Philosophy Ireland was initiated in August 2015 at a public forum entitled “Philosophy and the Irish School”. Recognizing the need for an open discussion on the role of philosophy in educational discourse, Dr Charlotte Blease and Dr Áine Mahon (both members of SWIP Ireland) hosted the forum at Newman House, St Stephen’s Green. The purpose of the event was to focus attention on the role of philosophy in the Irish school curriculum, and to bring together disparate networks of teachers, academics, and interested supporters.

Sharing the common pursuit of how best to promote philosophy beyond the academy, we were interested particularly in promoting dialogue between primary, secondary and third-level education.

Over the past twelve months, we have campaigned to bring philosophy not only to the educational but to the public sphere. We have been interviewed and published by a host of media and educational outlets, among them Newstalk 106, Leadership +, Termtalk, TEDx and Teaching Council Research. One of our members, Dr. Robert Grant, has been commissioned to direct an RTÉ documentary examining Ireland as a “knowledge-based society”; Rob’s film includes several examples of the practice of philosophy in Irish schools. Rob and other members are regularly cited and interviewed in the Irish Times and all of us are supported further by a number of high-profile academic and media ambassadors, among them Professor Claire Katz of Texas A&M University, Joe Humphreys of the Irish Times, and Dr. William Crawley of BBC Radio 4.

In July 2016, we were delighted to announce Mrs Sabina Higgins, a NUIG graduate of Philosophy and English and a passionate advocate for careful and creative thinking, as our official patron. At a meeting of SWIP Ireland in February 2015, Mrs Higgins had spoken passionately about the need for philosophy in Irish schools. She continues to promote our cause at the highest levels and we are thrilled to have her support.

From a curricular perspective, the network’s members (especially Susan Andrews, Marelle Rice, Charlotte Blease and Gerry Dunne) have been centrally involved in the drafting of the new Junior Cycle Short Course in Philosophy. Particularly keen to root the teaching of Junior Cycle Philosophy in P4C (or “Philosophy for Children”) principles, these members have worked particularly closely with such key educational bodies as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and Junior Cycle for Teachers.

Central to this collaborative work was the development of the curriculum’s foundational and elective strands. The latter included teaching and learning in classic branches of the subject (Moral Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Knowledge, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Art) as well as less typical and more innovative areas (Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Sport, Philosophy of Science and Technology).

In line with the broader vision of Junior Cycle reform, the pedagogical focus in all of these areas was less on content knowledge and more on the development of key attributes and skills. It is for this reason that the P4C pedagogy has been placed at the very heart of the new curriculum. Through the study of philosophy in this open-ended and dialogic form, it is hoped that Junior Cycle students develop the key educational capacities of logic and critique, of creativity and care, of clearly articulating their perspectives while listening respectfully to the perspectives of others. Matching the democratic vision of P4C founder, Professor Matthew Lipman, Junior Cycle Philosophy develops the ability in students to imagine as well as to reason. It teaches its young people to speak out but not to speak out of turn. Most importantly of all, it teaches its young people how to disagree without being disagreeable.

For Junior Cycle Philosophy, the consultation process has now concluded and the finalized course will be available to schools from September 2017. For teachers and facilitators of this new curriculum, Philosophy Ireland is now developing targeted training and support. We owe our website designer, Sabrina Keenan, a particular debt of gratitude as she continues to manage and update our online resources. On November 3rd and 4th 2016, we hosted our first P4C training days at Maynooth and UCD Schools of Education. With the guidance of Marelle Rice, a P4C expert with over fifteen years of experience, teachers and students from across Ireland came together to discuss the new Junior Cycle Short Course and to share teaching practice and resources. We have plans to deliver similar training events in Cork and Galway in early 2017.

On November 19th 2016, the members of Philosophy Ireland and their guests were invited by President Michael D. Higgins and Mrs. Higgins to celebrate World Philosophy Day at Áras an Uachtaráin.

In a stirring and special address to those in attendance, the President acknowledged the inextricable bond between philosophy and education. “As President of Ireland”, he said, “I fully support Philosophy Ireland’s commitment to developing the practice of philosophy in Irish schools”. He continued: “An exposure to philosophy is vital if we truly want our young people to acquire the capacities they need in preparing for their journey into the world. They will be wiser travellers on that journey if they know to use as their compass the critical abilities, the openness to pluralism and the ethical awareness that an openness to philosophy can bring”.

We are thrilled that the importance of philosophy has been acknowledged so publicly by our visionary and eloquent President. Following this most welcome recognition, Philosophy Ireland aims in the coming months and years to build further on our initial outreach and curricular effort. As we rally teachers, parents and community workers to our common cause, we have much work still to do. Many practical and pedagogical issues are in need of development and finesse. Indeed, no more than Irish Rail – that bastion of thoroughgoing and thoughtful critique – we are not there yet but we are getting there.

For further information about Philosophy Ireland or to get in touch with any of our members, please visit our website at


Dr. Áine Mahon is Lecturer in Philosophy of Education at University College Dublin.

S: What got you interested in philosophy?

R: In high school I thought I was more interested in literature than philosophy. But of all the writers I had been reading, Jorge Luis Borges was the one I was most interested in. He wrote mostly short stories and poems, often discussing matters of philosophical import – he has indeed been quoted by several philosophers, most famously by David Lewis (and Michel Foucault). Because Borges was such a philosophical writer, I realized that my interest was more in philosophy than in literature per se. So you might say that I got into philosophy through Borges. As you probably know, he was Argentinian, and he was very rooted in Argentinian culture.

S: Are you also from Argentina?

R: Yes, I was born in Argentina and that is where I started my career in philosophy, at the University of Buenos Aires. Later on, I moved to New York to do my PhD and work at the City University of New York, Graduate Centre.

S: What was the academic culture like in the Philosophy Department in Argentina, and did it strike you as different when you moved to New York?

R: The main difference was not really in the way philosophy was done, since there are very good philosophers in Argentina. But in New York it is much easier to keep a sort of ongoing conversation with other philosophers, and to know what they are working on right now, as you are continuously being exposed to conferences, workshops, hallway conversations, etc. And there is a lot going on. Philosophically speaking, New York is a very stimulating city.

Another main difference, which I found rather surprising, was in the scarce representation of women in philosophy departments. In Argentina, I had many women professors, and when I started my undergraduate degree in philosophy (which is very different there, basically six years of just philosophy courses) the student population was roughly half women half men – I even think more women actually completed the degree! It was a very fair and balanced environment for me to grow professionally. So when I moved to New York, it certainly came as a surprise that there were very few women doing philosophy. There are more now, but at the time, I think, we were only five or six female graduate students at CUNY, and the situation wasn’t any better at other universities in the area. I had never experienced that before, and I am not sure what it is about Argentina that created this sort of level ground entering into the degree, and also among the faculty. I was recently back there for a conference and someone told me that at the University of Buenos Aires – the most prestigious university in the country – there are currently more women than men in the most senior faculty positions in philosophy. Apparently, that is not the case in other Latin America countries; it seems to be quite unique of Argentina, and it is very striking.

S: What do you think is special about Argentina in this respect?

R: As I said, I don’t know the reasons and I haven’t done any serious thinking about this. I am just talking from my own experience, though I suspect that it has little to do with Argentina being unprejudiced against women. A casual conversation a male classmate and I had with an acquaintance of mine when I was still an undergraduate comes to mind. My acquaintance said it was all right for me to study philosophy, but he couldn’t understand why a man would do so. “Wouldn’t you rather do something useful?”, he said to my classmate. So maybe something like that is what is going on: it is okay for women to waste their time in whatever way they find entertaining, including doing philosophy, but men should do ‘real work’! I call this ‘prejudice interference’, you know, like interfering waves in physics, because prejudices against women and philosophy have an interfering effect on each other.

S: Do you think you would have succeeded in this career as much as you have were you to have studied somewhere else other than Argentina where there was a lower representation of women?

R: It is very hard to say what my path would have been. But one thing I will say is this. I think my background put me in a somewhat privileged position when I moved to New York. It did seem a weird circumstance that there were way more men than women doing philosophy in New York, but I don’t think I read much into it, and it actually took me a while to notice this fact. It was probably because of my background, because I hadn’t been exposed to this problem, and I didn’t feel that my gender would make much of a difference. It was good for me in those forming years not to feel like a rarity, so to speak, or to fear that I wasn’t going to be heard in the same way. So it probably helped me, I would say.

There is still, of course, a lot to be done to create a more equal environment for women in philosophy. But I think the situation has improved in the last few years. At CUNY, for example, many more women are now being admitted to the PhD program. And I have also perceived a change in our own attitude. Both female students and faculty seem now to be more willing to speak up in general, not just bringing up issues related to the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field, but also asking questions and raising objections at conferences and classes. These two aspects are most likely correlated, and I am hopeful to see much more of this in the coming years.

S: So what is your role at CUNY?

R: I am the Director of the Saul Kripke Centre. The main work we do at the Centre has to do with the preservation of the archive and the publication of Saul Kripke’s work. As many people know, about 70% of Saul’s work is still unpublished, and a lot of it is on old reel to reel or cassette tapes. These tapes go back to the 70’s at least, and we also have manuscripts, letters, notes, and transcriptions of lectures from the late 50’s onwards on very diverse topics. There are literally thousands of pages of manuscripts and thousands of hours of tapes. Because over time all this material – especially the tapes – will obviously deteriorate, we are making a digital archive of everything we have. We also spend time tracking down letters, students’ notes, alternative versions of lectures, etc. that for some reason we don’t have in the archive.

The second main task is bringing this material to publication. Oliver Marshall, the Assistant Director, supervises the work done by the Centre’s Fellows and other students working for the Centre, like the transcription of tapes and the initial editing of the transcripts. I go over the transcripts and select the projects, and then work with Saul on rewriting and editing the material for publication. Needless to say, we also spend a good bit of the time working on papers that, as Saul says, are ‘only in his mind’.

And besides all this – as you very well know because I met you there! – I also teach seminars at the Graduate Centre.

S: What is it like to work with Saul Kripke?

R: I have been working with Saul for a very long time, even before the establishment of the Saul Kripke Centre. It is actually a lot of fun to work with him, he really enjoys doing philosophy and he does it in a way that probably most people don’t, letting himself be genuinely surprised by philosophical problems. When he gets down to it, his enthusiasm can be contagious. He really cares about what he is arguing, and working with him constantly reminds me that the whole point of doing philosophy is really to enjoy the process of thinking about the issues and trying to remain true to, as he would probably say here, ‘your own intuitions’.

I think it is important for Saul to have someone to work with, and probably not at all accidental that most of his work is based on transcripts of lectures. Having feedback from an audience seems to be an important part of the process for him. And I guess that going over the manuscripts with me reproduces a bit of that situation: we spend a lot of time discussing examples, possible objections, and so on, and I think all that helps. I would say he is kind of Socratic in his approach.

S: Can you name some published works that have been created out of the Centre that you worked from out of these manuscripts and tape recordings?

R: The first book I worked on with Saul was Philosophical Troubles, and that took us quite a long time to put out. It is a collection of papers, many of which were not previously published. Another remarkable thing about working with Saul comes from his incredible range. In that volume alone, there are papers on linguistics, modal logic, the theory of truth, epistemology, etc. Working with him took me to very different areas of philosophy that I wouldn’t probably have explored if it hadn’t been for my collaboration with him. This book was quite a challenge because we had to jump from chapter to chapter between completely different topics. The second book we worked on together, Reference and Existence, is based on his John Locke lectures, which are continuation of his ideas from Naming and Necessity but applied to the topic of fiction and other issues involving apparently vacuous reference. We are now working on the next volume of his collected papers series, Logical Troubles, which will focus on his technical work (with the exclusion of his work on modal logic, which will appear in Modal Troubles), and a second edition of Naming and Necessity that will contain the original audio of the lectures. On top of that, we have also been spending time on things like a paper on Collingwood, a paper discussing an aspect of Maimonides’s interpretation of the Mishna, and a paper on a temporal interpretation of Brouwerian free choice sequences. So, you see, extremely diverse topics.

S: Given the diversity of topics that you have delved into with Saul, what are your own specific research interests?

R: I have been interested in the epistemology of logic for quite a while now. This is something I started working on when I was in Argentina. At the time, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about intuitionism and Dummett. When I moved to New York I started reading other things and, while working at the Centre, I came across a set of unpublished lectures that Saul gave on the nature of logic and logical revisionism. His main target in these lectures was Putnam’s proposal for the revision of classical logic in favour of quantum logic, but among the arguments he gives against this proposal there is one that I found particularly interesting. It is inspired in Lewis Carroll’s famous note “What the Tortoise said to Achilles”, and I thought that it was not only interesting for the question of revisionism but also for thinking about some central issues in the epistemology of logic more related to the nature of inferring and the question of the justification of logic. I wrote my dissertation on this problem, which I call the ‘adoption problem’, and now I am continuing that work and turning the dissertation into a book.

S: So what is this adoption problem?

R: Well, it is best explained by means of an example. I think of someone – I call him “Harry” – who has never inferred in accordance with a very basic logical principle such as Universal Instantiation. We want to help him out, so we state the principle for him and tell him to ‘adopt’ it. Adopting it would mean that Harry picks up a way of inferring in accordance with this principle on the basis of having accepted the principle we stated for him. So it is a two-phase process: first comes Harry’s acceptance of the principle and then, in virtue of it, he is supposed to develop a practice of inferring in accordance with the principle. But now we want to see if he has indeed adopted UI, whether he has developed an inferential practice that accords with UI on the basis of the acceptance of the principle. So we ask Harry to read the following: ‘all the animals in the movie Madagascar talk’ and ‘Alex the lion is the cutest animal featured in the movie Madagascar’, and then we ask him whether Alex the lion talks. And he says ‘I have no idea, I told you I haven’t seen the movie’. Basically, the idea is that our stating the principle for him and his acceptance of it would not help him; in order to apply the principle to particular cases he already needs to be able to perform universal instantiations, as the principle itself is a universal statement. The situation does not improve if we switch from a logical implication to a rule of inference, and similar problems arise with other logical principles, such as Modus Ponens and Adjunction. It would be impossible when it comes to certain very basic logical principles for someone to develop the corresponding inferential practice merely in virtue of the acceptance of these principles themselves, because the capacity to infer in accordance with them is presupposed in their application. So acceptance is insufficient to put the principles to use. In short, I state the problem by saying that certain basic logical principles cannot be adopted because, if a subject already infers in accordance with them, no adoption is needed, and if the subject does not infer in accordance with them, no adoption is possible.

The problem challenges the idea that basic rules of inference play a fundamental role in a thinker’s basic inferential transitions. We have this amazing capacity for performing inferential transitions that accord with basic logical rules in extremely different contexts and with very diverse contents. And it is natural to suppose that it is because we have somehow accepted (either explicitly or implicitly) the relevant rules of inference that we are able to perform such transitions. How else would we explain this capacity? But, at least in my view, the adoption problem brings exactly that into question.

S: Is that then the main conclusion of the problem – that some basic logical principles cannot be adopted?

R: Yes, but it also has consequences for a range of views on the justification of the logical principles themselves. Saul argues that the Quinean conception of logic presupposes that the adoption of such basic principles ought to be possible. I argue that appeals to rational intuition are either subject to the adoption problem or trivial. And I also think that another popular view, the so-called meaning-constituting or concept based accounts, run into trouble with the adoption problem. And all this suggests another moral to me: that we ought to pay closer attention to the nature of basic inferring itself before trying to solve the problem of justifying the logical principles.

S: How does all this relate to Kripkenstein? Do you think the adoption problem leads us back to a rule-following problem?

R: It is clear that the problems are related. Saul says in his lectures on the nature of logic that they are, but since at the time Wittgenstein: On Rules and Private Language had not been published, his audience was not familiar with it and so he doesn’t say anything about what the relation is supposed to be. I think the adoption problem could be seen as a different way of formulating the rule-following problem. In the Wittgenstein book it is first formulated in terms of the impossibility of determining which rule is being followed. This leaves the person being challenged by the sceptic without any justification for his present application of the rule. But, ultimately, the conclusion is metaphysical: if we ‘looked into our minds’ we would simply realize that there is no rule to be found. So if rule-following is thought that way, as an instruction that each of us accesses in the privacy of our own minds, it would seem that the conclusion has to be that it is not possible. In the case of the adoption problem the issue is not how to determine the rule and account for its application, since there is in fact no application of the rule of inference. The problem is rather how to apply it at all. We have stated the rule Harry is supposed to ‘adopt’, but because the application of the rule to particular cases requires an inferential transition in accordance with Universal Instantiation – something that by hypothesis he doesn’t do – he is unable to put it to use. It looks as if for Harry the rule is unfollowable, it doesn’t give any guidance to someone who doesn’t infer in accordance with it already. And this is very puzzling because that is what rules in general are supposed to do, and we may wonder what the role of a rule that cannot be followed if not observed already could possibly be.

So these are clearly two different ways of bringing up problems related to rule-following, but I think that ultimately they bring up the same main issue: how is rule-following possible? And both emphasize the importance of having a practice already in place for rule-following to be possible.

S: So analogously to the Kripkenstein position which Kripke developed from Wittgenstein’s rule-following problem, do you think you, Romina Padró, have developed a Padripke position on the basis of Kripke and the adoption problem?

R: I think Saul would certainly want to distance himself from the solution to the rule-following problem given in the Wittgenstein book. At some points he expresses some sort of uneasiness with the sceptical solution, and though this is very well kept from the readers, his heart truly is with views related to what he there calls ‘Platonism’ – which is surprising, since he dismisses it very quickly. This is clear in the case of logic: he thinks that some kind of rational intuition is at play when it comes to basic inferences. Unfortunately, as I said, I don’t think that rational intuition views are helpful with the adoption problem. My main concern is that if we accept that rules such as Universal Instatiation don’t have a fundamental or constitutive role to play in a subject’s basic inferential transitions, a Wittgensteinian-like position, where practices and communities are central, becomes hard to avoid. So the worry is that the adoption problem may be leaving us dangerously close to the sceptical solution Saul gives on Wittgenstein’s behalf.  

S: So is this what we can expect to see from you in future work, a way of avoiding a Wittgensteinian position as a response to the adoption problem?

R: Well, it is a very difficult issue. We should still be able to give a meaningful explanation of this capacity that we have of performing inferences that accord with basic rules of inferences. And the question is whether this is possible once the rules are denied a grounding role. And, at least for me, it would be important to salvage as much as possible of the objectivity of logic. As said, most of this material is in my dissertation and I am working to turn it into a book.

S: Can we already access your dissertation somewhere to get a sneaky preview of what to expect in the book?

R: My dissertation is available online under the title ‘What the Tortoise said to Kripke: the Adoption Problem and the Epistemology of Logic’. We are also working on the publication of a group of papers on the adoption problem that will contain Saul’s original lecture and papers by others, including myself.

S: Thank you Romina! That sounds great! It was a pleasure talking.


Romina Padro (PhD, CUNY Graduate Center) is Director of the Saul Kripke Centre and Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Centre at CUNY. Her main research is in epistemology, especially in epistemology of logic, and in philosophy of language.
 Suki Finn is a SWIP Ireland member, an Associate Lecturer in Philosophy (University of York), and a Research Assistant on the ‘When Experts Disagree’ project funded by the Irish Research Council (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies/University College Dublin).


This interview appears in The Reasoner 10(9), September 2016. See

Why did you get into philosophy and how?

I was a child of the sixties, and everybody was reading philosophy – of some sort. You read philosophy on the bus, you read existentialist novels, so there was a cultural “in” so to speak, and it was very easy to move from that into philosophy. The other things I wanted to do: I wanted to do medicine quite strongly at that stage, but I already had a child and I was advised that there was no way I could do medicine and look after a child so, reluctantly, I didn’t do it. Philosophy was the other thing, and I haven’t regretted it. It’s been a wonderful ride.


Why political philosophy?

I initially did a degree in philosophy, pure philosophy, and then I did a Ph.D. in philosophy of science and logic, and the job came up in moral and political philosophy, so I converted, and that was fine. It took some time and I tended to get boxed into “well, you did philosophy of science, so you can do philosophy of social science,” which I did for a while, but the empirical social scientists were only then breaking free from philosophy in Ireland, so I couldn’t make any headway in that area. I had to start over in normative work. Of course I had undergraduate experience of moral and political philosophy, and in the beginning it was moral and political philosophy. Gradually, it shifted more to political philosophy for institutional reasons. The original department of ethics and politics in UCD was split with ethics migrating to what became the department of philosophy.


What kind of a place was UCD then to do philosophy in?

It was actually quite good. It was mixed. All of the professors and many of the staff were priests. The philosophy course had been designed, really, as the undergraduate course for students from Clonliffe who were going to be trained as priests, so it was not particularly scholarly and it was very authoritarian. There was a very public UCD student revolt in 1968/69 and one chapter focussed on the department of metaphysics. That was the writing on the wall for the old order, though it took almost another 20 years for philosophy to find its feet. Ethics and Politics was an early mover towards modernisation. Logic and Psychology had the sanity of logic and was generally quite good for students. So when I was a student I was able to do contemporary philosophy under the guise of philosophy of logic and the philosophy of science. That’s where I came across Quine and Ruth Barcan Marcus and all sorts of people like that.


When I came to work in UCD in 1977, I suggested some courses, initially agreed courses, but I was never told what to teach or how to teach it. I had complete academic freedom and respect. I was never told how to mark students, or to mark them down or to mark them up, ever, so it was an idyllic time. I was never told, but of course, nobody was ever told “you have to publish.” Teaching was the primary thing and you fitted your research around it at that time. There was a huge commitment to teaching students who would be leaders of the country – they would go into the civil service, they would go into RTÉ, they would become politicians, become business men. That was part of the old UCD goal.


What was the gender ratio for students and staff?

I think it was very small numbers of women. I seem to remember hundreds of young men dressed in black clericals and a handful of women, some of us sporting long legs under our very short Mary Quant minis. When I joined the staff there were two women in philosophy- Josephine Newman was the other. I was really quite a radical hire because I wasn’t religious. I wasn’t interested in Thomism. I was interested in contemporary philosophy. It was actually two priests who hired me, Connor Martin and Fergal O’Connor.


And they would have taught you as well?

They taught me as well, yes. They always taught ethics and politics. And they taught from primary texts Plato and Aristotle, Hobbes and Rousseau, Kant ... In metaphysics some of the professors told us that we could read when we graduated, but what matters for students was the key we were being given in the lectures!


Can we talk about your research a bit? I already asked you why philosophy, why political philosophy…why liberalism?

I think that the task of the 20th century, particularly after the Holocaust, was to do deal with the end of what Hannah Arendt called the idea that humans were sacred. It was a continuation of the problem that Dostoyevsky set: if God is dead, then everything is permitted. So I think that the 20th century task after that was to reconceive the terms in which we think about the world – quite radically, across all areas of philosophy, so if it’s philosophy of science, epistemology, metaphysics, and political philosophy. By that I mean, in the simplest terms, the idea that the meaning and value in the world isn’t just there. We have to make it, it’s human-originated and we have to take responsibility for it. And that’s quite a radical idea if you’re coming from religious cultures. It is an idea that people find arrogant, perhaps. In political philosophy, John Rawls undertook that task. Of course, it was undertaken in a particular context, and political philosophy, perhaps all philosophy, is best done when it addresses the problems of its time. The practical problem of his time for Rawls, particularly in the United States, but more generally too, was how to reconcile liberty and equality, and later he reframed that as how to reconcile liberty and equality in a context of pluralism. I was very taken with that. There were many different strands feeding into my particular battles. For me, it was how to develop a secular constitutional state, but I found Rawls inspiring. The thing that really was very important for me as a philosopher was his Kantian constructivism in moral theory. That is the shift to seeing ourselves as agents of the law, as agents of the moral law, as well. It’s a Kantian idea that’s been around for several centuries, but it hadn’t been systematically worked through. He used that to generate a methodology, and to generate his resolution to that conflict that is still driving oppositions in American society.


Liberty, for me, is a matter of liberal equality – it’s fundamental. Whereas, if you start with equality as fundamental – you can have equality in an authoritarian regime – so, if you like, my problem would be how to develop autonomy against authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is very strong in many societies. It’s very difficult to eradicate. I always liked the Rousseau/Kant idea that basically humans should live under no law but one they’ve made themselves. The underlying thought is that there is no moral value to doing the right thing because some authority, even a divine being told you so. What makes it worthwhile is that you initiate the right action yourself. So, the making of the law oneself has been very central to me and to my way of understanding the construction of rights. My understanding of liberalism is that we’re on our own, and even if we are not, we have to construct a decent society together with others and for Hobbesian and not prior moral reasons.


Hobbes was a philosopher of practical reason. He says “if people don’t have security, they’re going to kill each other.” Now, what are you going to do about that? He has a solution, which most people would reject, which is the absolute power of the sovereign. But the element of the solution that matters is its social contract basis. The social contract matters because it’s an agreement between people. It is the agreement that people make the law together in some fashion. That is the central point that I take from something like the French Revolution. The talk about rights is the talk about putting together a state. Now, putting together a state is very dangerous because of its coercive power. So, against Hobbes, rights are about restricting the power of the state. Historically they have been thought of as pre-political, natural, and perhaps God-given. I think of rights as founded in agreements. That, for me, centrally involves the notion that every time you claim a right you must remember that you’re saying somebody else has a burden, they have a duty. What’s important is that the burden-sharer has to be able to agree. In a Hobbesian world the burden-sharer agrees because the alternative would be irrational – you know, I’d fight you or kill you, or get killed or whatever. That’s why I think we must remember the Hobbesian world. It’s not always nice to feel that you’re dependent on another person through the duty that is the counter-part of your right, but you are. Our problem is: how do we get acknowledgement of those dependencies. We should be talking much more about duties – not in a moralistic sense but remembering that there are burdens attached to rights and that other people have to shoulder those burdens. The key here is: do you get agreement on the burdens, as well as on the rights. The big shift from the great declarations, and the big shift from a religious view of natural law have been evident in, for example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It’s agreed – it’s not that it’s implemented or implementable in full, but it’s agreed. That agreement is important. Agreements can be standards for human conduct.


But isn’t part of the critique of that agreement that some of it takes place under coercion? That it is a Western imposition and, really, lots of other countries are only signing up not out of some sense of agreement but because of other factors that have to do with power and so forth?

First of all, I think agreement is important. I think free agreement is important. What we do as philosophers is try to work out the arguments that underpin what would be a free agreement. Is it Western? I think that if you’re locating the basis of rights in natural law, which traces back to divine law, it is a particular religious tradition, and I think the South-East Asian challenge was quite right in that context. But if you’re looking at it in much more brutal Hobbesian terms, what do you need, as a matter of practical reason, in order to stop us slaughtering each other? I think that it’s not Western. I think that people don’t particularly want to be killed, frankly, and one must say that now as there’s an awful lot of killing going on. In my own approach to rights, to human rights, it’s only those rights that we are willing and able to defend right now that are universal. The whole panoply of 30 articles in the UNDHR is aspirational. There’s only about four of them that we are prepared to defend under international law - life, liberty, property, and natural justice). The rest are aspirations. Of course, many of us think that we have a whole panoply of moral rights. NGOs depend on this, and do amazingly good work. Most of that panoply of rights is not agreed by other cultures at this time. They might never be agreed, by the way. We can’t just declare rights that aren’t real for people. You always have to ask “what is the cash-value of this right”? If it has no cash value in that there’s nobody there to enforce it, and you can’t enforce it yourself, it’s not a lot of use to you. You should be saying “these are rights that there should be, but aren’t.”


I’d like to come back to the point you raised about duties and your framing of interdependence in terms of “every right you bear means a duty on somebody else.” Often we think of the state as the duty bearer, and I’m thinking in the particular example of reproductive rights, which I know you’ve written on as well in the Irish context, it seems to be the state, as the duty bearer, who determines whether or not we have access to those rights, and at the moment we don’t and we never have in this country. So how does that fit in with something else that you said, which was about people making the moral law themselves?

I think that people have to realise that modern states are run by a democratic process, for good and for bad, so, actually, people have to talk to each other and argue with each other. It’s not just the state all on its own. The government of the day will do what it thinks will…re-elect it, probably, so, you actually have to work for a majority. The state cannot, except within its constitutional framework impose illiberal legislation just like that – that would be just as authoritarian. It actually won’t get away with it. The contestation that is part of life in a liberal democracy has weak points as well as strong points. The state isn’t actually the duty-bearer, we all are. The state merely channels them. Yes, sometimes it corrupts things. I’m not defending the State as a hypostatized entity. We have to have much stronger civil societies where we talk to each other seriously about these matters. It’s changing a bit through social media now. I remember going through all these miserable debates about divorce, and it was people telling each other their stories. It was the inconsistencies in the system: you could go abroad and get a divorce. It was all the problems with legitimacy, which we solved in an Irish way. The important thing was that people were telling their stories, and arguing with each other. I think that the media were great at that time. Eventually, the divorce referendum passed, on a basis that I didn’t like, which was the appeal of compassion. There was a good civil liberties argument, but it wasn’t being pressed as the reason for a yes vote.


You’ve also written on the relationship between women and rights, particularly in the context of communitarianism, and I suppose that would be the major critique of Rawls: his individualism, and that when we talk about autonomy we’re neglecting the fact that we are interdependent beings who are relying on each other in the world and impact on each other, and so forth. What is your stance on that?

I think we’re deeply interdependent, in that we have to sustain together the institutions that make human life possible. But that interdependence isn’t an excuse for subordinating anyone, including women. In the case of women and community, I have to ask always, empirically, what has community done for women? And again and again, I look at communities and the defences of communitarianism and say, well, what’s the role of women there? You know, the strongest communitarian groups are Christian or other religious groups. Some of these were deeply involved in the scandalous treatment of single women and their babies in Ireland. Our communitarian nation-state didn’t provide equality for women. More broadly, we still have a situation where women can’t train for priesthood, never mind apply for the highest job in Christianity. That is symbolically very important. The message is that women aren’t actually equal. Until we get beyond that, those kinds of symbolic messages will go out in the name of tradition, they’ll go out in the name of community, they’ll go out in the name of family values. Communities have to be communities of choice, particularly when they’re civil communities that have force attached to them. Women as citizens are part of a civil community, and the civil community should not enforce the subjection of women – the continuing subjection of women despite all the advances. The subjection is more evident now in, for example, the difficulties that women have in maintaining a family and work. Why don’t men have difficulty in maintaining family and work?  


Wasn’t the marriage equality referendum the same? It was about the family, rather than about rights?

You see that’s my problem. People should be able to assert such rights. But, you know, it has to fudged through families and feeling sorry for people. And I should tell you, there’s quite a little literature building up in rights about the importance of emotions, and I wouldn’t neglect that. If emotion does it, it does it, but you don’t have a steady civil system unless you have a reasoned order. I’m not being rationalistic, but in the end you have to have reason because it is a bit more objective than emotion. I’d rather not depend on emotion. When affections fail you need reason-based rights.


You were talking about the need for people to talk to each other in civil society. There has been a lot of talk, though, especially since the Savita Halappanavar death and subsequent tragedies, there’s been a lot of advocacy work, and constant coverage in the media. We know from the opinion polls that the majority of people are in favour of change, but there seems to be this disconnect with our government.

I think the word ‘disconnect’ is the crucial one here. I think in moral philosophy, and in other areas, a failure to connect is actually quite central to there being various kinds of moral problems. It’s one of the tasks of the philosopher to express the connections – it’s one of the difficult tasks. I think there is a failure to connect on this issue as far as I can see. Some of it is what you get when you have very traditionalist governments. What is at issue here is the 8th Amendment and if it looks like a majority of citizens would now vote for repeal then it should be put to referendum. Nobody is thereby forced to have abortions against their personal religious views. And the argument is not one of religion versus secularism. It is about women’s lives, health and wellbeing.


In your estimation, since you started working in political philosophy and connecting all these social issues and political problems that we’ve had in Ireland owing to our having been so closely aligned with one particular belief system, do you think we’ve come a long way?

Yes, we have actually. It was just after the period when women in the public service had to give up their jobs when they got married, so we’ve come a long way from that. We’ve come a long way from when marriage break-up was treated, at best, as a matter of “well, if you’re well off you can get an annulment.” But you still couldn’t remarry of course in the state. Some of the important things that symbolically, maybe even more than that, are things like Article 41.2, making home and family the alpha and omega of women’s purpose in life. Note that the Constitution doesn’t give women any right to anything. There is no cash value to work in the home. It is a dependent existence, which is a pretty bad situation for women to be in. Of course most women cannot luxuriate in their homes. They have to work, family or no family. So the disconnect is between the Constitution and reality and nobody in power is seriously looking at the structure of work.


Earlier you noted that philosophy is best done when it addresses the problems of our time. And yet, the perception from outside is that the people in the ivory tower of academia are, again, disconnected from the real world. How does the connection happen between philosophy that is done mainly in the university and political practice outside of the university?

But the work of a university is central to public reason and decision-making. For example, years of academic research and publication have gone into normative issues of redistribution, migration, climate justice, human rights, democracy, and citizenship, and much else of importance to public life. The first beneficiaries are the students who are the citizens that bring this connection to the so-called ‘real world’ and make it a lifeworld. They shape the public and the political.   Politicians are normally only too glad to learn new ideas on vital issues on which they must legislate. A fair number of politicians seek advice, clarification, information, from political philosophers and political scientists. Philosophy generally is appreciated as developing the ‘how to think’ powers of young people. There are technical and more abstract aspects of philosophy just as there are in other disciplines in the university, and when we deal with those, as we must, we may indeed inhabit our ivory towers. What we do in those towers is mainly the work of imagination. Our imagined futures are of course disconnected from the present. They may be tomorrow’s present.  


Attracta Ingram is Professor Emeritus of UCD Politics and International Relations. She has published extensively in political and social theory, particularly on the philosophy of rights, social justice, pluralism, state and nation, constitutional patriotism, and cosmopolitanism. She has held a Jean Monnet Research fellowship at the European University Institute, as well as visiting fellowships at St Andrews, Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley. Dr Clara Fischer is a Newton International Fellow at the London School of Economics and communications officer of Society for Women In Philosophy. This interview was conduced in September 2015.

An excerpt of the interview was published by Dublin Review of Books in November 2015, see

Confidence and self-belief are two issues perennially a problem for young women in the workplace. From an early age we are socialized to hold back before pushing forward and to please others before promoting ourselves. When journalist and philosophy graduate Carol Hunt made the decision to run for General Election in March 2015, she described in her campaign blog how this socialization had translated in her case to a “niggling voice” at the back of her head. This voice announced that she was “ridiculous” to even contemplate such an ambitious step, that she was “pushy” and “power-mad”, that she was, of all cardinal sins, “getting completely carried away with herself”.  

Part of the problem faced by Hunt and others, of course, is the lack of female role models in the contemporary political space. Without a clear picture of successful women in our chosen professional fields – versions of ourselves in five, ten and twenty years from now – it can be difficult to maintain the kind of vision and momentum that is needed for progression in any career.

In academic philosophy this problem is particularly acute. In what is referred to in the discourse as “the leaky pipe problem”, more and more women leave philosophy at graduate and early career stages. Fewer and fewer teach philosophy at undergraduate and graduate levels; fewer and fewer act as visible role models for younger women coming up. In Ireland, particularly, the number of female academics holding permanent academic posts in departments of philosophy is shockingly low (it was eleven at last count). Positive change is definitely in motion but it will take a while.

This is why mentoring is so important for young women in philosophy. Our young women need mentoring for at least the following reasons:

  1. 1.They need advice on all the practical things. Feedback on the intellectual content of M.A. or Ph.D. research is one thing but there are a host of little questions that nobody answers unless you ask. Should I teach in the first or the final year of my Ph.D.? What’s the value exactly of giving a conference paper? Which journals should I target for publication?
  2. 2.They need you to make connections for them. Linking graduate students with others pursuing similar research projects, or early career academics with important figures in their field, can be hugely heartening for all involved. In the best case scenarios these links become the foundation for life-long working relationships.
  3. 3.They need inspiration. Again, the importance of visible role models cannot be underestimated. It is imperative that young women see older women in positions of power.
  4. 4.They need affirmation and encouragement. Any graduate student or early career academic will tell you that the most challenging aspect of individual research is motivation and self-belief. Again the niggling voices return (“your work is derivative” / “your students hate you” / “your hair is a state”). In these scenarios we all need somebody to take an interest in ourselves as well as our work, to make us stand a bit taller and remind us that it can all definitely be done.
  5. 5.And finally, they need to hear stories of failure. That we are made aware of success is of course important but it’s even more important that we are reminded of fallibility. Professional people doubt themselves, professional people make mistakes, professional people deal with rejection after rejection – and they still survive and flourish.

So how might this work?

Mentoring is usually thought of as an association between two people, a relationship between an established mentor and her younger protégé. These one-on-one encounters work particularly well given the requirements of sensitivity, of intimacy and of trust. Of course, resources of the more established figure are at issue here. There is surely a limit to what full-time female academics can and should be expected to do for their younger colleagues. While the best mentor-mentee relationships see the abilities of both parties energized and renewed, this can only be achieved against a background of shared expectation and mutual respect.

A professional network, in which different needs are met by different people, is another form for academic mentoring to take. Young women in philosophy should be encouraged to build networks of this kind, to develop their own grab-bag collective of advisors and personal support. This particular mentoring model has the added advantage of being more democratic. The more people involved in the mentoring process the less likely it is for relationships of unequal power to take hold.

And finally, there is the possibility of peer mentoring. While it is crucial to have senior female academics to look up to it is just as important to have figures at your own career stage – graduate, early-career or mid-career – to relate to and model yourself on. In my own experience these peer mentor relationships are an absolute lifeline.

Taking all this into account, SWIP-Ireland takes very seriously its commitment to the care and the support of our young women in philosophy. Our first mentoring workshop in February 2015 had panels on “Gender Action”, “Community Engagement” and “Careers outside Philosophy”, and we’re really looking forward to our next workshop on September 18th. We’re delighted to welcome Professor Jennifer Saul from Sheffield University who will speak about Implicit Bias in academia. Our other contributors will speak on a range of interesting topics, from publishing to prisons. We’d love to have you with us on the day.

Áine Mahon is co-secretary of SWIP-Ireland. She lectures in the School of Philosophy and the School of Education at UCD.

The Summer Institute in American Philosophy brought me to Dublin. At the conference (June 8-13), hosted by University College Dublin, I enjoyed meeting colleagues from across Europe, the USA, and beyond. Using the theme “Transforming the Emotions,” our four-member panel on Feminist Pragmatism ranged wide. Our papers intersected philosophy with the fields of science, literature, art, and psychology.

Charlene Haddock Seigfried and I presented papers on Jane Addams’s use of sympathy, which lay at the heart of her ethics. I discussed how Addams (1860-1935) drew her conception of sympathy from the science of the day. Like many scientists, Addams regarded sympathy as a primitive instinct and a primary factor in human social evolution. Unlike those who segmented the civilized from the primitive and denigrated the latter, Addams used the sympathetic instinct to bridge such divisions. Seigfried explored George Eliot’s Middlemarch to uncover the many patterns of thought that Addams shared with Eliot. Both writers were keenly attuned to how everyone’s perspective is limited, shaped by their own experiences and contexts. For both writers, sympathy provides a pathway toward deeper understanding.

Ryan Musgrave gave a three-stop tour that demonstrated pragmatist aesthetics in action, showing how art could be placed in the service of social justice. The tour included Hull-House, the settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago in 1889; the Barnes factory and foundation in Philadelphia, dedicated to making art available to working-class people; and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where the arts were central to learning. Musgrave called these “collaboratories” with art and aesthetics used democratically as resources for ethical and social renewal. Clara Fischer examined literature on the contemporary turn in recent feminist philosophy to affect and the body. Her question was how to mobilize affect for ethical-political ends. Concerned by tendencies toward dualisms in some recent feminist theories, Fischer mined John Dewey’s theory of the emotions for its potential use in liberatory politics.

Pragmatists take context seriously; geographical and temporal locations matter. With my scanty knowledge of Irish history and contemporary Irish politics, two experiences outside the conference impressed me deeply. Clara invited Charlene and me to participate in a protest by SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Our Kids) in front of the Dáil (Irish parliament). Many women and some men spoke eloquently of how devastating the most recent cuts to lone parent households would be for their own particular families, each with its own configuration and challenges. I was struck by the resonance between these women’s stories and stories I hear frequently in the U.S. I was also struck by how politicians in both countries refuse to see how their proposed policies will play out in the lived experience of their citizens.

Clara suggested Charlene and I visit Kilmainham Gaol. It was sobering, standing at the spot where the men of the 1916 Easter Rebellion were executed, seeing the plaque with their names. Again, I was reminded that in struggle and in war, women’s service and suffering are often omitted in textbook accounts. The young tour leader was quite knowledgeable about women’s roles in the movement for independence from Great Britain, as he had taken a college course on Irish women’s history (yes, feminist scholarship and teaching make a difference!). It was moving to learn about Constance Markievicz, Mary McSwiney, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and others. The visit reminded me that context matters. While Irish and American suffragists participated together in the international suffrage movement, their stories are not parallel. Irish suffragists needed to ask themselves whether to advocate for the right to vote for Irish members of the British Parliament, the very government that oppressed them, and whether they should give priority to the struggle for Irish independence. At the same time that African-Americans were being systematically denied the right to vote, American suffragists had to ask themselves whether to expand their efforts to include black men as well as black women, or to turn their movement in essence into a fight for white women only. These stories intersect and they differ, and they all need to be told.


Marilyn Fischer, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, USA


Find us on:

Client Section