MARCH 23, 2019



PhilCon, Ashoka University’s Philosophy Conference, is back! The second edition, held on 23 March 2019, will feature academic philosophers and provide undergraduate students a platform to present their work to peers and esteemed scholars.

This year, our themes, speakers, mediums and structure all aim to push the boundaries of how inclusive, diverse and innovative an academic conference can be. It is open to all students, philosophy enthusiasts and those who want to reimagine traditional philosophical engagement.

Transport and Accomodation

Attendees can avail Ashoka University’s shuttle service to commute on the day of the conference. Shuttles travel between campus and Jahangirpuri Metro Station on the Yellow Line of Delhi Metro. You can find the shuttle schedule for PhilCon 2019 here.

On-campus accommodation will not be provided for attendees. However, if you’re attending from a different city, we can suggest affordable accommodation options in New Delhi.


Bryan W. Van Norden – Keynote Speaker

About the Speaker: Bryan W. Van Norden is a leading expert on Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. He has published nine books on these topics

Abstract: When Europeans first encountered Chinese Confucians, Daoists, and Buddhists, they immediately recognized them as serious philosophers. However, this attitude changed due to the influence of imperialism and pseudo-scientific racism, so that (beginning with Kant) Chinese philosophy was dismissed and banned from academic philosophy in the West.  Recently, works like my Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto have challenged the status quo and demanded that we return to the cosmopolitan ideal of multicultural philosophy. This lecture provides several examples of the profound and distinct philosophical debates that existed in China on issues such as consequentialism, human nature, ethical egoism, relativism, and skepticism.

Sharmishthaa Athreja

About the Speaker: Sharmishthaa Atreja is a professor of Philosophy in University of Delhi. She has a Masters degree in Philosophy from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi and is a Sangeet Visharadh, a vocalist trained under Gwalior Gharana. She has also travelled abroad as an ambassador for Indian Music and culture. Her interests lie in Philosophy of language , Musi-language (an intersection of music and language), Philosophy of Disability and Philosophy of Arts and performance. She is also a core member of Special Interests Group to promote Disability Studies at the Universities (SIG-DSU). She has been actively working for the rights for persons with Disability and is presently the Convener of DVAM, the Delhi chapter of National platform for Rights for Persons with Disability.

Abstract: One of the most common manifestations of disability is in terms of rights and representation; frequently, in both academia and activism, that is where disability begins and ends. ‘Rights and representation’ has been the corpus around which the debates like disability and facilities or disability and opportunities have restricted themselves to. But seldom have we tried deconstructing ‘disability’ as ’noumena’, as the thing in itself. Meta approach to study and analyze what is disability or reaching out to the ontological realities of the same has still been on the margins of philosophical circles as well. In this talk I will try and understand disability using the framework adduced from Elizabeth Barnes’ 2016 book, The minority Body. I intend to extend the same to study ‘what is disability’ given the social context of India and perhaps take a step back and think what comes before the question of rights and representation.

Shashi Motilal

About the Speaker: Dr. (Ms.) Shashi Motilal is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, India. She obtained her PhD from SUNY, Buffalo, USA and has been Visiting Faculty at the University of Akron , Ohio, USA and Carleton University, ON, Canada. She has several publications in national and international journals in the areas of ethics, applied ethics, human rights, gender and environment. She has co-authored Human Rights, Gender and Environment (Allied Publishers, 2006, 2011), Co-edited Social Inequality: Concerns of Human Rights, Gender and Environment, New Delhi: Macmillan Publishing Co. (2010) ISBN: 0230-328-49-0 and edited Applied Ethics and Human Rights: Conceptual Analysis and Contextual Applications. London: Anthem Press. ( 2010). She is currently co-authoring Ethics of Governance: Moral Limits of Policy Decisions (Forthcoming 2019, Springer Nature, Singapore). She has been a Member of CPCSEA, MoEF and of other Institutional Ethics Committees.

Abstract: Ethical Development, where development means a “better life” achievable in a realistic sense for a group of individuals, must rest on partnership and alliances amongst the members of the group and across such groups where there are many. While it is true that alliances are usually formed when the allying parties stand to gain from the alliance (whether the alliance be between nation states, social categories, political parties, or professionals), interesting philosophical questions arise when we consider an alliance beyond the human realm between human and non human entities like animals and the environment in general. One can argue that though this interaction is most often involuntary or one-way, where the latter end up endlessly enduring the impact of humanity’s consistent obsession to grow stronger and wealthier, an alliance between the human and the non-human realm is necessary in the interest of both parties considering the fact that ethical development cannot by virtue of its definition neglect human interaction with non-human animals and the environment. However, forming allies with these entities will require different parameters than in the case of strategic and equal agency alliances. What would be the contours of such an alliance? Also, such an alliance would presuppose alliances within the human realm to take charge of the greater responsibility on the part of the privileged party to maintain the alliance. The nature and extent of this responsibility is itself contestable in terms of perfect or imperfect duties, instrumental and intrinsic values, but uncontroversially grounded in human self interest.

Rhea Malik

About the Speaker: Rhea Malik is a student of Humanities and Law at Jindal Global Law School, with interests in Human Rights, Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, and Literature. She writes stories and essays, and is interested in the ways in which fiction and philosophy affect social interactions, policy, and law.

Abstract: It is perhaps intuitive today that representation – in film, fiction, history, jobs, law – is a potent remedy to exclusion that stems from the past and sows its seeds into people’s presents. This commitment draws from the axiom that our experiences form indelible parts of ourselves and our decisions. Yet, the Western moral canon that has inspired much of common law thinking and, via colonialism and other historical oddities, much of the world’s jurisprudence, is indelibly marked by the ethics of Immanuel Kant. Kant’s project was to find a metaphysical basis – that transcended logic or experience – to treat human beings with dignity. Its fruit was a conception of dignity that didn’t need experience: it was innate to human beings, for their unique ability to use reason in the pursuit of moral discovery. Nearly three centuries after the Kantian deontological logic was grounded, Critical Legal Studies has been making waves trying to insert people’s experiences into the fold of law as a valid source of legal knowledge. It uses legal storytelling and narrative analysis to pierce through the veil of neutrality the law wears and to reveal its injustices against the test of lived reality. Kantian morality and CLS ethics become fascinating specimens for comparison, for each strikes a pertinent posture in history and law, and for they both reject reason alone as the foundation for human worth, advocating for inclusive political morality; yet, they depart on the fork of the road that asks questions about the value of lived experience. The ontological gulf between them becomes ripe for inquiries about the role of reality in law, and how people who have been excluded from the foundations of law are expected to navigate through it. What was the context in which universalism and deontology seemed like good ideas? Why are they so vehemently opposed now, and how are they overcome? Do their differences arise from different frames of analysis (such as the state-individual/power amongst social groups) and which of those shall we hold on to for legal and ethical dilemmas? Is there room for stories in an enterprise so sternly hinged on certainty of outcome? Is it possible that storytelling is the only way of making people ends in themselves?

Elias Koenig

About the Speaker: Hi! I am Elias Koenig, a third-year philosophy student from the Free University of Berlin, currently studying abroad at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. My relationship to philosophy is utterly dialectical. On the one hand, I hate how philosophers have for centuries been complicit in defending and justifying social injustice, exploitation, oppression and discrimination. On the other hand, I think Philosophy is really cool and has a lot of emancipatory potential. That is why I am particularly interested in political philosophy, Critical Theory and Non-Western philosophies. Apart from doing philosophy, I try to be politically active and make music.

Abstract: The body politic, the metaphor that likens states to bodies, is one of the oldest political metaphors in history. This paper examines the role of the body politic in the work of medieval philosopher Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, specifically his magnum opus Perfect State. Recent discussions of Al-Farab´s body politic have focused on its role in justifying a certain political structure. As I argue, however, such accounts fall short on the complex understanding Al-Farabi exhibits of the functionality of metaphor. Drawing on Al-Farabi´s own writings the paper identifies four distinct versions of metaphor in Al-Farabi´s work: (1) poetic metaphors, (2) metaphors as “transferred terms”, (3) metaphors as concealment and (4) metaphors as didactic tools. These concepts are subsequently applied in a close reading and confronted with normative criticisms to produce a multi-faceted account of Al-Farabi´s use of the body politic. Accordingly, the paper demonstrates that Al-Farabi´s political philosophy and his theory of metaphor are inextricably linked.