Skelton sees ‘possibilities’ in top Rotman role

Paul Mayne//Western News

Anthony Skelton, who previously served as Associate Director (2014-18) of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, will take over Acting Director for one year starting July 1. Current Director Chris Smeenk is scheduled for sabbatical as a visiting fellow at McGill University; he will resume his Director role at Rotman in 2020.

Anthony Skelton has no hesitations taking over as Acting Director of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy.

“There is a sense of permanency. There are lots of possibilities,” said Skelton, noting the recent celebration of the institute’s 10th anniversary. “We have a core faculty and lots of affiliate faulty. We have great people coming from all over the world, doing great things in so many areas – philosophy of science, neuroscience, biology, research ethics and bio-ethics.

“It’s a very dynamic area; the possibilities are there for more growth. It’s very fertile soil in which different people in different research lines can grow. I’m excited about that prospect.”

Established in 2008 by the late Joseph Rotman, a former Western Chancellor, the Rotman Institute provides intellectual leadership and training in the investigation of ethical and epistemological issues in contemporary science. Under the institute’s oversight, philosophers, scientists, students and policy-makers around the world engage in the discussion about what science is good for, and what is good for science.

Skelton, who previously served as Associate Director (2014-18), will take over the role of Acting Director for one year starting July 1. Current Director Chris Smeenk is scheduled for sabbatical as a visiting fellow at McGill University; he will resume his Director role at Rotman in 2020.

“We also have a lot of great graduate students working in so many areas,” said Skelton, who was recently appointed a 2019 Graham and Gale Wright Distinguished Scholar, an Arts & Humanities-based award recognizing the contributions of internationally known researchers. “These young new minds that are going to be either researchers or working in policy and practice. That’s a great opportunity not only for growth but for real meaningful impact.”

Adding to that growth, the Philosophy professor also recently received approval for a new course in the School of Advanced Study of the Arts and Humanities. Well-being: Its Nature and Practical Significance will tackle the value of well-being and how it is central to moral, political and economic thinking.

“Philosophers, psychologists and others are studying well-being. So we want to examine the different conceptions of it in the sciences and in the humanities and see if there are ways we can bring those two studies together to mutually inform us,” Skelton said.

“We should bring them (sciences and humanities) into contact with each other to see how this same idea is being studied from different points of view and to see to what extent the mutual study could influence each other discipline.”

To add “a little fun” to the course, Skelton plans to give the second-year students the opportunity to express their thoughts on what well-being is – or should be – by creating a video arguing why Canada should move to measure its success away from Gross Domestic Product towards Gross Happiness Product.

The video will be a practical aside to shedding light on a practical issue of well-being and happiness.

“We’re getting students to read things, write essays, give presentations. But we’re not using that medium,” he said.

No matter the medium, the message of the course remains clear for Skelton.

“When we use the term well-being or happiness, we seem to know what we mean by this. But what do those terms actually mean? Is well-being just a matter of pleasure? Is it a matter of the satisfaction of your desires? Is it a matter of your happiness more broadly? Or is it something less to do with the way you feel or experience your life and more to do with things like the possession of certain kinds of things that are good?  What counts as something that can cause well-being and what counts as its actual nature?”