Workshop on the Philosophy of Activism

September 9, 2020 - September 11, 2020
University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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Call for Abstracts: Workshop on the Philosophy of Activism

Submission deadline: May 15 2020

Notification of acceptance: by June 1 2020

Submit abstracts by email to convenors David Killoren and Richard Rowland at       

Abstracts should be 500 words long


There has been a lot of philosophical work on particular forms of activism, such as civil disobedience. Despite this, activism as such remains underexplored and many important philosophical questions about activism remain almost entirely neglected. Two important examples of recent work on the topic of activism include a 2019 special issue of Bioethics on activism and a 2020 special issue of Essays in Philosophy on activism. The aim of this workshop is to facilitate further contributions to the newly emerging philosophical literature on activism. It will bring together philosophers interested in questions about the nature and extension of activism; relationships between activism and other related practices and activities such as resistance, discourse, and do-gooding; the value of activism; the obligations of activists; and moral dimensions of historically significant instances of activism.


The workshop is planned to take place as a Mancept Workshop at the University of Manchester on September 9-11 2020. If the workshop goes ahead in person in Manchester any/all presenters will be able to present via skype/zoom/google hangouts/other video link.

There is a very large possibility that due to UK social distancing measures, the workshop will not be able to go ahead in Manchester. In this case, the conference will be run online.

Possible topics:

§  What is activism? The concept is broader than that of civil disobedience: Typical instances of civil disobedience are forms of activism, but some instances of activism (e.g., going door-to-door to campaign for a cause, or participating in a legally authorized and officially permitted street protest) are not forms of civil disobedience.

§  What differentiates activism from other political actions such as voting?

§  Can certain controversial activist tactics such as monkeywrenching (an act of sabotage that has been prominently practiced by environmental activists) or no-platforming be justified?

§  How should we understand many activists’ talk of (temporarily) transforming and reclaiming particular spaces?

§  Do philosophical debates and positions regarding the epistemology and ethics of moral and political disagreement have implications about which activist actions can be justified? For instance, do such positions entail that activists are overconfident in the face of disagreement?

§  Should philosophers be activists? There is a widespread opinion among some philosophers that activism and philosophy ‘don’t mix.’ According to this type of view, there is something about the activity of philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with being an activist. Is this view correct?

§  Can everyday actions (e.g. choosing a vegan meal) be instances of activism? Does
activism have to be loud and proud? Can one be an activist without knowing it?

§  Can activists permissibly use deception, violence, or other morally questionable tactics? A standard view says that certain sorts of actions that would be utterly unacceptable in peacetime can be acceptable in the context of war. Can an analogous rationale vindicate activist use of ordinarily morally questionable tactics?

§  Is activism’s value merely instrumental, or is it valuable in itself (e.g., as a meaningful form of expression)?

§  Most of the main examples of supposed moral grandstanding in Tosi and Warmke’s influential work on moral grandstanding are examples of activism. How are activism and grandstanding related? Are there forms of activism that do not count as grandstanding? If a given instance of activism counts as grandstanding, is that a bad thing?

§  Many activists employ artistic means to make their point – many artists use their art-form as a medium for activism, and many activists create art in the course of doing activism. Activism itself may be a form of art. What is the relationship between aesthetics and activism?

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1 person is attending:

Dr Ann Lawless

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