Département de philosophie

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Schedule of upcoming events

On this page, we advertise the research activities that are of interest to members and friends of Thumos, especially the Thumos seminar, which is the main research activity of our group. Thumos seminars take place on Thursdays, 16h15-17h45 at the Bastions (room B214). Archives of the seminar are available here.

Members of the Swiss Doctoral School in Affective Sciences get credits if they participate to the seminar and their travel expenses can be reimbursed within Switzerland.

We also indicate events that may be of interest to students of the emotions or that happen on the same day : 

  • The CISA Lecture series take place on Tuesday, 12h15-13h15 at the Campus Biotech (seminar room will be communicated by email to the members).
  • The Quodlibeta takes place on Wednesday, 14h15-16h00 at the Bastions (room B101).
  • The Phileas talks usually takes place on Thursday in place of the Quodlibeta at the Bastions, 18h15-20h00.


Spring 2020

February 4-5th, 2020 – CISA's Annual Research Forum

Details and program here

February 27, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Emanuela Ceva (Geneva)

Individual responsibility under systemic corruption: A coercion-based view

Should officeholders be held individually responsible for submitting to systemically corrupt institutional practices? We draw an analogy between individual action under coercive threats and individual participation in  systemic corruption, and argue that the occupants of institutional roles who submit to corrupt practices are not excused by the existence of a systemic coercive threat. Even when they have good personal reasons to accept the threat, they remain morally assessable and, in the circumstances, they are also blameworthy for their actions in their institutional capacity.

March 3, 2020 – CISA Lecture 

Emanuela Ceva (Geneva)

Negative moral emotions and the transformation of relationships dynamics in processes of transitional justice

This paper asks the question of the role of moral emotions in processes of transitional justice in countries emerging out of periods of violence or past wrongdoing. The discussion of the criteria for the moral assessment of processes of transitional justice has recently gained momentum among political and legal philosophers. An equally lively emerging debate concerns the role of moral emotions (such as resentment, envy, anger, guilt, shame, but also sympathy and empathy) as a driver of people's interactions. The philosophical studies of the relations between these two debates are currently quite sparse. This is an unfortunate lacuna because interpersonal or intergroup interactions in contexts of post-conflict transition are quite apparently ridden with (positive and negative) emotions, whose moral significance needs further research. By bringing together recent studies in the political theory of transitional justice and the role of moral emotions in analytic philosophy, this paper contributes to developing the normative research in this field. It does so by investigating, in particular, the potential for a positive role of negative moral emotions to bring about changes in the relationships dynamics between the parties involved in past wrongdoing, and how institutions of transitional justice may elicit such potential and change. In so doing, the paper contributes to the studies concerning social transformation by outlining the normative requirements of an "interactive political morality" for transitional contexts 

March 5, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Antoine Rebourg (Geneva)

The Contours of Self-Control

Across both philosophical and empirical literature, self-control is standardly defined as the ability to master inclinations (typically desires or emotions) that conflict with what we judge best to do.
    This rough characterization has lent itself to diverse qualifications and debates regarding the mechanisms, temporal structure, and “targets” of an exercise of self-control. A popular view in cognitive sciences, which has recently received philosophical support by Sripada (forthcoming), is that self-control consists in certain mental control mechanisms that are deployed in situations of motivational conflict.
    My talk is divided into two parts. In a first, critical part, I argue that this narrow focus falls short on both conceptual and empirical grounds. Notably, I claim that it does not tell the whole story about what we concretely do when we ordinarily control ourselves. In a second, constructive part, drawing from the classical toolkit of action theory and moral psychology, I put forward a reductive but surprisingly handy account of self-control.

Reference: Sripada C. (forthcoming). ‘The Atoms of Self-Control.’ Noûs

March 5, 2020 – PhilEAs Talk

Artūrs Logins (Zurich)


March 12, 2020 – Thumos Seminar (cancelled, talk moved to next week)

March 19, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Juliette Ferry Danini (Sorbonne University)

Do we really need more empathy in medicine?  

It is often claimed that we need more empathy in medicine – by philosophers, health practitioners or patients alike. Empathy is indeed often presupposed to be something good, a virtue to display and to act on. It is believed to be especially beneficial to patients that their health practitioners feel empathy for their plight. Among many approaches, narrative medicine (Charon 2001) and the phenomenology of illness (Carel 2008; 2016) notably promote empathy in medicine. The biomedical model and the medical curriculum have specifically been argued to be causing a deficit in empathy in medical practitioners. Several empirical studies have claimed that medical students lose their capacity to feel empathy throughout their studies. For instance, about this decline in empathy, one study asks “how can we stop the rot?”  (Spencer 2004). As many have commented, empathy however can be a fuzzy concept. Emotional empathy (feeling what the other is feeling, putting yourself in her shoes) is often distinguished from cognitive empathy (knowing what the other is feeling) and compassion (caring for the other person’s wellbeing). Emotional empathy is usually what is put forward in the context of medicine. We want health professionals to feel our plight. There is thus a normative claim – it is morally better for health professionals to feel empathy – and a descriptive claim – the biomedical education is detrimental to our capacity to feel empathy. In this talk, I argue that neither of these claims are fully convincing.
      Note first that based on a review of the literature by Pedersen (2009), there is no consensus as to whether empathy does decline during the medical curriculum. A more pressing problem is that empirical measures of empathy use ambiguous definitions of empathy. What it means is that they measure bundles of things which sometimes appear to be very different from empathy. For instance, several questionnaires measure one’s likeliness to be anxious during emergencies as something akin to empathy: becoming anxious in emergency situations increases one’s empathy level. The claim according to which the decrease in empathy in medicine is bad – akin to “rotting” – is seriously weaken when put in perspective with what questionnaires actually measure.

     In the second part of this talk, I turn to consider normative questions regarding empathy. Is it true that empathy is a good guide for our moral actions? In the context of medicine, does empathy help health professionals caring for and treating their patients? Overall, is empathy likely to improve medicine? Following Bloom (2016), I argue that empathy has been oversold as a moral guide for our actions. Empathy suffers from a number a biases and does not lead us to the best decisions, especially in the case of medicine. Furthermore, emotional empathy can have harmful side effects. Notably, asking for continuous emotional labour in the context of rising health problems in the medical community is not without risk.
     Finally, I turn to consider the claim according to which patients heal faster when their health professionals feel empathy – suggesting that empathy should be used as a powerful placebo (Howick et al. 2018). I argue that similar measuring problems as mentioned previously affect this type of studies.
     In brief, in this talk, I argue that empathy is not something to look forward as a promise for better care and better medicine. At the end of this talk, I argue that compassion – simply having the best interest of patients in mind, without necessarily feeling what they are feeling – is a better goal for medicine. However, talking about compassion is not useful if one does not acknowledge the importance of work conditions and the health system within which clinical medicine happens. 

Bloom, Paul. 2016. Against Empathy. New York: HarperCollins.
Carel, Havi. 2008. Illness: The Cry of the Flesh. Stocksfield: Acumen.
———. 2016. The Phenomenology of Illness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Howick, Jeremy, Andrew Moscrop, Alexander Mebius, Thomas R Fanshawe, George Lewith, Felicity L Bishop, Patriek Mistiaen, et al. 2018. “Effects of Empathic and Positive Communication in Healthcare Consultations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 111 (7): 240–52. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076818769477.
Pedersen, Reidar. 2009. “Empirical Research on Empathy in Medicine - A Critical Review.” Patient Education and Counseling 76: 307–22.
Spencer, John. 2004. “Decline in Empathy in Medical Education: How Can We Stop the Rot?” Medical Education 38 (9): 916–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2929.2004.01965.x.

[The talk by Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen (Lund) is sadly cancelled]

March 26, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Markus Kneer (Zürich)

Happiness and Well-Being: Is It All in Your Head? Evidence from the Folk

Despite a voluminous literature on happiness and well-being, there is still no scholarly consen- sus on whether happiness and well-being are purely psychological phenomena, or for that matter whether they are identical. Commentators frequently defend their views by reference to intuitions about the nature of happiness or well-being, raising the question of how representative those intuitions are. In a series of studies we examined lay intuitions involving a variety happiness and well-being-related terms to assess their sensitivity to psychological (internal) versus external conditions. We found that all terms, including ‘happy’, ‘doing well’ and ‘good life’, were far more sensitive to internal than external conditions, sug- gesting that for laypersons, mental states are the most important part of happiness and well-being. But several terms, including ‘doing well’, ‘good life’ and ‘enviable life’ were also sensitive to external condi- tions, consistent with dominant philosophical views of well-being. ‘Happy’, by contrast, appears to be ambiguous: for many participants, but not all, it was completely insensitive to external conditions, sug- gesting that the folk are divided about whether happiness is purely a psychological notion or equivalent to well-being. Overall, our findings suggest that lay thinking about matters of well-being divides between two concepts, or families of concepts: a purely psychological notion associated with ‘happy’, and one or more notions related to the philosophical concept of well-being that concern how well a person’s life is going and are generally thought to involve both psychological and external conditions. Strikingly, even though the folk do not generally seem to endorse mental state views of well-being, they seem clearly to regard mental states as more important for well-being than external conditions.

April 2, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Laurent Jaffro (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Blame and Forgiveness

In what way is ceasing to blame a necessary condition for forgiveness? What initially interested me in the subject was the need to clarify what forgiveness requires as a change in the relationship with the offender. The result was rather that my attention was drawn to the complexity of blame and the need for an analysis that does not reduce it to one or the other of its dimensions.
I draw attention to the costs of confining philosophical discussion about blame to the sense of censure or reproach. Distinctions like that between angry and detached blame, between external and internal blame, between expressed and silent blame, are certainly useful but may be considered as approximations of a more crucial distinction between blame as a speech act with perlocutionary effects and blame as moral disapproval and attribution of moral responsibility, be it tacit or explicit. A philosophical account of blame should not neglect the latter in favour of the former.
I will be arguing that:
a. Taken in the sense of moral disapproval and attribution of responsibility for a fault, as distinct from the second-personal expression of disapproval, ceasing to blame is not a necessary condition for forgiveness. On the contrary, as a specific response to wrongdoing, distinct from excuses and forgetting, forgiveness preserves the victims’ judgement that a serious wrong has been inflicted to them and does not change the fact that they attribute responsibility for this wrong to the offender. The one who forgives, while deciding not to retaliate in any way (or, if taking revenge is not an option, while ‘overcoming’ resentment in some other way), does not, however, waive the judgement of culpability.
b. Taken in the sense of reproach, second-personal censure, ceasing to blame is a necessary condition for forgiveness. To those who offer their forgiveness and simultaneously reproach you for the same misconduct, you might legitimately point out some inconsistency.
However, my claim is not that the problem rests upon a misunderstanding about blame and that all is needed is to specify in what sense the term is used. The semantic network of blame would benefit from being presented as a conceptual complex that goes from weaker to stronger forms, from the less personal to the more personal, from calm disapproval to angry censure. 

April 7, 2020 – CISA Lecture 

David Garcia (Complexity Science Hub Vienna and Medical University of Vienna)

Computational Affective Science: Collective Emotions in the Digital Traces After a Terrorist Attack

April 9, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Céline Boisserie-Lacroix (EHESS) and Marco Inchingolo (Institut Jean Nicod)

Empathy for a reason? From understanding agency to phenomenal insight

The relationship between empathy, understood here as a cognitive act of imaginative transposition, and reasons, has been discussed extensively by Stueber (2006; 2011; 2012; 2017). Stueber situates his account of empathy as the reenactment of another person’s perspective within a framework of folk psychology as guided by a principle of rational agency. We argue that this view, which we call agential empathy, is not satisfying for two main reasons that we will examine consecutively. First, agential empathy cannot satisfactorily account for the case of emotional actions, which requires to take into account the phenomenal dimension of the mental states they stem from. We argue that Stueber overlooks this aspect, which is not reducible to understanding the reasons behind an agent’s behavior. We introduce the notions of experiential empathy and phenomenal insight to account for the imagined representation of the subjectively felt dimension of the target’s experience. Second, in virtue of his restrictive view of empathy, Stueber partly misconstrues this process: action explanation is not all there is to say about empathy. We argue that we have to go beyond the scope of agential empathy to do justice to the epistemic richness of empathy. Experiential empathy can in principle be available independently from reasons explanations: the main epistemic achievement of empathy can be indeed a matter of phenomenal insight only. 

April 23, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Magalie Schor (Geneva)

A Virtue Epistemology of Emotions

According to popular contemporary cognitive theories in the philosophy of emotions, emotions consist essentially in evaluations of their intentional object. The idea often defended is that emotional responses provide subjects with an epistemic access to the values instantiated in their surroundings. Given this epistemic aspect of emotions, some philosophers have recently raised the question of whether emotions could have a positive value for knowledge, for instance, by positively and reliably contributing to the acquisition of evaluative knowledge. The aim of the paper is to explore further the epistemic status of emotions. I will defend in a virtue epistemologist fashion that, similarly to beliefs, emotions, when some conditions are met, may be counted as kind of epistemic achievements, namely acquisitions of a kind of factual knowledge. As such, we may conclude that some instances of emotions are more than mere contributors of evaluative knowledge, they are constituents of it.

April 30, 2020 – Workshop "Fittingness" & Thumos Seminar (Broadcasted on Zoom)

10.00-11.30 - Jonathan Mitchell (Manchester), Two Objections to the Bodily-Attitudinal Theory of Emotion

14.15-15.45 - Roberto Keller (Geneva), Fitting Normativity for the FA Analysis

16.15-17.45 - Oded Na'aman (Jerusalem), Meaningful Suffering

What actually arouses indignation over suffering,” Nietzsche writes, “is not the suffering itself, but the senselessness of suffering.” Though the distinction between meaningful and senseless suffering is only rarely discussed in contemporary moral philosophy, it is clearly significant. In this paper, I develop a fittingness-based account of meaningful suffering that explains the distinctive burden of senselessness and the way meaning can make suffering more bearable. In developing the account, I also argue that the common account of the distinction between rational and a-rational attitudes in terms of judgment-sensitivity is flawed; the distinction between rational and a-rational attitudes should be drawn, instead, in terms of fittingness. Meaningful suffering is a rational attitude in the sense that it purports to be fitting to what it is about; senseless suffering might occasionally be justified but it is not about anything at all. When suffering is meaningful it expresses the agent’s evaluative perspective on the world, it is the suffering of the person, unlike senseless suffering, which befalls the person.

May 7 - Thumos seminar

Toni Ronnow-Rasmussen (Lund)

In Defence of Good-for Unitarianism.

The general  aim is to argue that the expression good-for expresses a much richer notion than what traditionally has been thought to be the case. By “richer” is  meant that the scope of good-for is considerably larger than what is usually believed to be the case. For instance, no one denies there are close connections between what is good for us and such notions as well-being or welfare. The question is if the notion of good-for admits of other things than e.g., well-being as being good for you. In Personal Value (2011), it was suggested that this was indeed the case; good-for can appropriately be ascribed to a range of things—things that have a personal rather than impersonal value, but which are not constitutive of someone’s wellbeing or welfare. One way of understanding this suggestion is to think that ‘good for’ is an ambiguous word. Sometimes it is used with a sense that should be confined to cases involving well-being, sometimes we employ it to a wider group of objects that carry so-called personal values. On this approach—what we might refer to as Disunitarianism about good-for—we should distinguish between “well-being good-for” and “personal value good-for”. A disunitarian view on good-for, admits that non-instrumental good-for denotes two or more notions. However,  it denies the Unitarian idea that good-for can be given a single unambiguous conceptual analysis. Disunitarianism’s scepticism against a rich non-ambiguous notion of good-for is by no means far-fetched. In fact, it might be true. It might be correct that the notion of personal value is sometimes expressible in terms of what is good for someone, but it does not follow from this that when we think something is good for someone in the “well-being sense”, we use “good for” with the same meaning. I shall therefore consider some arguments suggesting why I was wrong in thinking that good-for has the same meaning when we talk about what is well-being constitutive and what has personal value. However, I shall also consider some reasons in favour of  Good-for Unitarianism.

May 14-15, 2020 – Workshop "Knowledge and its Limits at 20" ***NEW DATE: November 5-6, 2020***

May 28, 2020 – Thumos Seminar

Santiago Echeverri (UNAM)

Inquiry and Skepticism

June 25-26 – The Political Role of Moral Emotions

July 2-9 – International Summer School in Affective Sciences