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Professional Development Assignment Report Highlighted Links

Deborah Tollefsen

Department of Philosophy

PDA for spring 2006

I received a professional development assignment for the spring of 2006 to work on my book manuscript entitled "Doing Things Together:; A naturalistic Approach." I was able to do a substantial amount of research on joint action and animals, which has prepared me to begin writing chapter three. I was also able to do some revisions on Chapter one. Because I was committed to writing three other papers (on issues independent from the book) during my leave I was not able to accomplish all that I had intended to do on the manuscript. I did, however, manage to get two of the three papers that I wrote in the spring accepted for publication and the third was the basis of a grant proposal which was funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand. I offer some details regarding these papers and the grant below.

In 2004 I began thinking about joint action in the context of scientific research. A great deal of research across the natural and social sciences is done by teams or small groups of researchers. The idea was to explore the ways in which the normative and intentional structure of joint agency influenced, either positively or negatively, the empirical success of team research. I was asked to participate in a session on collaboration in science at the 2004 Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Austin, TX and the paper I wrote for that was then revised and presented at the Episteme conference in the spring of 2006.  Episteme is a new journal edited by Alvin Goldman of Rutgers University and each year they hold a conference on some issue in social epistemology. The topic for 2006 was "The Value of Dissent." My paper entitled "Group deliberation, Social Cohesion, and Scientific Teamwork:  Is there room for dissent?" will appear this fall in Episteme along with other selected papers from the conference.

The second paper I wrote during my leave was on the topic of group testimony. Recent discussions of testimony have attempted to identify the conditions under which beliefs acquired via testimony are justified, warranted, or count as knowledge. The debate between reductivists and anti-reductivists rages on. Both sides of the debate assume that the source of the testimony is an individual. But it is not only individuals who testify. Groups routinely testify on a variety of matters. Consider, for instance, the CIA's testimony regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the testimony of medical associations such as the American Pediatrics Association.  Although these organizations have spokespeople, these people are providing the testimony of the organization. I explore the consequences of acknowledging that groups, and not simply individuals, can be the source of testimonial belief.  Insofar as the justification of testimonial belief depends in part on the reliability of the source there are distinct issues that arise for group testimony.  What could it mean for a group to be a reliable source of testimony?  Could a group be a reliable source of testimony on some matter even if no member is a reliable source on that matter?  On some accounts of the warrant of testimonial belief we have a prima facie warrant to believe the testifier.  Could anything like this be the case for group testimony? Group testimony suggests that we not only need to develop critical practices which assess the reliability of individual speakers but practices which critically evaluate the reliability of groups.  This paper has been accepted for publication in the journal Social Epistemology.

The third paper I completed on my leave was a collaboration with my colleague Sondra Bacharach (Victoria University, Wellington, NZ). The paper is entitled "Collective Art and Collective Intention" and it argues that current accounts of interpretation cannot easily provide a basis for interpreting collaboratively made artworks. This is because most forms of intentionalism (theories of interpretation that appeal to human intentions) are individualistic. They focus exclusively on the intentions of individuals. We argue that intentionalism must acknowledge group or joint intentions (the intentions of groups) in order to be able to interpret collaboratively made artwork.  This paper was the starting point for our Marsden Fast-Start grant proposal. We proposed to explore the ways in which aesthetics and theories of joint agency might be used to develop a richer theory of interpretation.  The proposal commits us to writing two papers, a catalogue for an art exhibit on collaborative art, and an edited collection of papers on the topic of collaborative art and intentions.  We received notification in early September that our project was fully funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand.  We will receive 70,000 NZ dollars each year for the next two years, roughly 100,000 dollars.  The money will be used to fund travel to and from NZ and to a variety of conferences, archives, and museums throughout Europe.

Dr. Hortenese Spillers
Dr. Hortenese Spillers, (BA '64, MA '66)

Dr. Spillers is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor, Vanderbilt University

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