Entries in the listing are chosen by an international council of big names in the contemporary world of philosophy. Last year marked the 28th collection assembled for the Philosopher's Annual and was the first top ten list to include someone currently employed by U of T. Other notable winners are Ian Hacking and Mohan Matthen who were both honoured in the list before taking jobs at U of T.
"It's well known amongst philosophers," says Misak of the list. "Outside of the world of academic philosophy, it's not a big deal at all. We reached her via phone from her snowy hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta. She had just returned from Oslo, Norway, where she served as an opponent to a defending PhD candidate in what she praised was a rigorous examination.
Misak was appointed Vice-President and Provost of U of T in February of this year. When asked about how she manages to write prominent philosophy articles while juggling her administrative duties, Misak says she wakes up early and writes for 30 minutes before checking her emails.
"I didn't even know what philosophy was when I first went to university," says Misak. "I took a course in philosophy because it suited my schedule." Something grabbed hold of her and she majored in philosophy for her undergrad at the University of Lethbridge. She went on to get her M.A. at Columbia University in New York, and her PhD at Oxford, doing philosophy all the way through.
In her featured article, Misak recounts her experience in an intensive care unit after suffering from organ failure for almost a month. The physicians who cared for her continued to consult her and include her in decisions about the care she was receiving. After she was released from the hospital, Misak felt that in retrospect she was not in the right state of mind to be included in these discussions.
Much of her article talks about how patients in intensive care should be consulted less, but most of the article is about the philosophical reasons why doctors should listen to stories like hers. She claims that the medical community is too often more concerned with double-blind clinical trials and the results of social science surveys, and doesn't pay enough attention to the stories, or narratives, of patient's who have experienced the fate of being critically ill.
Misak complains that narratives, like hers about her experience in the hospital, are often dismissed on the grounds that they are flimsy, exaggerated, or possibly dishonest. While narratives can have these qualities, she says, they can also be held up to scrutiny and critical analysis. Misak stresses that narratives are the only way that we can convey our experiences to each other, and are also essential to how we form ethical judgments.
"If you think the experiences that people have are not able to rationally stand up on their own, there is then no right and wrong in morals and politics," says Misak. "Anything goes. And that is a very dangerous attitude."
You can check out Misak's article, along with the other nine selections for 2009, at the Philosopher's Annual at http://www.philosophersannual.org.