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Innovative institute at Western helps answer the tough questions

by Karmen Dowling | December 22, 2010

Innovative institute at Western helps answer the tough questions
Philosophy doctoral student Valerie Racine feels privileged to be able to work directly with the Director of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Charles Weijer (right), along with other students and faculty at The Rotman Institute of Philosophy.

“Science empowers us. The humanities teach us to use that power wisely," says Canadian Business Hall of Fame inductee and Western alumni, Joseph Rotman (BA’57).

The more successful Rotman became in business, the more he felt he was falling back on the principles and disciplines of critical thinking he learned in philosophy at Western. This led him to make a $4-million donation to Western in 2008, creating the Rotman Institute of Philosophy.

“I am convinced we have the opportunity at Western to do something unique,” says Rotman. “We can have significant impact by helping define the scope of the problems that society faces because of the rapid changes in science and technology, as well as to ensure we advance questions that are not being asked. We must look at science and technology through the lens of philosophy.”

While the Rotman Institute officially opened in October, faculty, staff and students have been busy building momentum for the last two years.

A key early step was the establishment of an International Advisory Committee comprised of some of the world’s leading scientists and philosophers. In July of this year, Eric Desjardins, philosopher of biology who is doing cutting-edge work on ecosystem restoration, was hired for a new tenure-track faculty position created for the Institute. In October, the Institute hosted an international conference, bringing together 70 leading philosophers and scientists from around the world to advance the understanding of the complex interactions between organisms and their environments.

“We want to foster dialogue and collaboration between philosophers and scientists and engage people around the world - policymakers, students and the public - in the discussion,” says Charles Weijer, Director of the Rotman Institute and Canada Research Chair in Bioethics. “This work will build bridges between the humanities and the sciences and will also help the general public understand the implications of contemporary science for Canadian society.”

Philosophy doctoral student Valerie Racine feels privileged to be a part of the team of graduate students in the Rotman Institute.

“Being part of the Institute means having a great mentoring experience as students are included in all the Institute’s activities and we have close contact with faculty members, visiting scholars, post-doctoral fellows and fellow graduate students, “ says Racine.

Western’s philosophy department is world-renowned for its strength in the philosophy of science. By building on that strength, the Rotman Institute can become an avant garde place in academia where there is an emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary work that matters for society at large.”

To learn more about the Rotman Institute of Philosophy at Western, visit

This article appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of Impact Western
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