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Guest Post: Geri Gray on the Referendum – What do I do when I vote?

Referendum, I – What do I do when I vote?

The Referendum vote in Australia on 14 October 2023 will be, like every mass-decision exercise or election in major democracies, an opportunity for a particular form of self-expression by millions of human beings. The temptation for journalists and political scientists to treat the prospective Referendum outcome as though it were (will be) the utterance of a single entity – ‘the Australian electorate’, ‘the public’, or (even more improbably) ‘the Australian nation’ – is of course extremely strong, if not overwhelming.

Thinking of the citizenry of any modern nation state as being a unitary entity which ‘speaks its mind’ from time to time is a convenience in which many people indulge; but it is only ever a convenience — a thought tool which runs the danger, if over-used, of hiding what is actually going on, subjectively and psychologically, in the minds of diverse people including, at the end of the day, ourselves. This diverse quality is crucial to remember, particularly in political debates, for at the end of the day for each one of us – the ‘you’ and ‘I’ of whoever reads or writes this article – can always be ‘in two minds’ about any question, no matter what it is.

Another challenge for political scientists and journalists – and again, this applies also to most if not all human beings – is how to reckon with the degree of emotion that enters into political questions.

This emotional intensification need not be a sign of people becoming ‘irrational’ or unreasonable; it can be and often is a sign of the passionate attachments that people feel towards their own sense of place, belonging, community, ‘country’. Inevitably, in public argument a tendency for many people, especially in the heightened emotional environment around a public vote, is to diminish the rationality of those who choose a different answer. Again, it is an understandable human failing that we do this, but it works against the possibility of negotiation and dialogue with others on controversial questions. If we speak only with the like-minded – those who share our view on the issue of the day – we self-evidently diminish the possibility of influencing towards our own way of thinking any of those who think differently.

In considering this problem, framed as it is by the diversity of humans (and I speak here only of the diversity of their opinions), and also by the powerful influence of emotion entering into ‘rational’ debates, a remark by the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski about 40 years ago remains germane. In a comment often quoted in the blogosphere, Kolakowski wrote that:

I rather tend to accept the law of the infinite cornucopia which applies not only to philosophy but to all general theories in the human and social sciences: it states that there is never a shortage of arguments to support any doctrine you want to believe in for whatever reasons. These arguments, however, are not entirely barren. They have helped in elucidating the status quaestionis and in explaining why these questions matter.

The precise ‘questions’ that Kolakowski was addressing in the book that he was writing at the time were the traditional – and traditionally hotly contested – matters of the philosophy of religion. Yet as his remark about ‘general theories’ in the human and social sciences suggests, this ‘law of the infinite cornucopia’ has a much wider application. The image of ‘choice’ that it presents – I want to make my case, and I may choose this argument or that argument, depending on the audience, their mood, or perhaps my mood – is undoubtedly a normal part of the human experience of arguing, of trying to persuade, and it can, with equal certainty, be easily applied in political debates, including debates over the 2023 Referendum in Australia. For example, I wish to support ‘Yes’ (or ‘No’) in voting and I wish to influence my neighbours to agree with me and to vote the same way. Which argument or arguments should I use? What will work best? This, again, is a human and normal way to think about being a citizen in a democracy. It leads us to consider what is going on when we choose the arguments that we use to express our opinion on a question to others, whether neighbours, family or friends.

A reverse side to the argument about the infinite cornucopia of choices – the wide range of options we all have to support whatever theory of action we want to adopt – is that in the real world of interacting human beings, reason alone does not carry the day in a great many argument contests. Prejudice and self-deception can play their roles. Even among highly trained reasoners – lawyers, for example, or even judges – it is not unknown for contests of reasoning to end up in split decisions and mistaken decisions, with factors other than logical argument apparently getting involved. There are many historical examples we can think of: one that I often think of is the 1857 decision of the US Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case, effectively upholding the institution of black slavery despite overwhelming reasonable arguments against it. The Justices voted 7:2 in favour.

A conclusion we can draw is that sheer will – the expression of a desire – plays an important role in political choices, despite the fact that we may, habitually, regard these choices as matters of reason alone. And this will is fluid. This is the first point that I think we can and should agree on in relation to the Referendum. What do you or I want? What do or I you wish for? These questions may be fruitful in discussions across the Yes-No divide, because they may give all of us (on both sides) the chance to activate the emotion, locate the emotion, or somehow the will, the wish that we have to shape (or establish) the kind of collectivity that we want to live in and bequeath to others, in making the choice that we make when we vote.

Guest post by Geri Gray

This is an abridged version of a longer piece that can be found via Geri’s linkedin

International Merleau-Ponty Circle Program

Deakin is proud to host the 47th Annual Meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, 4-6 December 2023. The theme for IPMC47 is “Merleau-Ponty and Embodiment: Between the Cognitive, Aesthetic, and Socio-Political”:

Merleau-Ponty’s seminal work on embodiment has been of enduring interest and influence in a wide range of fields. It has, for example, played a significant role in research on embodied cognition and enactivism, subjectivity and intersubjectivity, affectivity, movement, art, place, and more. Although sometimes criticized for providing an account of embodiment that is too general, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical foregrounding of embodiment has also facilitated critical phenomenological studies attending to the specificities of how particular bodies inhabit social and political environments, through considerations of race, gender, disability, aging, and illness. This year’s meeting of the IMPC seeks to bring together these rich and varied strands of enquiry, in order to think with, against, and beyond Merleau-Ponty’s own contributions on the lived body.

A full program for the event can be downloaded here.

To read abstracts for the General Program click here.

To read abstracts for the Rethinking Racism through Embodiment and Place stream click here.

For further details and to register please visit the conference’s Eventbrite Page.





Conference Announcement: Merleau-Ponty and Embodiment

47th International Merleau-Ponty Circle Conference

Merleau-Ponty and Embodiment: Between the Cognitive, Aesthetic, and Socio-Political

In-person and virtual (hybrid)

4-6 December 2023

Deakin University, Melbourne (Narrm), Australia 


The conference will feature two keynote addresses:

  • Associate Professor Alia Al-Saji (McGill University): Opacity, Reversibility, and the Colonial Duration of Perception
  • Professor Shaun Gallagher (Memphis, Wollongong): Caught in the Fabric of the World: Between Embryology and Extended Mind

Invited Speakers include:

This year’s meeting of IMPC will take place in Melbourne (Narrm), Australia, on the traditional and unceded lands of the Kulin Nation. The conference is being directed by Helen Ngo and Jack Reynolds. It will be held at the centrally located and accessible Deakin Downtown campus,

There is also a special substream throughout the event on “Rethinking Racism Through Embodiment and Place”, supported by Dr Ngo’s ARC DECRA. 

Workshop: Self-Narratives and Irony

Self-Narratives and Irony

2nd March 2023 2:30-5:30pm, Deakin Downtown, Level 12, 727 Collins Street Docklands

An afternoon workshop featuring presentations from Pierre-Jean Renaudie (University of Lyon) and Daniel Rodriguez-Navas (The New School, via Zoom) followed by open discussion.

All welcome, to register please email Patrick Stokes.

Vilhelm Hammershøi, Courtyard Strandgarde 30, c.1905
Vilhelm Hammershøi, Courtyard Strandgarde 30, c.1905

Over the last forty years, the philosophical question surrounding the problem of personal identity has undergone two important and concomitant transformations. These transformations have durably affected theories of personal identity. Departing from the metaphysical ground of analysis of the modalities of identification and temporal synthesis of the Ego, a significant number of historical or systematic works devoted to the question of the Self have first sought to re-inscribe the problem a practical perspective. This allows the question of personal identity to be approached in narrower frameworks: those of moral philosophy or philosophy of action (Williams B. 1982, Frankfurt 1988, Ricœur 1990, Taylor 1992, Korsgaard 1996, Moran 2001, Larmore 2004, Descombes 2014). A second important displacement in the question of personal identity occurred in parallel to this first transformation with the rise of the narrative approaches of the self (MacIntyre 1981, Ricœur 1984, Bruner 1987 and 1991, Schechtman 1996, 73, Hutto 2007, Goldie 2012), engaging an in-depth reinterpretation of the question of individual identity and initiating the “narrative turn” of identity theories (Stokes 2015, 166).

These two lines of transformation have converged and come together over the last fifteen years through various works seeking to take advantage of the resources offered by narrative identity theories in order to propose a new model of “practical identity” (Williams S. 2004, Atkins 2008, Atkins and Mackenzie 2008, Korsgaard 2009, Mackenzie and Poltera 2010, Davenport 2012). However, this philosophical attempt to renew our understanding of personal identity highlight the practical dimension of the self and paid little attention to the various forms of self-detachment that narratives allow. The use of irony in the construction of narratives is paradigmatic of such forms of self-detachment, which enable the narrator to take a critical distance towards the characters of the story told.

The purpose of this workshop is to analyse the forms of self-detachment that ironical self-narratives involve, so as to highlight the role and philosophical significance of irony with regard to the constitution of one’s identity.


2:30: Welcome and introduction

2:35-3:30 Pierre-Jean Renaudie, “Tragedy or comedy? The ironic failure of self-narratives in Sartre”

3:30-3:45 Break

3:45-4:45 Daniel Rodriguez-Navas, “Individualism and the Limits of Accountability: Narrating Selves in Brison and Butler”

4:45-5:25 Open discussion

5:30: Conclusion

Philosophy as a Way of Life: New Directions in Research event

This three-day event brings together leading scholars from around the world to discuss new directions in historical, historiographical, philosophical and metaphilosophical research on philosophy as a way of life, the approach to ancient philosophy inaugurated by Ilsetraut and Pierre Hadot.

Day 1 (Mon Dec 12 (US, EU), Tue 13 (Aus Eastern, 7-9 am))

  • Matteo Stettler, “’Philosophy, Philosophical Conversion and Protreptic Discourses”.
  • Massimo Pigliucci, “Can Skepticism be a way of life? Lessons from Cicero”.
  • Caleb Cahoe, “Does Augustine Give Up Wisdom for Faith? The Relationship Between Philosophical and Religious Ways of Life”

Day 2 (Tue Dec 13/14 Wed (Aus Eastern, 7-9 am)

  • Michael Chase, “Spectator novus: on (re-) learning to see the world for the first time”.
  • John Sellars, “Renaissance humanism as a way of life”
  • Laura Mueller, “Mary Astell and Philosophy as a Way of Life”


Day 3 (Wed Dec 14/15 Thu (Aus Eastern), 7-9 am)

  • Eli Kramer, “Philosophy as a Way of Life: The Role of Systematic and Speculative Spiritual Exercises”.
  • Stephen Grimm, “How Can We Tell Which Philosophical Ways of Life” Are More Successful Than Others? An Evaluative Framework”.
  • Marta Faustino, “PWL On the Tension Field Between Metaphilosophy and History of Philosophy”.

For event registration please visit Philosophy as a Way of Life, New Research Directions Tickets

For more information, please contact A/Prof. Matthew Sharpe.

Philosophy as a Way of Life grant success

A/Prof. Matthew Sharpe is part of an international team of scholars from France, Canada, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Australia and the United States in the grant “Para um Mapeamento da Filosofia como Modo de Vida: Um Modelo Antigo, Uma Abordagem Contemporânea”/ “Mapping Philosophy as a Way of Life: An Ancient Model, A Contemporary Approach” which is to be funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) in Portugal, to begin in 2023.  The grant is the first on philosophy as a way of life to be funded in the EU.

A/Prof Matthew Sharpe wins the 2022 AAP Media Prize

Congratulations to Deakin’s A/Prof. Matthew Sharpe, who has won the Australasian Association of Philosophy Media Prize for 2022:

Associate Professor Sharpe has been one of the leading contributors to public philosophy in Australia over many years, particularly through his prolific contributions to The Conversation (including as an original author of the ‘Cogito’ blog) and to a range of other print and electronic outlets. Internationally, he has become a leading figure in the public understanding of Stoicism and philosophy as a way of life. His winning entry in 2022, “When life gives you lemons… 4 Stoic tips for getting through lockdown from Epictetus”, brings insights from classical philosophy to bear on pressing issues faced by readers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The piece is emblematic of Sharpe’s work in public philosophy: clear, succinct, timely. The judges noted how well he showcases historical material for a popular audience, going beyond the usual superficial exposure to demonstrate philosophy’s profound and ongoing relevance.

Report on the 2022 Philosophy Convocation

What is a philosophy program for? On Friday 24 June 2022, 31 philosophers (a mixture of staff, HDRs and undergraduate students) gathered at Deakin Downtown for a living exploration of this question.

The day began with some thoughts from Cathy Legg about how the discipline of philosophy predates the institution of the university, and in its ancient context, philosophy arguably originated in a “choice of life” that was never made in solitude.

Patrick Stokes challenged the gathering to discuss “What’s Philosophy Good For?” and how we might answer criticisms by noted public figures that philosophy: i) is obsolete, ii) makes no progress​ itself and iii) impedes progress in other, more productive fields. Many useful suggestions were made, including that self-examination can be an important precursor to genuine progress, that philosophical investigation has a certain intrinsic ‘freshness’, which is compelling, and that engaging in philosophy is not a choice, so we might as well do it well.

Marilyn Stendera took up the thorny question of “Minorities in Philosophy: Representation and Accessibility”. Diagnosing: i) excluded voices, ii) the leaky pipeline and iii) structural factors, she insightfully addressed each in turn. She presented research showing the negative effects of a discipline’s field-specific ability beliefs (e.g. ‘innate philosophical brilliance’) on its diversity, and skilfully gathered data on the audience’s own career experiences using mentimeter. Her presentation ended with a host of practical suggestions for making a difference.

Chris Mayes presented an engaging talk on “Field Philosophy,” which goes beyond merely “applied” work by stepping outside the walls of the University to assist problem-solving in particular lived contexts, alongside practitioners of other disciplines (whose methods we can learn from, as well as them learning from us). He played fascinating snippets from his recent oral history work with Melbourne-based early practitioners of philosophy beyond the ivory tower, such as Peter Singer and Robert Young.

[In an interlude, our HDR students received some advice from YouTube on maintaining motivation while writing a thesis, not all of which was judged to be without merit.]  

Finally, Leesa Davis presented an eye-opening presentation on “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mindfulness.’” Drawing on her deep knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, she showed how large an intellectual gap can yawn between the rigor and detail of the traditional program for training the mind, and certain ‘corporate co-options’ of mindfulness as a kind of easy, blissful cure-all.

Huge thanks to everyone who came and participated!

Cathy Legg