Logo Università degli Studi di Milano


Reading Groups Spring 2015  

 1. Cognitive Anthropology (Convener: Ivan Severi)


As I have anticipated to you and some of other phd student is my intention to propose a reading group on the cognitive anthropology's approach. It's a new topic also for me and I've decided to start with the recent Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge by Maurice Bloch (http://www.cambridge.org/se/academic/subjects/anthropology/social-and-cultural-anthropology/anthropology-and-cognitive-challenge?format=PB) and then discuss how to continue with the memebers of the rg.

Maurice Bloch is one of the most innovating anthropologist of the century, with a great capacity to move outside the border of the discipline. In this sense I propose this rg in order to create a place where the anthropological approach could be mixed with other approaches (from social and cognitive science). This book is a good introduction to create a base for a more specialized debate, starting from the traditional dicothomy nature/culture.


2. Just and Unjust Wars: an Outdated Dilemma? (Conveners: Tommaso Longo and Dario Mazzola)


Philosophers ranging from Betrand Russel to Peter Singer have been famous advocates for pacifist claims to the point of becoming the spokespeople of radical opposition to war. Starting with the 1960s, philosophical arguments for the restriction of State violence have even turned into massive activism and changes in the public opinion. This partly explains why Michael Walzer's book Just and Unjust Wars stood out from the crowd and seemed even anachronistic when it was published in 1977. Unfortunately, the book has proved rather prophetic. The following decades up to the present day have been marked by many conflicts justified on the basis of moral persuasions and both the reasons for fighting a “just war” (jus ad bellum) and the way of waging it (jus in bello) have been continuously questioned. The disastrous situation of post-war scenarios like modern Lybia and Afghanistan have also shown that the reflection on the proper way of bringing peace back (ius post bellum) is no less actual. The theory of the “just war” is a classic of political and moral philosophy and by resorting to “historical illustrations” Michael Walzer keenly acknowledge this debt to millennial philosophical traditions. In addition to this, he provides useful examples to substantiate the abstract thinking: a symptom of his belonging to the so-called “communitarian” school but also a tool to make the relevance of the subject even clearer.

We will focus on his view on the importance of historic reflection on war and justice and therefore propose a reading group to consider political theories on the subject from Ancient Greek to contemporary authors. The aim of the reading group is manifold:

  • Contrasting different views on the right in war: for example realists (like Machiavelli) against moralists (Aquinas)
  • Sorting out and focusing on crucial issues in war theory: double effects, killing of innocents etc.
  • Discussing modern days controversial situations (Vietnam War, Kosovo bombing, contemporary humanitarian interventions) with the instruments provided by war theory

We suggest these readings (the list may vary depending on the interests of the participants and the number of meetings):
Thucydides, The War of Peloponnesians (selected passages).
Plato, Republic (selected passages).
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (selected passages).
Machievelli, The Prince (selected passages).
Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars.
Sandel, Justice: What's the Right Thing to do (selected passages).

Why joining in the reading group?

2014 has been the year with the highest number of war refugees since 1946 (according to UNHCR). Our country has the eighth highest military expenditure in the war. Discussions on just war and justified interventions occur daily and it might be useful as philosophers as well as citizens to engage in such debate with a good array of rational arguments.


3. Schizophrenia and Self-Consciousness (Conveners: Camilla Derchi and Dario Mazzola)


Schizophrenia is a complex disease arising from different causes. The communicative abnormalities observed in patients with schizophrenia have traditionally been categorized as aberrations of content (delusions and hallucinations) and aberrations of form (abnormal ways of organizing and expressing ideas, even when those ideas have normal content). One of the most interesting and unclear elements of schizophrenia is the phenomenon of thought insertion. During this phenomenon the schizophrenic subject feels that some thoughts (that occur in her/his mind) are not generated by herself/himself. For this reason some philosophers have argued that the phenomenon of thought insertion could provide a counterexample to the view that introspection-based mental self-ascriptions are logically immune to error through misidentification.

This phenomenon is a psychological disorder wherein the subject is under the impression that certain thoughts are not her/his own. As J. Fernàndez writes, “for any subject with thought insertion S, there is some belief B such that: 1) S claims to have B and 2) S claims that B is not her/his belief”. This phenomenon is called “awareness without ownership”.7 The schizophrenic subject feels that some thoughts (that occur in her/his mind) are not generated by herself/himself. What does this mean? Is it possible for a subject to have a thought that is not his/her own? Can a subject experience a thought as being alien?

One of the most important abilities of a human-animal is to recognize her/himself as such and to be able to utter sentences like the following: “I believe this...”,“I remember that...”, etc. This ability is defined as the first-person perspective. It is integrated in the self-consciousness modality and represents the linguistic articulation of self-consciousness. First-person perspective is a complex property which only human-animals seem to possess. In fact, some non-human animals like chimpanzees exhibit “weak phenomena” of the first person (i.e. the resolution of practical syllogisms like desire/action), but do not exhibit “strong phenomena” of the first person. In other words, only a human-animal can articulate his/her thoughts using the first person pronoun “I”. This psychological notion is supported by linguistic analysis of first-person sentences based on “I- thoughts” which, according to several authors including Wittgenstein, Castañeda, Shoemaker, Strawson and Higghinbotham, are immune to error through misidentification. As a matter of fact, the same denotation is irrefutably associated to the pronoun “I” in every “possible world”. Moreover, there exists no world where the pronoun “I” denotes nothing, that is, where it has an empty denotation, as may happen, for example, with the proper noun “Pegasus”.

Some philosophers have argued that the phenomenon of thought insertion could provide a counterexample to the view that introspection-based mental self-ascriptions are logically immune to error through misidentification. If we follow Fernandez’s definition of thought insertion, it seems that the schizophrenic subject can assert that some thoughts are not her/his own. To try to avoid this problem, several philosophers including Coliva, Gallagher distinguish between the ownership of a thought and the sense of ownership over one’s thought. Introspective awareness of a thought is the criterion for the ownership of that thought, while the sense of ownership is the “default” feeling linked with the production of a certain thought (which makes it possible for the subject to experience the thought as her/his own). In accordance with this distinction, during the phenomenon of thought insertion the schizophrenic subject loses the sense of ownership of her/his thought but this loss is not sufficient to make her/his thought someone else’s. This leads to the conclusion that the first-person perspective (and the immunity of error through misidentification) is not “suspended” during thought insertion. Consequently, the problem to be investigated is how to take account of first-person perspective during thought insertion in schizophrenic subjects.

Why participate in this reading group?

A good reason to participate in this reading group is that we’ll discuss some crucial aspects of self-consciousness articulation from a new point of view. In particular the aim of this reading group is to understand how philosophical conceptions can be applied to research or clinical work.


- Bortolotti, L. e Broome, M. (2009), “A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(2), pp. 205-24

- Campbell, J. (1999), “Schizophrenia, the space of reasons, and thinking as motor process”, The Monist 84, pp. 609-625.
- Campbell, J. (2002), “The ownership of thoughts”, Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology 9, pp. 35–9.
- Coliva, A. (2002), “Thought insertion and immunity to error through misidentification”, Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 9, pp. 27-34.
- Coliva, A. (2002), "Reply to John Campbell", Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology, 9 (1), pp. 41-46.
- Fernandez, J. (2010), “Thought insertion and self-knowledge”, Mind & Language 25 (1), pp. 66-88.
- Frith, C. D., Blakemore, S.-J., e Wolpert ,D. (2000) “Abnormalities in the awareness and control of action”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Biological Sciences, 355 (1404), pp. 1771-1788.
- Gallagher, S. (2004), “Neurocognitive models of schizophrenia: A neurophenomenological critique”, Psychopathology 37(1), pp. 8-19.
- Gallagher, S. (2000), “Philosophical conceptions of the self: Implications for cognitive science”, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4, pp. 14-21.
- Gallagher, S. (2004), “Neurocognitive models of schizophrenia: A neurophenomenological critique”, Psychopathology 37(1), pp. 8-19.
- Bortolotti, L. e Broome, M. (2009), “A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(2), pp. 205-24.
- Parnas et. al. (2005), “EASE: examination of anomalous self-experience”, Psychopathology 38, pp.236–258.
- Parnas, J., Sass, L., Zahavi, D. (2011), “Phenomenology and Psychopathology”, Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 18 (1), pp. 37-39.


4. Feminist and Continental Perspectives on Animal Studies (Conveners: Francesco Aloe, Giacomo Andreoletti, Roberto Redaelli)


Since the 1980s, feminist philosophers such as Carol Adams, Val Plumwood and others have explored alternative foundations for animal ethics and politics seeking to move beyond the traditional rights-based theories that still today dominate the discussion. On the other hand, in the last decade, in spite of the fact that the tradition of continental philosophy cannot be said to be historically fair with animals, continental scholars such as Ralph Acampora, Matthew Calarco and others have begun the process of re-examining various philosophical conceptions of animality and the ethical-political consequences of the dogmatically anthropocentric milieu of Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian thought. Notwithstanding their different starting points, there are significant nodes of convergence and commonalities between these two approaches to animal studies.

- both espouse degree of scepticism towards the well-known theories of Tom Regan and Peter Singer;

- both profoundly call into question nature and culture dualism;

- both promote an intersectional understanding of power relations;

- both deeply dispute anthropocentrism and sovereign human subject;

- both explore a shared somatic core that may foster more-than-human ethics of care.

The main purpose of this reading group is to survey the foundational works of these two intertwined perspectives in order to:

- provide the underpinning for the latest critical thinking on the condition and experience of animals;
- discuss the inner tensions within the relatively new and broad field of animal studies.

We suggest the following list of readings:

– first and last chapter of M. Calarco,Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida, Columbia University Press, 2008;

– chapter two of V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Routledge, 2003;

– T. Ingold, "Anthropology Beyond Humanity", Suomen Antropologi. Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, v. 38, n. 3, pp. 5-23, 2013;

– R. Twine, "Ecofeminism and Veganism: Revisiting the Question of Universalism", in C. Adams and L. Gruen (eds.), Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth, Bloomsbury, 2014;

– chapter two of C. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: a Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Bloomsbury, 2010, and C. Adams, "War on Compassion”, in J. Donovan and C. Adams (eds.), The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics, Columbia University Press, 2007;

– J. Donovan, "Attention to Suffering: Sympathy as a Basis for Ethical Treatment of Animals", in The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics;

– chapter four and five of R. Acampora, Corporal Compassion: Animal Ethics and Philosophy of Body, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006;

Why participate in this reading group?

A good reason to take part of this reading group is that the scholarly study of human-animal relations has become crucial to the urgent questions of our time, notably in relation to the global environmental crisis. In addition, the animal question is situated at the interface of many important issues concerning environmental studies, feminist/gender studies, posthumanism, sociology of food and eating, critical theory and practical ethics.


5. From a primate's point of view (Conveners: Francesco Della Gatta and Angelica Kaufmann)


This reading group focuses on on the study and the comprehension of the more refined human cognitive skills (such as language-communication, theory of mind, morality) and about how these are appeared and evolved in the course of centuries, by comparing humans and animals (mainly non human primates & monkeys). In particular, the aim is to promote an interdisciplinary debate (between Psychology, Philosophy and Anthropology) and facing these issues in a reading evolutionary key.

Suggested readings:

- Origins of Human Communication (Michael Tomasello)

- Baboon Metaphysics (Dorothy L. Cheney & Robert M. Sayfarth)

- Primates and Philosophers: How morality evolved (Frans de Waal)

- Neurophysiological bases underlying the organization of intentional actions and the understanding of others’ intention (Bonini L., Ferrari P.F., Fogassi L.)

- Mirror neurons and the social nature of language: The neural exploitation hypothesis (Vittorio Gallese)

Back to top