The HPS Research Seminar Series runs on selected Mondays during Semester time.

Refreshments are provided in the HPS Common Room, Level 3 Carslaw Building from 4.00pm before the Seminar.

All Welcome. No Booking Required. Free

Research Seminar Series - Semester 1, 2016
Date Venue Speaker Topic
Feb 29th

CCANSEA Meeting Room

Madsen Building

Professor Ofer Gal

University of Sydney

'8 Comments on Interpretation.’


I am going to discuss some basic rules-of-thumb about the interpretation of texts in the history of science and philosophy, with particular attention to the early modern period, from which my examples will come.


March 7th

CCANSEA Meeting Room


Madsen Building

 Prof Robin Hendry

Durham University

United Kingdom.

I tentatively explore the historical evidence for a bold claim: that theories of molecular structure have, since the 1860s, developed through a series of conservative extensions, despite some apparently radical theoretical and conceptual change during this time. A conservative extension of a theory is one where its inferential content before the extension (i.e. that which determines its explanatory and predictive power) is a proper subset of its inferential content afterwards. This will happen when a theory is extended or reinterpreted so that inferences can be made concerning phenomena about which no inferences were previously made.             

 March 21st

CCANSEA Meeting Room


Madsen Building

Prof Sarah Ferber

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

University of Wollongong

‘“Healthy Dying”: What’s in a Name?’"

The Healthy Dying Initiative is an Australian public health promotion campaign which aims to educate the public into planning for future palliative care. This article investigates uses of the dissonant term ‘healthy dying’, from its first use by Robert Kastenbaum in 1979, to the branding of the current Tasmanian campaign. Kastenbaum recognised ‘healthy dying’ as a paradox, but it has become naturalised as part of an argument about social health, rather than patient health. The paper will show that, unlike terms such as ‘good death’ or ‘dying well’, ‘healthy dying’ is open to considerable distortion according to the aims of governments and health service providers. In particular, the idea of health which posits ‘socially healthy’ outcomes of cost-saving in palliative care is critiqued here, along with the goal of denial of medical attention to people in aged care. Both goals undermine Kastenbaum’s initial more nuanced use of the term.

It should be noted that the paper will not be a bioethics presentation: it is best understood as cultural history of medical ethics. The disciplinary parameters of the paper will be canvassed at the start.



April 4th




College of Asia and the Pacific

Australian National University


Deng Xiaoping’s Spittoon: the Rise of Phlegm within the Chinese World.

China’s post-Cultural Revolution leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) always had a spittoon by his chair in formal meetings. He shocked foreign dignitaries like Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger by hacking and spitting globules of phlegm into the spittoon at strategic moments in negotiations. This is just one of many examples that illustrate the prominent role of phlegm in the political, social and spiritual worlds of contemporary China. A major concept in medical science, phlegm is one of the most important causes and symptoms of disease, and a defining measure of hygiene and health since its rise to prominence in the Song dynasty (960–1127). The history of phlegm, therefore, is key to understanding an ubiquitous yet puzzling feature of Chinese daily life. This talk will trace the trajectory of phlegm from a minor body fluid to a major medical concept and national concern. It will pay special attention to ?yurvedic and Greco-Islamic influences in the development of this concept, illuminating the historical connections between Chinese medicine and other medical traditions of the world. 

 April 18th




Dept of Biological Sciences

Macquarie University


Behavioural and quantitative geneticists routinely employ the heritability statistic to make causal claims about the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ of a given trait. These studies investigate the relative effects of genetic and environmental differences on differences in a phenotype. The proportional effect on phenotype due to genetic variation is summarised in the heritability statistic (H2 or h2). Since Richard Lewontin’s influential (1974) paper, there has been debate about the utility of the heritability statistic for making causal claims. Some, like Lewontin, argue that a more useful and informative approach to apportioning the causal responsibility of genetic and environmental variation is the norm of reaction (NOR). The NOR is a visual representation of individual genotypes in a population, and their phenotypic effects over various environments. Lewontin argues that the NOR is superior to the heritability statistic as it conveys causal information which H2 does not. But just how such information is conveyed and exactly what that information is remains underdeveloped. In line with Lewontin, I will argue that the NOR presents a deeper explanation about causal relationships between genotype, environment, and phenotype than the heritability statistic alone. I demonstrate this by appealing to the concepts ‘stability’ and ‘invariance’ outlined by Woodward (2003, 2010) under his interventionist framework for causation. These features can be used to distinguish causal relationships and assess their relative explanatory depth, and can be ascertained using an NOR and not a heritability statistic.



 Prof Andrea le Moli

Professor of Philosophy

Department of Humanities


Universtiy of Palermo


"Overcoming postmodernity? Reconsidering
Animal Life”

The talk will approach the question of language  as crucialfor the difference between human and non-human animals in the scenariocast by contemporary continental philosophy and use this and other topics as a chance to take some general considerations on postmodernity into account, the latter intended as the historical conditionin which we are supposed to live.  Postmodernity can be defined as the age in which all the so-called "big-picture" narrations, as far as they are grounded insome metaphysical theory, are declared to be finished. The age in which human speech has been set free from any reference to a unitary framework and a metaphysical Truth (with a capital "T") and thus assigned to pluralism and tolerance. Perspectivism and pluralism in the theory of knowledge has led to a new communicative dimension in which anyone has the right to propose - and eventually submit to a discussion ruled by looser criteria - his version of things. The world opened by postmodenity is intended to be a richerone, a world in which anyone can talk and claim a role in the "global conversation" which is supposed to replace traditional metaphysics and philosophy in general.

But had the thoughts of postmodernity ever included a consideration of the way in which life-forms other than human are determined by language and communication? Could it under this respect be the continental approach to postmodernism only a revised version of the very same humanism and anthropocentrism it intended to criticise? The talk will be focused on the relationship between continental approach to postmodernity and the language philosophies of Jacques Lacan, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. Also some new tendencies in contemporary treatment of animal life as Post-humanism, Animality Studies and Philosophies of Animality will be introduced and discussed under this respect.            





No Meeting today