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Blog - Blogue

  • Times of crisis, times of hope

    Friday, May 29, 2020
    Iva Apostolova

    In April this year my dear friend and colleague Jen McWeeny published a timely and insightful piece entitled “New Existentialism for Infectious Times” (https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/04/27/a-new-existentialism-for-infectious-times/) in which she draws parallels between our current circumstances and what Simone de Beauvoir’s debut novel She Came to Stay explores, namely, a situation of social isolation. The moral of the story in Jen’s piece is that, much like de Beauvoir’s heroine Françoise, many of us have come to discover that self-sufficiency and individualism are overrated, verging on what existentialists like Sartre labeled “bad faith” which leads to inauthenticity. Instead, we need to embrace our ambiguity, fragility, and inter-dependence which will allow us to live authentic lives. “We are not passive observers to an unfurling history, but captains of meaning who can determine a different future through honest reflection and authentic action”, Jen concludes.

    While I couldn’t agree more with her analysis and sentiment, I would like to add a few thoughts of my own. We are, undeniably, social beings; herd animals, if you will. We come into this world with the help of others, and we share lives with others until the day we die. Self-sufficiency is often glorified by us because it has to do with the sense of control over our environment, including other people. We fear that which we cannot control. But of course, one doesn’t have to be a trained psychologist to quickly realize that control is one of those “necessary” illusions that keep the veil of reality on. As a very wise man once said, “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”   

    What Pascal seems to be getting at is that there is a core contradiction in us, humans – we run heedlessly toward that which we fear the most: the abyss. But what is the abyss? The realization of the imminent fragility of human existence which the current pandemic has only made more prominent? As a typical philosopher, my answer is “yes and no”. The way I see it, vulnerability is the human condition. It is something we cannot escape and the more we try, the more we fail. But try we do! Sometimes, at a high cost. The moral psychologists call it “the anthropomorphizing-dehumanizing paradox”. We tend to anthropomorphize all kinds of things – non-human animals, human-like machines (e.g., robots), and in some cases, viruses. We think of these human-like entities as having goals, emotions, and even reason. While at the same time, we dehumanize human agents – the marginalized, the ill, or simply, the other. When we dehumanize, we tend to stay away from, project our fears onto, shift the blame toward, isolate ourselves from, and ultimately, ostracize them.

    I believe that social conditions make us who we are, and the current conditions are rife with opportunities for the thriving of the paradox. But when you think about it, we have, actually done really well so far. We have taken steps to curtail the pandemic, we have remained, for the most part, cooperative, and most importantly, we continue to exercise prudence. Can we do more? Can we do things better? Of course! But let’s not forget that this hasn’t been the first, and likely, won’t be the last global challenge that we, as a species, have faced. The important thing is that we have learned and continue learning from our past successes and failures. Prudence has always been considered a virtue, an exercise of what ancient Greek philosophers called phronesis (practical wisdom/reason). Practical reason requires that we know how and when, and toward what or whom to apply the general (moral) principles, or laws. In other words, practical reason allows me to judge for myself without falling a victim of propaganda or ideology. For many thinkers, phronesis is at the heart of morality.

    But there is another side to it which is often ignored. In order to function in reality, especially when it comes to the moral reality, reason needs the help of empathy. Empathy opens the mind toward the nuances of the other’s circumstances, allowing the subject to contemplate other points of view as well as alternative possibilities, without bias or contempt. Exercising prudence doesn’t mean thinking about the preservation of myself and my family only. It means that I am thinking about the safety and happiness of the other, too. And so, without sounding overly auspicious, it seems to me that we deserve to hope for a better future. To paraphrase the famous saying by one of my favorite philosophers, Immanuel Kant: reason without empathy is blind, and optimism without judgment is empty.   

  • About Professor Iva Apostolova

    Tuesday, February 25, 2020
    Iva Apostolova

    Professor Apostolova has been a full-time Philosophy faculty member at DUC since 2014. Prior to her tenure at DUC, she has taught at the Philosophy Department of her alma mater, University of Ottawa, as well as at St. Paul’s University. She is also cross-appointed at DUC’s affiliate Carleton University.


    Professor Apostolova was first introduced to philosophy in her childhood, being raised by two philologists with a penchant for all things intellectual. Her formal introduction to philosophy as an academic discipline happened during her years in a European lycée specializing in classical languages. Although she never took to the philosophical systems of Aristotle or Aquinas, she was forever bitten by the philosophical bug. Her multi-lingual milieu shaped her as a true citizen of the world, something that has made her move to Canada for her PhD an easy choice. Apart from a natural inclination toward languages and their histories, her fascination with the human mind has dictated her analytic philosophical orientation from the very beginning. Her doctoral work was on Bertrand Russell’s theory of knowledge. Her current research work oscillates between the history of analytic philosophy, philosophy of mind with special attention to the philosophy of memory, feminist thought and ethics of care.

    Professor Apostolova defines herself as a team player and a partner. She has collaborated on research projects which have led to major journal publications, chapters in books, and co-editing of a recent volume on aging. She has also been a co-applicant to a successful SSHRC Connection grant and is currently a primary investigator and co-applicant in two SSHRC grants. Her feminist convictions have made her aware and sensitive to the social conditions of intellectual labor and it is her hope that she can contribute to a positive change in the academe.

    Professor Apostolova has always enjoyed teaching, from her very first teaching experience at the start of her PhD program. She considers herself lucky to have co-taught and guest-lectured in many of her local colleagues’ undergraduate and graduate courses. Since she considers teaching to be the bread and butter of the academic profession, she has always treated her relationship with her graduate students as one of collaboration and mentorship as opposed to supervision, a testament of which is a long-standing research collaboration with her first MA student with whom professor Apostolova has co-authored two research works, and counting.  


    A message from Professor Iva Apostolova


    Philosophy is a fundamental discipline; the oldest there is, really; the queen of all sciences. It has not only shaped some of the greatest minds to ever live among us (Socrates, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, Lao-Tzu, Sigmund Freud, Confucius, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah Arendt, to name but a tiny fraction) but it has also birthed most of the modern sciences, namely, physics, psychology, biology, mathematics, economics, sociology, the list goes on. As an academic discipline, philosophy has a long and very rich history. But philosophy is not simply the aggregate of all the written texts; it is alive thanks to its unparalleled ability to challenge the mind, test the boundaries of human knowledge, and turn the established order on its head. As academics, we have a big responsibility to preserve, cherish, grow, shape, and above all, to expand the intellectual potential of our students. Our battles are not the flashy ones that aim at conquering outer space, finding a cure for cancer, or mapping out the virtual reality. Our battles are the quiet ones – to do the right thing, to say the right words, to defeat skepticism, to challenge one’s own premises, to see things from another’s point of view.  

    Since at least 1st Century AD, philosophy has had a permanent dance partner in the face of theology. Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, Edith Stein, to name but a few, are among the many intellectuals who have engaged with various forms of spirituality and belief systems. We, at Dominican University College, believe that this partnership is an asset that enriches both academic disciplines. Our institution is uniquely positioned, both geographically and academically, in the nation’s capital, that is, at the cross-road of many worlds and schools of thought. Housed in an impressive stone heritage medieval castle-looking building, and is located steps away from Parliament Hill, many of our graduates have pursued careers in politics which falls perfectly within the legacy of one of the oldest philosophical traditions started by Plato and Aristotle who believed that philosophy should be in charge of shaping up future governors. We feel lucky and privileged to have a kindred spirit in the face of another catholic university in town, St. Paul’s University, with whom DUC continues to partner on both academic and administrative levels. The 2012 affiliation with Carleton University has given us opportunities to diversify our academic research, welcome technological advancement, and expand our professorial team.

    And last but not least, as a woman philosopher, I feel privileged and honored to have been given the opportunity to first work as a professional academic and now, to give back to the academic community by serving as a Vice-President Academic Affairs. Although I have never been in executive academic positions before, I hope to bring a fresh outlook while at the same time, expand the reach of the institution.