Strange New World: Philosophy and Science Fiction
International Society for Philosophy in Film
Second Annual Symposium Call for Abstracts
August 24th-26th, 2023
The International Society for Philosophy in Film (ISPiF) promotes philosophical engagement with film by conceiving film as a form or expression of thought. Rather than a mere source of entertainment or collection of objects for aesthetic scrutiny, film expresses ideas and arguments worth engaging. From the perspective of ISPiF, to engage films philosophically means to think through, along with, and/or against films, to make sense of them, to learn from them, and to further expand the practice, study and teaching of philosophy into new regions through thoughtful engagement with film.
Theme: Strange New World: Science Fiction and Philosophy
Abstract Deadline April 15th, 2023
(Completed papers due July 15th, 2023)
The philosopher Susan Schneider describes philosophical thought experiments as follows:
“A philosophical thought experiment is a hypothetical situation in the ‘laboratory of the mind’ that depicts something that often exceeds the bounds of current technology or even is incompatible with the laws of nature, but that is supposed to reveal something philosophically enlightening.”
On this view, science fiction can be construed as a collection of sustained thought experiments. Since it confronts us with realities that are uncannily similar to yet simultaneously at odds with our own, it invites us to critically reexamine our reality from novel perspectives, to rethink and anticipate the ways new and emerging technologies are shaping us and our world, and to imagine and pave the way for the kind of future we hope to collectively create. Unsurprisingly, then, as a genre or movement science fiction is uniquely suited to the exploration philosophically-significant topics and issues.
For its second annual conference, The Society for Philosophy in Film invites extended abstracts on the theme of science fiction. In line with ISPiF’s mission, papers should focus on developing the thought inherent in films (television and other related media), either individually or collectively, that fall under the category/genre/movement of science fiction film, broadly construed. What follows is a list of potential themes and accompanying questions. Submissions may focus on one or more themes or questions from this non-exhaustive list, vis-a-vis science fiction film:
One of the most central, complex and elusive concepts in both philosophy and science, time is, not surprisingly, a common theme within science fiction.
How does science fiction challenge ordinary notions or experiences of time? What does it reveal about linear, cyclical, and other metaphorical constructions of time?
What does science fiction reveal about various historical or contemporary philosophies of time?
Does science fiction call us to rethink the existential meaning of time, or what it means to live with consciousness of time and/or mortality?
Whether it engages with existing, emerging, or future technologies, science fiction invites us to explore and trouble the relationship between humanity and technology.
How does science fiction help us recognize and critically engage the ethical implications of existing, emerging, and/or future scientific and technological innovations?
Are we morally obligated to think about the ethical implications of the technologies we may use in the future? If so, how can science fiction help us to do so?
Which claim is truer: “We control our technology,” or “Our technology controls us?”
The theme of agency pervades science fiction, often in disturbing ways. Whether the agency of protagonists is threatened/diminished/eviscerated, or augmented/hyperbolic/superhuman, in the world of science fiction agency is ambiguous, troubled, and everywhere at issue.
How does science fiction challenge commonsense, popular, and/or historical philosophical notions of agency and the self?
How can science fiction diminish, enhance, or otherwise affect our understanding of dis/ability, especially vis-à-vis agency? What questions does science fiction raise about the use of technologies that augment physical and mental capacities?
Does science fiction present us with alternative forms/modes of agency outside of those that are properly human (whether through artificial intelligence, radically distinct organisms, etc.)? In what way/s do these alternative visions force us to rethink the character and import of human agency?
The Human and the Quasi-Human
Science fiction often features characters that are nonhuman, other-than human, and/or quasi-human. By doing so, it invites us to rethink what it means to be human, and how humanity relates to personhood.
Are some nonhuman beings (AI beings, robots, extra-terrestrial beings, nonhuman animals, etc.) persons? If so, are they deserving of the same rights and/or considerations we grant to human persons?
How do relationships between human beings and quasi-human persons within science fiction challenge our beliefs about human interpersonal relationships, human-nonhuman animal relationships, and/or the relationship between humanity and technology?
How has technology led to the evolution/transformation of the human? What is put at risk through these developments, and what can or should be preserved as properly human?
Possible Futures / Utopias and Dystopias
Sir Thomas Moore coined the term utopia in 1516. Moore was aware of the similarity and tension between the Greek stems εὖ (good/well) and οὐ (no), when combined with the word τόπος (place). If a utopia is a good or even perfect place, can it only ever be imagined? This tension between desirable and possible or probable worlds persists in science fictional imaginings of the future, as does the haunting suspicion that every apparent utopia is seeded with something rotten.
How should we critically engage science fictional visions of the future in the era of climate catastrophe?
What does the tension between utopia and dystopia reveal about the significance of a subject’s social status or location? How do power dynamics within fictional utopias and dystopias illuminate the power structures and dynamics of our societies/world?
What is the value (and/or danger) of imagining “alternative” histories and/or futures? Can alternative histories help us to envision, or even create, better futures than those that feel inevitable to us in the present?
Science Fiction as a Genre/Movement
Science fiction is notoriously difficult to define and categorize (is it a genre, a form, an open concept, or?). Questions about how to define or understand science fiction may be intertwined with concerns about its philosophical nature and significance.
What is the philosophical value of science fiction? What, if anything, makes it more useful to philosophy than other literary genres or forms?
Are there any aspects of science fiction that make it especially well-suited to exploration of social issues like systemic racism, misogyny, the exploitation of workers, colonialism, etc.?
Science Fiction as a Genre/Movement, continued
Science fiction is often and justly critiqued for its historical exclusion of women (as creators, characters, and prospective audiences), and of feminist framings of issues and worlds. Should science fiction be more inclusive of women and feminism? How does feminist science fiction challenge the genre as a whole? How can it challenge and expand our customary ways of envisioning the future?
In what way does science fiction alter/rethink/challenge other genres (Western, Horror, Noir)? Is there such a thing as ‘pure science fiction’, and if so, what is its philosophical relevance?
Submission Guidelines and Instructions:
Extended abstracts should be 500-750 words, with standard font and margins.
Deadline: The deadline for receipt of abstracts is April 15th, 2023. Any submission received after midnight Pacific time on this date will not be considered.
Final papers, no longer than 15 pages, double spaced, must be provided by July 15th in order to be distributed to all participants in advance of the symposium. This is crucial to the format and success of the symposium, where authors will be provided only 10-12 minutes to summarize, emphasize, or further develop the contents of the full essay. This condensed presentation time, combined with all participants reading each accepted paper in advance, is intended to allow substantial time for questions and discussion following each presentation.
Please send all submissions as either a Word or PDF attachment to: email@example.com
ISPiF Executive Board:
Steven Brence – Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon
Caroline Lundquist – Clark Honors College, University of Oregon
Alain Beauclair – Department of Humanities, MacEwan University
Chris McTavish – Centre for Humanities, Athabasca University
 Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence, 2nd edition. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 2016