Language, embodiment, and doubt workshop (5 May 2023)

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A workshop hosted by the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science Friday, Canynge Hall, University of Bristol, and Online. Free!

Language, embodiment, and doubt
A workshop hosted by the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science
Friday 5 May, 10-5.30
Room G.12, Canynge Hall, University of Bristol

10-11.30 – Matthew Ratcliffe (York), On Having and Lacking Certainty (respondents: Ulrika Maude and Havi Carel)
12-12.45 – Anthony Vincent Fernandez (Southern Denmark), Developing a Concept of Pain-Related Bodily Doubt
Lunch and break
2-2.45 – Lucy Osler (Cardiff), Social Certainty, Social Doubt, and Questions of Comfort
3.15-4.30 – Dan Degerman (Bristol), Silence, depression, and uncertainty
4.30-5.15 – Susan Notess (Bath), Hold on Loosely

Followed by drinks


The event is free but please register for catering purposes. To register and for any access or dietary requirements please contact Lizzie Gourd ([email protected]). Please register by Tuesday 2.5 for catering purposes.

Location and access:

Canynge Hall is located just by Clifton Down train station. The building is wheelchair accessible. The workshop room is on the ground floor.

Maps and travel information:

The event will also be streamed online.
Meeting ID: 980 1210 5805
Passcode: 577366


On Having and Lacking Certainty
Matthew Ratcliffe

This paper develops a phenomenological account of what it is to have, and also to lose, an underlying sense of certainty. By drawing on themes in Wittgenstein’s later writings and also the phenomenological tradition, I conceive of having certainty in terms of the anticipatory structure of experience. It consists in a practical, non-localized, unwavering sense that things in general will work out, that one will be able to go on. This also requires the pre-reflective acceptance of a form of uncertainty. I conclude by showing how, by conceiving of certainty in this way and also acknowledging its fragility, we can better understand various different disturbances to which human experience is susceptible.

Developing a Concept of Pain-Related Bodily Doubt
Anthony Vincent Fernandez

To make sense of how people experience and respond to chronic pain, researchers and clinicians have developed a variety of concepts, including pain-related fear, pain self-efficacy, and pain catastrophizing. These concepts are foundational for models of pain-related behavior, assessment scales, and therapeutic interventions. But pain researchers also acknowledge that these concepts risk presenting an overly simplistic picture of how we experience and respond to pain. In this presentation, I propose that Havi Carel’s phenomenological concept of “bodily doubt” can provide a novel perspective on pain-related experiences and behavior. However, before it can be successfully applied, the concept will need to be revised in light of key features of chronic pain conditions, which may differ in important respects from chronic illness conditions. In this presentation, I outline how we might develop a more specific concept of “pain-related bodily doubt”.

Social Certainty, Social Doubt, and Questions of Comfort
Lucy Osler

In a recent paper, Tom Roberts and I introduce two concepts —social certainty and social doubt—that help to articulate a variety of experiences of the social world, such as shyness, self-consciousness, culture shock, and anxiety. Following Havi Carel’s analysis of bodily doubt, which explores how a person’s tacit confidence in the workings of their body can be disrupted and undermined in illness, we consider how an individual’s faith in themselves as a social agent, too, can be compromised or lost, thus altering their experience of what is afforded by the social environment. Building on this work, I explore the negative and positive valences of social certainty and social doubt — suggesting that not all social certainty is comfortable and not all social doubt leads to discomfort.
Bio: Lucy Osler is a philosophy lecturer at Cardiff University. Her main philosophical interests circle around themes of embodiment, affectivity, and interpersonal relations. Recently, she has explored these topics in the context of online sociality, belonging and exclusion, and psychopathology.

Silence, depression, and uncertainty
Dan Degerman

Silence can be a painful feature of depression. Some who were previously gregarious conversationalists or prolific writers report that, in the depths of depression, they no longer had anything to say. Yet, silence can also offer respite from the self-critical and ruminating inner speech that often occurs in depression, and some people pursue it through means like meditation. In this paper, I draw on Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on speech to explain how silence can play such apparently dichotomous roles in depression. I distinguish between two different types of silence, depressed silence and peaceful silence. The two have some core features in common, including a salient absence of inner speech. But I suggest that a key difference between them is the structure of that absence. In depressed silence, words have lost their ‘near presence’. The individual can no longer count on finding them in situations that would usually solicit inner or outer speech. By contrast, in peaceful silence, words have regained their near presence; they no longer arise and persist in consciousness uninvited.
Bio: Dan Degerman is a Leverhulme Early Career Scholar in Philosophy at the University of Bristol. His research explores issues at the intersection of mental health, emotions, and politics. His first monograph, Political Agency and the Medicalisation of Negative Emotions was recently published by Edinburgh University Press.

Hold on Loosely
Susan Notess

Listening is a difficult thing to pin down: in one sense, it’s a pattern of attitudes that sit silently in a person’s head whilst someone else is talking, yet the effects of listening behaviour can be palpable and world-changing. Refusal to listen to someone is a poison to relationships of trust at the social, political, intimate, and even individual level. To be truly listened to feels like a gift—even when it’s better characterised as the fulfilment of a moral or professional duty—creating and holding space for what is fragmented and fraught to come together, to sit with its contradictions and silences, and to find recognition. To understand what listening is and why it’s so powerful, we need to appreciate the way that the holding space is created when a listener stops trying to pin things down, trusting instead in the strength that comes from elasticity in one’s epistemic, affective, and semantic commitments. This paper offers a recasting, in a phenomenological key, of my theory of listening.
Bio: After training as a linguist and working with language development projects, I retrained as a philosopher. I completed a PhD at Durham University in 2021, following which I worked in curriculum development with Durham’s Institute for Medical Humanities. Since then I have worked in a variety of researcher support roles.