Babbitt, Susan E. (B.A., Ottawa U., M.A., Ph.D. Cornell U.)


PhD in Philosophy, 1991, Cornell University
M.A. in Philosophy, 1985 University of Ottawa
B.A. (Honours) in Philosophy, 1983 University of Ottawa
B.A. in English, 1982 University of Ottawa

Research Directions:

My research is in the following areas: The first is a book entitled Philosophy, Freedom and the Disappeared Continent: The Case of Cuba in Development Ethics, which is forthcoming. I went to Cuba for the first time, for a Philosophy conference, in June 1993. This was the year that the economic crisis, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, was kicking in. In Cuba, the conditions that existed were almost famine conditions and it was being widely predicted that Cuba could not survive. Few goods were entering the country and many people were trying to cross the 90 miles between Cuba and the US. But there at the Faculty of History and Philosophy, at the University of Havana, professors and students, without pens or lights, were working on philosophical questions. I was intrigued, and moved, by the example of and ensuing friendship with people who really believed that they could make their society better, even under such difficult conditions, and who continued to work for that. From 1993-1995 I went twice a year to the University of Havana and from 1996-1999 I spent 3-4 months a year there, becoming fluent in the language and familiar with Cuba’s complexity and interest. Impressively, even as they struggled to survive, Cuba gave priority to children and youth. It was during the difficult decade of the 90s that Cuba finally brought its infant mortality rate to below 10, a significant feat for a poor, embattled country. The fact that Cuba has survived, and has moved forward economically and socially, in many ways, demands explanation. The forthcoming book contains reflections based upon experience in Cuba, particularly regarding the philosophical significance of the example, and various difficulties in understanding it fairly. I also explore the significance of the Cuban experience for recent dynamic political developments in Latin America more broadly, particularly in Venezuela.

My second project is an anthology based upon the philosophy of 19th century Cuban philosopher, José Martí. Martí, like Venezuelans Simón Bolívar and his teacher Simón RodrÍguez before him, called for the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean against the increasing economic, political and ideological power of the United States. Although Martí's profound philosophical and literary contributions are well-known throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, his work is not familiar to North Americans, especially not to philosophy students. And yet, Martí has compelling views about freedom, moral development and education, which could be helpful in debates about these issues in North American philosophy. Martí was not a marxist and yet his views about human nature and self-understanding are strikingly similar to those of humanistic marxists, like Italian Antonio Gramsci, of the 20th century. Some of Martí 's views are interestingly closer to Asian philosophical traditions than to European. I am preparing a text that will identify and explicate Martí's most important philosophical positions, and at the same time explain his importance within movements throughout Latin America, movements relevant to students here The anthology contains work by Cuban Martí scholars as well as by Canadian and American philosophers.

My third research direction is Eastern, more specifically Buddhist philosophy. This is a new interest that emerges, surprisingly perhaps, from my work on Marxist humanism, particularly on the 20th century contributions to this current of Antonio Gramsci and Ernesto (Che) Guevara. It turns out that the most radical formulation of the existentialist and marxist insight about alienation is found in Eastern philosophies. “Alienation” is the idea that we cut ourselves off from ourselves, others and our own reality when we substitute ideas and concepts for direct experience. In fact, this idea is fundamental to many eastern philosophies, which are often dismissed by western philosophers as being quietistic, self-indulgent and mystical. I've discovered that such dismissals can be traced to misunderstandings, which can also be explained by deep-seated conceptual differences, which are interesting to identify and explore. I have plans to introduce a Philosophy course in this area within the coming year.

Teaching: I've taught courses in moral philosophy, philosophy of science and contemporary epistemology and metaphysics, as well as introductory philosophy. I currently teach an undergraduate course in Latin American philosophy (Phil307) which I introduced and am developing. (See I teach a graduate course (Phil812) that focuses on the work of Nkiru Nzegwu, one of the most important Africanist scholars living in the US, and addresses issues of colonialism, racism, West African women and various epistemological questions arising out of these issues. My most important contribution to teaching in the Philosophy department was a course I invented and organized to take students to the University of Havana, The intention was that students learn something about fair and constructive engagement with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. When we engage in argument, we try to understand our opponents' arguments in a way that recognises the other position as intelligent and well-meaning. That is, we try not to start with the assumption that the other position is either stupid or morally irresponsible. So Queen's students in Cuba were urged to seek out and understand arguments for, for instance. Cubans' position on democracy and freedom. When they had understood the arguments fairly and and had seen that and how they can make sense, they could perhaps then conclude that their own view is still to be preferred, but they would be in a much better position to engage constructively about issues important to both North and South. The course was intended to show Philosophy students that the issues about Development and the Third World are interesting, challenging and urgent, and some of the students who took that course have gone on to careers in this area. The course, being interdisciplinary, was also intended to show non-Philosophy students the importance of raising philosophical questions in their efforts to engage respectfully with people of other backgrounds. The course was very popular and ran successfully for five years.


Artless Integrity: On Moral Imagination, Agency and Stories (Lanham, MD.:Rowman & Littlefield,  2001)

Co-editor with Sue Campbell, Racism and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,1999)

Impossible Dreams: Rationality, Integrity and Moral Imagination (Boulder, CO:  Westview Press, 1996)

Recent articles and chapters:

Collective memory and knowledge: ‘Covering reality with flowers’” in Sue Campbell, Letitia Maynell and Sue Sherwin, eds. Agency and Embodiment (Penn State U. Press, forthcoming)

Stories from the South: A question of logic” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy Vol. 20, No. 3 (Summer 2005) pp. 1-21

“”Reasons, explanation and Saramago’s bell” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy Vol 20 No. 4 (Fall 2005). Special Issue: Analytic Feminism, ed. Anita Superson and Samantha Brennan pp. 144-163

Research ethics: philosophy’s role in interdisciplinary research” in Vijay Agnew, ed. Diaspora, Memory, and Identity: A Search for Home. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005 pp. 291-302

Universalizability and practical identity” in Hekmat va Falsafeh (Wisdom and Philosophy): Academic Journal of Philosophy Department Allameh Tabatabaii University (Tehran, Iran) Vol. 1, No. 2 (August 2005) pp. 7-18

Recent Conference Presentations:

Invited participant: International Workshop on Muslim Diasporas: religious and national identity, gender, cultural resistance, Delta-Chelsea Hotel, June 1-3, 2007

Collective memory and knowledge: ‘Covering reality with flowers’” paper presented at CSWIP Agency and Embodiment Conference, Sept. 30- Oct. 2, 2005, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Invited Panelist:“Commentary on Nkiru Nzegwu’s Family Matters: Feminist Concepts in African Philosophy of Culture”, Recent African Philosophy in Three Movements Conference, The Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought, Temple University, April 7-8, 2005

Collective memory and knowledge: ‘Covering reality with flowers’” presented in plenary session (chaired by Hanan Ashrawi) of Gender, Displacement, Memory and Agency Conference, sponsored by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Best Eastern Hotel, Ramallah, Palestine, March 5-7 2005

Moral Vision and Threatened Identity”, Conference “In Memory of Edward Said”, Institut National des Sciences Humaines, Tunis, Tunisia, Dec. 1-3 2004

Universalizability and Practical Identity”, “200 Years after Kant”, Alameh Tabatabaii University, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 22, 2004

Cuba: Why Should we Care?”, (lunch-time talk) Ban Righ Centre, October 21, 2004

Che Guevara and the Philosophical Foundations of the Cuban revolution”, Carleton University, October 7, 2004

Reasons, Explanation and Meaningful Choice”, Society for Analytic Feminism, University of Western Ontario, June 6, 2004

Philosophy and Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Research”, The Making of Islamic Diasporas, Delta Hotel, Toronto, May 9, 2004

Recent External Grants and Awards

Collaborator, Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI), 2000- 04, $747.932: “Diaspora, Islam and Gender: a Comparative Study of Four Displaced Communities from Islamic Cultures”, directed by Haideh Moghissi (Sociology, York)

Principal Investigator, Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Standard Research Grant, 1999-03, $21, 042: Women and Development Ethics: The Role of Feasible Choice in Defining Human Functioning

Principal Investigator, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Strategic Research Grant, 1998-02 ($45,000): Cuban Women in the Conceptualization of Women and Development

Award: for promotion of exchange relations between Canada and Cuba from the Faculty of History and Philosophy, University of Havana, presented in Havana May, 2005