Topics in the Philosophy of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Topics in the Philosophy of the Humanities and Social Sciences (ToPHSS) aims to cross boundaries between disciplines of the humanities and social sciences concerned with ‘the human’, that is with human beings, humanity, society, culture, history, and more. It focuses on methodological and ontological issues, in particular on those concerned with contested categories of the humanities and social sciences, and of those primarily on the categories of human, individual and person. (Scroll down for details on the topic).
The project will soon be continued under the new frame "The Epistemology of the In/human".
- Dehumanization Conference (6-8 April 2016): The international and interdisciplinary conference "Dehumanization: New approaches to understanding the politics of human nature" brings historians, scientists, philosophers and artists together in order to discuss the phenomenon of dehumanization. See event page for details.
- Workshop on dehumanization (Jan 31, 2017) focused on philosophical issues. See event page for details.
- Julie Zahle (University of Copenhagen): Values in Qualitative Research.
- Heather Douglas (University of Waterloo): Jettisoning the Value-Free Ideal: Why do it and where does it leave us?
- Tatjana Buklijas (Senior Thyssen Fellow, CEU IAS/ University of Auckland): What is at stake in the ‘epigenetic revolution’?
- Mihai Surdu (Senior Fellow, CEU IAS): Whose blood, which genes? Narratives and sampling strategies in Roma-related genetic research.
- Rebekka Hufendiek (Basel): The Essentialist Fallacy: Critical Theory and Naturalism.
- David Ludwig (Amsterdam): Why Race is Still Socially Constructed.
- Eszter Timár (Budapest): Celebrating Biodeconstruction.
- Magdalena Smieszek (CEU): The Categorized and the Categorical Human in Human Rights.
- Thomas Brudholm (Copenhagen): Dehumanization as Monstrification.
- Marianna Szczygielska and Zsuzsanna Varga (Budapest): Between Science and Show: Human Zoos in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
- Silvia Sebastiani (Paris): Humanization and Dehumanization within Enlightenment Debates: An Attempt to Contextualizing the Ape/Human Divide.
Podcasts/Videos related to the project can be found at our Youtube-Channel.
- Video of the slam poetry by Peter Molnar (as part of the 2016 Conference)
- Podcast: How we are Human (interview and discussion of 2017 ToPHSS course participants, directed and compiled by Magdalena Smieszek)
Recently finished research and teaching activities include:
- A pre-study for a project "Mapping dehumanization studies", as part of a new and more focused project under the title "The Epistemology of the In/human". We analyzed the publications available on dehumanization quantitatively (using digital humanities tools). The aim was to map the history and contemporary interconnections of research on dehumanization. (Involved: Perica Jovchevski, research assistant; Maria Kronfeldner, principal investigator).
- A 2017 winter term ToPHSS Seminar, with a series of lectures and a workshop.
Several events of the project took place avant la lettre:
- Film screening of 'Fixed – The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement'
- Talk by Robert Wilson on 'Knowing Agency from the Margins'
- Film screening of 'Surviving Eugenics'
Description of topic
In the first years, the focus shall be on whether there is really something – in addition to a label such as ‘the human’ – that unites academic concerns regarding humans. Thus, at issue shall be whether there are shared methodologies or shared ontologies at the foundation of those contemporary academic disciplines concerned with the human, such as history, literary studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, cognitive science, network science, etc.
To ask about these foundations is important since they are contested foundations. Yet, without secure foundations the humanities and social sciences might become quite fragile.
For a long time philosophical discussions about humanities and social sciences have focused on the methodologies of the respective disciplines (e.g., regarding explanation versus understanding). Recently, however, often implicitly made ontological assumptions and the very idea of a shared ontology of the humanities and social sciences has come under attack too.
First, none of the humanities or social sciences is studying the human (or humans) as such. What they study are rather derivative epistemic objects, such as culture, society, literature, etc. This fragmentation of the human in contemporary humanities, social sciences and natural sciences concerned with humans (i.e., biology, cognitive science, etc.) has led some philosophers to proclaim a radical incommensurability of the knowledge produced in these disciplines. The pluralism is about matters, such as aggression and sexuality, that are not only of scholarly importance, but also of utmost social and political importance.
Second, without ideas such as humanity and human kinds (a term Ian Hacking introduced), kinds within humanity and with a history (e.g. ‘homosexuals’), there would not be any social sciences and humanities studying these kinds. The same holds for what we might call constructed kinds, those things that are made by humans (e.g., artifacts such as money). Yet, philosophers still have difficulties in classifying human kinds and constructed kinds ontologically, since, after all, the philosopher asks: are they really real – given their historicity, constructiveness and reflexivity?
Third, specific fundamental categories such as human nature, individual or person have also become contested. Take human nature: there is a consensus in philosophy of science that Darwinism means that there is no human nature, no essence of ‘being human,’ to which disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, cognitive science or even history can refer to as disciplinary primitive, as something not studied but assumed as shared between all humans. However, the variety of disciplines just mentioned – basically all those that want to refer to humans in general – simply are in need of some concept of human nature. Furthermore, the category of the human has a dark side, leading to dehumanization of those conceived as less human. Because of the Darwinian challenge and because of dehumanization, philosophers have suggested that it is better to eliminate the concept of human nature from science and political philosophy. Yet social psychology has collected evidence that the category is so entrenched in our cognitive processes that it is unrealistic to reach elimination. How to resolve these issues is an open question in the field, and the project aims at making steps towards answers that cross disciplinary boundaries.
ToPHSS is one of the initiatives that continue the earlier Human Project.
To reach out to other disciplines, to arts, to the public and to politics, requires much cooperation. Some has started already, mainly locally. Thanks therefore to the Center for Law in Biomedicine (CELAB), the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archive (OSA) and the Center for Arts and Culture (CAC) for joining in for this project and for helping in various ways.