Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The subject matter of the new Centre for the Study of Compassion

Today I went to the launch at UCLan for the Centre for the Study of Compassion including a memorial lecture by the new professor, Patrick Pietroni (pictured) on ‘What does a compassionate university look like?’ And then a talk by John Ballatt on the Darwin International Institute for the Study of Compassion (DIISC) scholarship programme.

The Centre’s key research areas include:
  • the role of compassion in health and wellbeing 
  • compassion in education and organisations 
  • mentoring and compassionate leadership 
  • mediation and compassionate approaches to justice 
  • the role of compassion and cooperation in establishing sustainable communities
The mood or tone of both of today's talks was on the multidisciplinary basis for the proper study of compassion (and hence, too, an emerging DIISC network). Patrick Pietroni pointed out that compassion might be proximal, in the response to the needs of someone present (raising a question of the psychology why some such appeals command compassion and some do not) or distal. His talk stressed the latter, giving a number of examples of projects which helped people. In one, processes to aid the resettlement of refugees cut the time they spent in cramped B&B hotels in London from 24 to 6 months. Another subtly linked (through representations of where everyone lived shown in a communal room) isolated elderly in high rise accommodation with similarly housed single parents such that they came to support each other. The stress was on practical general strategies or systems to produce good effects. It did not matter whether anyone had had any personal I-thou feelings to those who partook of the systems. One simply had to think through, accurately, their needs.

Both he and John Ballatt also stressed the multitude of disciplines on which any study of compassion should draw, in the former’s case connecting theology’s focus on the golden rule, anthropology on pro social behaviour, social science and the spirit level, psychology on imprinting and empathy, the biology of altruism and its genetic explanation via completion, neurology’s interest in mirror neurones etc. Various disciplines could feed their perspectives into a spectrum of foci from the personal, to the social, to the environmental which in turn would feed into interventions in quite distinct areas (eg mentoring in the NHS, compassionate universities etc).

I couldn’t help wondering, though, what kind of placeholder ‘compassion’ was. For example, would it matter whether a system with sufficiently virtuous ends was ruthlessly efficiently run by soulless bureaucrats? And how would that relate, say, to the Biblical widow generously but practically uselessly donating her mite? Once compassion can take as its focus the mindless environment, is it clear that this is the same virtue as that involved in fellow-feeling? If it can be elicited from listening to the fourth movement of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (singled out by Pietroni), how does that compare with practical effectiveness, as the systems approach emphasised?

By the end, I half wondered whether ‘compassion’ played the same role as ‘quality’ does in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Some thing, or property, or virtue that always lies on both sides all the many distinctions mentioned today. If so, does that matter providing some tacit grasp of the good is shared and communicated by examples rather than flowing from some more explicitly univocal concept?

Friday, 12 October 2018

Univie Summer School on Philosophy and Psychiatry

Call For Application (Deadline: February 15, 2019)


Univie Summer School – Scientific World Conceptions (USS-SWC) July 1–12, 2019

The Univie Summer School – Scientific World Conceptions (USS-SWC) – until 2014 under the label "Vienna International Summer University" – will be held from July 1 to 12, 2019. The topic of the two-week course is „Philosophy and Psychiatry“ The main lecturers are Rachel Cooper (Lancaster University), Dominic Murphy (The University of Sydney) and Tim Thornton (University of Central Lancashire).

As an international interdisciplinary program, USS SWC brings graduate students in close contact with world-renowned scholars. The program is directed primarily to graduate students and junior researchers in fields related to the annual topic, but the organizers also encourage applications from gifted undergraduates and from people in all stages of their career who wish to broaden their horizon through crossdisciplinary studies of methodological and foundational issues in science.

The topic of the two-week course is „ Philosophy and Psychiatry “:

By its very nature, psychiatry – the medical specialism devoted to mental healthcare – raises as many conceptual as empirical questions. The philosophy of psychiatry is a rapidly emerging field which draws broadly on philosophical traditions – centrally analytic philosophy and phenomenology – to address a range of questions as broad as the demands made on psychiatry to address problems of human suffering, distress and disorder. It is also an area where philosophical methods, accounts and theories can be applied to and thus tested against psychiatric and psychopathological phenomena. But at its heart lies the question of whether, since psychiatry sees itself as part of medicine, the medical conceptualisation of illness and disease can be articulated in such a way that it properly applies to the distinct ‘problems of living’ that psychiatry addresses in response to the crisis of legitimacy often raised. This summer school will address a number key questions which impact on mental health care.

Application form and further information:

The Main Lecturers:

Rachel Cooper (Lancaster University)

Dominic Murphy (The University of Sydney)

Tim Thornton (University of Central Lancashire)

Guest lecturer:

Raffaella Campaner (Università di Bologna)

USS-SWC operates under the academic supervision of an International Program Committee of distinguished philosophers, historians, and scientists. Its members represent the scientific fields in the scope of USS-SWC, make contact to their home universities and will also support acknowledgement of courses taken by the students. USS-SWC is organised every year by the Institute Vienna Circle of the University of Vienna.


Venue: Kapelle, Institut für Ethik und Recht in der Medizin, Campus der Universität Wien, Entrance 2.8

Time: Monday, July 1, 2019, 9 a.m.

Further Information

Since 2010 USS-SWC is a part of the curriculum of the doctoral programme "The Sciences in Historical, Philosophical and Cultural Contexts"

There is an exchange programme with Duke University (North Carolina):

For further inquiries, please send email to or consult the IVC's Web site


Robert Kaller
Institute Vienna Circle
Spitalgasse 2-4, Hof 1, 1090 Wien
Tel. +43-1-4277-46504

Scientific director:
Prof. Martin Kusch
Department of Philosophy
University of Vienna

Monday, 1 October 2018

Idiographic Approach to Health

Idiographic Approach to Health

Edited by:
Raffaele De Luca Picione, University of Naples Federico II
Jensine Nedergaard, Aalborg University
Maria Francesca Freda, University of Naples Federico II
Sergio Salvatore, University of Salento
A volume in the series: Yearbook of Idiographic Science. Editor(s): Sergio Salvatore, University of Salento. Jaan Valsiner, Niels Bohr Professor of Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University.
In Press 2018
The concept of health is a challenge of great complexity in terms of theoretical, methodological and intervention within the idiographic frame.

Health cannot be considered an abstract condition, but a means, a resource aimed at achieving objectives that relate to the ability of people to lead their lives in a productive way - individually, socially, and economically. Health is a process that is not based on the definition of standards and categories on the basis of which typifying the states of health. Rather, it has to be considered a process, on a large scale and on many entangled levels, aimed at generating a culture of the health as a resource for individuals and communities and to promote skills needed to transform these resources into developmental goals.

The notion of health, indeed, defined and interpreted in terms of "state" and not of process, meets the immediate paradox of being an indicator of normativity by reason of which we risk a proliferation of new and potentially infinite forms of "deviation". The approach of the idiographic sciences (see previous volumes of the Yearbook Idiographic Science Series, by same publisher IAP) considers that every psychological process (but in general every process, from organic to the social and cultural ones) is characterized by a contextual, situated and contingent dynamics. That dynamics is always characterized by a never-ending opening of its cycles and great variability. Conditions of stagnation and hypostatization are characteristic of all forms of disease (physical, mental and social) that sclerotize relational links between people and their environments. Health is therefore a process that presents oscillation in the same way of any developmental process that has moments of crisis and rupture in order to re-organize new forms of relationship with the social and cultural environment.

This book represent a fruitful way to deep many cogent issues and to dialogue with an idiographic perspective in order to discuss the concept of health, to define its cultural meanings and possible polysemy (e.g., wellness, care, hygiene, quality of life, resilience, prevention, healing, deviation/normality, subjective potentiality for development, etc.), its areas of pertinence and intervention (somatic, psychological, social) trying to offer possible alternatives to the "normalization" of health and creating new incentives for the reflection.

Series Editor’s Preface: Health: The General in the Unique, Jaan Valsiner. Health: A Current Challenge for the Idiographic Sciences, Maria Francesca Freda, Raffaele De Luca Picione, Jensine. Nedergaard, and Sergio Salvatore. SECTION 1: THE DYNAMIC CONSTRUCTION OF BORDERS BETWEEN HEALTH AND ILLNESS SECTION 1.1: CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE HEALTH NOTION. AN IDIOGRAPHIC LENS ON THE TOPIC. DIFFERENT PATHS BETWEEN GENERALIZATION AND IDIOGRAPHY. Five Inconsistencies in Scientific Discourse, Sven Hroar Klempe.The Enigmatic Soul of Health: From Balance to Inscape, Robert E. Innis. Values and the Singular Aims of Idiographic Inquiry, Tim Thornton. Psychopathology: Mental Illness and Relationship Between Idiography and Health: The Case of Transsexuals’ Experience, Roberto Vitelli. SECTION 1.2: HEALTHCARE RELATIONSHIP AND POSSIBLE FUNCTIONS OF IDIOGRAPHIC APPROACHES.Crisis of Medical Institution: An Idiographic Approach, Annalisa Venezia and Chiara Marangio. From Medicalizing Discourse to Situated Practices. From Reification to Semiotization of Processes of Sensemaking: The Function of Psychological Scaffolding in the Experience of the Disease Within the Healthcare Relationship, Raffaele De Luca Picione, Francesca Dicé, and Maria Francesca Freda. Communicative Partnership Between More Than Two: When a Child Becomes a Patient, Jensine Ingerslev Nedergaard and Elise Snitker Jensen.SECTION 1.3: THE CARE OF SOCIAL CONTEXT. THE EXTENSION OF IDIOGRAPHY TO WIDER FRAMES. Growing up in the Suburbs: Stories of Adolescents at Risk and of Their “Maestri di Strada”, Santa Parrello. The Generational Shift in the Family Business: Defining the Condition to Plan the Intervention, Barbara Cordella and Assunta Capasso. SECTION 2: NARRATIONS OF HEALTH AND ILLNESS SECTION 2.1: THE NARRATION OF THE UNSPEAKABLE. HEALTH AND ILLNESS IN ONE’S OWN EXPERIENCE. Disquieting Experiences, Borders, and Healthcare Processes, Lívia Mathias Simão and Giuseppina Marsico. “I Get Along Without You...”: On Billie Holiday, Clichés and Psychological Truth, Yair Neuman.Lessons of Pathosophy—And Implications for Medical Care, Elin Håkonsen Martinsen. SECTION 2.2: THE MODELLING OF NARRATIVES PROCESSES IN THE CLINICAL CONTEXT. Narrative Functions to Support the Meaning-Making Process During Cancer Traumatic Experience in Pediatric Oncology, Maria Luisa Martino and Maria Francesca Freda. The Power of Self-Narratives in Health, João Tiago Oliveira, Miguel M. Gonçalves, João Batista, and Adrián Montesano.Commentary: The Enchantment of Stories, Luca Tateo. SECTION 2.3: THE IDIOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE OF NARRATIONS IN THE RESEARCH PROCESSES. The Idiographic Science Perspective Applied to the Treatment of Younger Women with BRCA Mutation, Emanuela Saita, Sara Molgora, and Chiara Acquati. Risk and Prevention: Women’s Experiences of Barriers to Cancer Screening, Daniela Lemmo and Adele Nunziante Cesàro. The Role of Narrative in Promoting Changes in Illness Transitions of the Life-Span: An Idiographic Approach, Andrea Smorti and Chiara Fioretti. Author Biosketches.

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences – Volume 11, Issue 1 (June 2018)

“Dear Colleague,

I'm pleased to inform you that the new issue of the international online journal Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences has been published, it is freely readable at:

Volume 11, Issue 1, June 2018


M. Aragona
The influence of Georg Simmel on Karl Jaspers' empathic understanding (Verstehen)

M. Aragona et al.
Translation and cultural adaptation of the Arabic version of the List of Migration Experiences (LiMEs)

A. M. Petta et al.
Cultural adaptation of the Lifespan Memory Interview in the Asylum Seekers (LMI-AS)


V. Pettinicchio et al.
Unaccompanied foreign minors victims of violence: a comparison between new and old arrivals in Rome


M. Aragona

Causal understanding: Max Weber and the interpretation of human actions


R. Henman
A Response to Maung's Commentary on Moreira-Almeida and Araujo

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences proposes and includes Original Papers, Negative Experimental Results, History of Mental Concepts, New Ideas and Dialogues, as described in the guidelines for the authors.

Would you like to write a Dialogue? It is a short article (up to 600 words) freely published and without any deadline commenting another article already published on the previous issues of our Journal.
If you have any question about this Journal then please feel free to contact me at your convenience. I hope you find at least some of our publications of interest and value.
If you think someone of your friends or colleagues could be interested in our Journal please forward them this email. Anybody can register himself at our service of email-alert which will inform about new issues or other news about the Journal through an email. The service is completely free at

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Friday, 28 September 2018

Simplicity in writing and thinking

I’ve been having a short email discussion of writing with a correspondent from East Molesey. I had suggested that, when reading fiction, I do not positively enjoy good style. Rather, I merely dislike bad style, which sticks out and is obtrusive.

(Cf: Again, our eye passes over printed lines differently from the way it passes over arbitrary pothooks and squiggles. (But I am not speaking here of what can be found out by observing the movement of the eyes of a reader.) The glance slides, one would like to say, entirely unimpeded, without becoming snagged, and yet it doesn’t skid. [Wittgenstein 1953 §168])

Good prose, I suggested, is invisible. And hence, one mistake I had made in one co-authored philosophy piece was picking a co-author who had substantial style aims. I, I suggested (obviously naively), had had none except to render myself invisible.

East Molesey replied “Odd that you think you don’t / should not show in your writing. Perhaps you view what you are doing as letting the ideas and arguments do the work and not your words and your thinking - curious if so!”

Putting this response aside I then stumbled across an article from a week ago in the Guardian on ‘How to write a great sentence?’.

The article raises, and flags some complications in, the issue of why one might aim for a simple writing style.

One very natural way to think of all this is as writing or language as a code for prior thought. One thinks the thought and then finds the right and simplest words with which to express it. Wittgenstein comments about a French politician who thought that French was unique as the only language in which the word order is the same as the order of concepts in thought.

This case is similar to the one in which someone imagines that one could not think a sentence with the curious word order of German or Latin just as it stands. One first has to think it, and then one arranges the words in that strange order. (A French politician once wrote that it was a peculiarity of the French language that in it words occur in the order in which one thinks them.) [Wittgenstein 1953 §336]

Wittgenstein suggests some exercises of saying a sentence while thinking the thought, saying one without thinking the other and thinking the other without saying the first. His suggestion seems to be that the thought is in the words not prior to them. He also draws an analogy with the interdependence of notes and their expression in music.

But if so, what of the strange sentence discussed in the Guardian article attributed to Kate Moss: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"? Suppose one thinks that the way those words are used is odd. The article provides a reason to think so. It says:

Skinny, usually an adjective, is here turned into an abstract noun, paired with another abstract noun, nothing. And yet skinny is also quasi-concrete, because where it lies in the sentence suggests that it can actually be felt, just as food has a taste. But feels also retains its non-sensuous sense of intuiting or experiencing something: skinny feels good. As the sentence ends with the snap of a stressed syllable, our perspective has been altered in a way that feels true, even if we don’t share the sentiment. Reality has shifted a little and then clicked back into place.

If the words are used in some strained (by contrast with normal), novel and non-standard context, then what thought was expressed - oddly - by those words in this non-standard way? What would be the underlying thought stripped of the odd way of putting it? (If that sentence is not weird enough, one can always ask it of one that more obviously is.)

Following the line of thought in John McDowell's account of Davidsonian truth theories, I think the only way to state the thought expressed with words oddly used is with the very same words used in the same odd way. The sentence "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" states that / means / is true iff nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

One has to have ears to hear the second part of that long sentence in the right way. Truths about meaning require the right audience. So I'd say, in response to the question my correspondent asked: the ideas and arguments should/do indeed do the work as expressed in the words and thoughts. Preferences about style are preferences about thinking and thoughts.

The Guardian article goes on to note the way that linking words are much less used to carry implications from one sentence to the next now compared to the past.

Sentences have become less shackled to each other. Those written a few hundred years ago typically began with a whereof or a howsobeit, to resume an unfinished thought. And they used lots of conjunctive adverbs, those connecting words like moreover, namely and indeed. Such adverbs are in historical retreat. The use of indeed peaked in print in the 18th century and has been declining ever since. The number of howevers and moreovers has been falling since the 1840s.

That raises a nice related example. Imagine we had a two sentences or thoughts:
  • Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
  • Don't eat that Yorkshire pudding! 
(It doesn't matter that this is an injunction. One might say: no one should eat the Yorkshire pudding. But an injunction makes the normative nature of the inference more explicit.)

In the past (if the history in the article is correct), we might have written or said, with a suitable connection:
  • Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. So, don't eat that Yorkshire pudding!
Despite the word 'so', the reader still needs to see the force of the connection from the previous sentence to the new next one (So, don't eat that Yorkshire pudding!). We might worry about this and decide to flag the connection. "So, don't eat that Yorkshire pudding!" follows from the previous sentence. The whole thought involves a movement from the first sentence through to the end of the second.). What better to flag this than the word 'so'?! Hence:
  • Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. So, so don't eat that Yorkshire pudding!
But now the following thought should come just as naturally. Despite the word 'so' appearing at the start of the second sentence, the reader still needs to see the force of the connection from the previous sentence to the new next one. What better to flag this than the word 'so'?!


Just as we might need eyes to see or ears to hear the words used as they are in Kate Moss' sentence, so we need eyes to see or ears to hear how one sentence is a reason for the next, to grasp the whole thought expressed. The style and the thought say, and need to say, the same.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Launch of wikiVBP: the Values-based Practice Reference Library

"Launch of wikiVBP: the Values-based Practice Reference Library

We are delighted to announce the launch of this new resource for values-based practice

Our thanks to everyone who has contributed to the library thus far and in particular to the VBP Librarian Michael Loughlin for all his hard work on the project

The library is a wikiVBP library because we depend on your contributions to make it work

For further details including How to Use the library and How to Contribute to the Library please CLICK HERE

The Collaborating Centre for Values-based Practice in Health and Social Care
St Catherine's College
Manor Road Oxford,
United Kingdom"

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Postscript on the bare presence of artistic intention

Wandering round the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art today there were some large bold abstract images by Roberto Juarez. The curatorial blurb, however, revealed that the abstract images were partly based on found objects and images. Further, the larger painted works were based on smaller designs which themselves had super-imposed grid lines to enable the construction of the larger works. These smaller designs, which were also on display, comprised collages including - it seemed - images from magazines and objects.

Putting this through the Scruton machinery, the existence of a feature in the larger painting was determined by a corresponding element in the smaller ‘scrap book’ as then carefully and apparently faithfully rendered in paint. Its being there was a combination of direct authorial intention in the application of brush strokes - though even here I’m sure such subsidiary elements were merely left to sub-personal motor-intentional capacities - and what had happened to present itself in magazine pages that morning (let’s assume). If on Scruton’s account, the only art in photography is the theatrical arrangement of elements, then in Juarez’ case, most of the art is in good scrap-booking.

I found that I preferred to forget all about this origin story and pretend that the finished works had fallen fully formed from Juarez’s imagination.