Are the standards of such argumentation completely divorced from those used in various other fields of research? What sort of knowledge can be produced by way of “mere” argumentation?
  • A relatively common view in public discourse maintains that philosophical theories have little or nothing to do with (changing) human practices. While some philosophers have celebrated this stance, others have insisted that philosophical conceptions must have practical results. What is the connection of philosophical inquiry to practices and their change?

The course teachers will both offer different views of the nature of philosophical/theoretical inquiry from the point of view of their own research, and explore more practical problems, issues and choice points in the shaping of the research processes they have engaged in.

The guest lecturers are prof. Bjørn Ramberg (University of Oslo) and prof. Michael J. Hand (University of Birmingham). The local lectures are Katariina Holma, Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, Henrik Rydenfelt and Hanna-Maija Huhtala.

Course participants are expected to be post-graduate students primarily from the fields of  philosophy, philosophy of education, education, history of sciences and ideas, history, anthtropology, and literary studies. The number of participants is limited; participants are selected based on the relevance of their doctoral research to the course themes. Please fill in the course signup form with describing the stage and topics of your doctoral studies as well as your central research interests (max. 200 words).


10 October, 10-12 am

Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen: Challenges of writing a book/dissertation in philosophy
This talk deals with various stages of writing a book (or dissertation) in philosophy. What kinds of problems and challenges will be faced? How to control and integrate the content, and progress in writing?

Katariina Holma: Either educationally irrelevant or philosophically sloppy?
Philosophy of education is easily stuck between the horns of a dilemma: either it consists of lofty philosophizing which has little to do with actual educational practices, or it takes such practices seriously at the expense of philosophical reflection. What should philosophers of education do?

14-16 pm

Henrik Rydenfelt: How to keep our concepts clear?
Philosophical writing includes plenty of definitions of central concepts, but it isn’t always the case that such definitions make things very clear; instead, conceptual exces often hides the lack of a substantial grasp of the issues at hand. How to ground our use of philosophical terms in everyday vocabulary, examples and experiences?

Hanna-Maija Huhtala: Looking back at the (completed) dissertation project – personal insights
Writing a dissertation is challenging and rewarding in many aspects, some of which are not grasped by the formal dissertation training. In this talk, I will share some personal experiences concerning my recently completed philosophical dissertation project. I hope to provide advice on what might be helpful and, conversely, counterproductive for the process – aspects of my experience I had not expected (based on the formal description of the process).


11 October: Bjørn Ramberg

10–12 am Morning talk: Truth and Meaning in Philosophy
One thought is that the point of philosophy is to help us arrive at some important truths—or at least to help us get closer to them. This gives us a measure of progress in philosophy; the intellect’s journey from ignorance toward knowledge. It is contentious whether there is ever any progress in philosophy, thus conceived. Another thought (alternative?) is that philosophy is principally a source of discursive enrichment, both expanding and refining semantic space, thus making possible increasingly fine-grained, flexible and directed use of the truth-error contrast. What counts as progress on this view? Why would it be worth having?      

2–4 pm Discussion session: Philosophy, Knowledge and the Meaning of Life
Please read “In Search of Perspective: Notes on Freedom, Transcendence, and Finitude in Tartaglia’s Philosophy in a Meaningless Life.”  This short paper is a comment on James Tartaglia’s recent monograph. You can find Tartaglia’s precis of his book and a series of comments and responses in the open-access venue, Journal of Philosophy of Life (Vol.7).

Questions for your consideration: What can philosophy tell us about the meaning of life? Can philosophy contribute to meaning of life? Should that question even matter to academic philosophy?

Bjørn Ramberg is Professor of the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature at the University of Oslo. He is a leading expert on the philosophy of mind, pragmatism, contemporary analytic philosophy, and the meaning of life.


12 October: Michael Hand

10–12 am Morning talk: Justifying educational norms and practices
A central aim of philosophy of education is to produce sound justifications for educational norms and practices. If we expect educators to conduct themselves in certain ways, to be guided by certain aims and governed by certain standards, we owe them good reasons for our expectations. Building, criticising and revising justificatory arguments is a philosophical task with a significant contribution to make to the practice of education.

2–4 pm Discussion session: Towards a theory of moral education
The afternoon session will focus on my 2014 article ‘Towards a theory of moral education’ (which is a compressed version of my 2018 book A Theory of Moral Education). Participants are asked to read the article in advance of the course and formulate some initial thoughts on the moral educational practices it seeks to justify.

Michael Hand is Professor of Philosophy of Education at the University of Birmingham. He is editor of the IMPACT pamphlet series and the Bloomsbury Philosophy of Education book series. His books include A Theory of Moral Education (Routledge, 2018), Education, Ethics and Experience (Routledge, 2016), Patriotism in Schools (Wiley, 2011), Philosophy in Schools (Bloomsbury, 2008) and Is Religious Education Possible? (Bloomsbury, 2006).


Last updated: 4.9.2018