I am an associate professor of philosophy and bioethics at the University of Rochester, with research and teaching interests in public health ethics, neuroethics, and political philosophy.
In addition to my primary appointment in Philosophy, I also serve as chair of the Steering Committee for the Public Health-Related Majors, a group of five interdisciplinary majors: Bioethics, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Health Policy, and Health, Behavior, and Society. Within the program, I direct the Bioethics major.
I also hold an appointment in Bioethics in the Division of Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of Rochester Medical School, and I work with the Clinical Ethics program, the Ethics Committee, and the solid organ transplant teams. Outside Rochester, I serve on the Ethics Committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Board for the State of New York.
"My country is the world and my religion to do good."
My research falls into four broad categories. First, I work in a number of issues in health care ethics. I am especially interested in the ethical justifications for public health initiatives and particularly those for newborn screening. In addition, I have an interest in the myriad of ethical issues that arise in organ transplants and in the complex set of ethical issues at the intersection of neuroscience, neurology, and ethics. I have a special interest in the extent to which we think that we should be able to use medicine to modify our brains to improve our memory, our cognition, our moods, and our personality.
Second, related to these issues, I have been teaching and writing about the meaning and implications of death, both for how it affects bioethical issues and for how it affects the way we create meaning in our lives.
Third, I have a continuing interest in the social and conceptual foundations of liberal institutions and practices. I have a special interest in the philosophical justifications for toleration, which is the subject of my book Trust and Toleration.
Fourth, I study the historical foundations of modern politics in the eighteenth century, with an emphasis on the works of the great Scottish philosopher David Hume and those of the American Founders.
Philosophy is not a set of facts to be learned, but a method of inquiry. I hope both to model that method and to encourage it in my students, through discussions and writing assignments. Every year, I teach Public Helath Ethics (PHL 228), and every other year I teach courses on Neuroethics, the Philosophical Foundations of the American Revolution, Death, and a Seminar in Bioethics.
Steering Committee for Public Health-Related Majors: Richard Dees, Edwin van Wijngaarden, Nancy Chin, Ted Brown
Teaching, Spring 2019
PH 300/PHL 311: Seminar in Bioethics. The Seminar in Bioethics is intended as a capstone experience for bioethics majors, but it is open to anyone who has taken PHL 225 or 228 with permission of the instructor. In a discussion-based seminar format, we will examine the foundations of bioethics and then we will look at book-length treatments of several important issues, chosen by the participants as whole among topics like health care justice, global health justice, stem cell research, transplantation ethics, enhancement technologies, and issues in end-of-life care.
PHL 321: Death. Death poses a number of philosophical puzzles: What does it mean to die? Am I harmed when I die? I don’t experience my death or being dead, so why would it be bad for me? Is it appropriate, then, to fear my death? Is it wrong to kill myself? Can I be harmed after I die? If dying is bad, would it be better if I never died, if I lived forever? Does the fact of that we will die change the way we should live? Does death shape the meaning of our lives?
Teaching, Fall 2019
PHL 228: Public Health Ethics. Most health care ethics focuses on the individual decisions about treatments, but many ethical questions have implications for society at large. The demands that individual health decisions make on the system may create collective problems, and conversely, the needs of society may limit the freedoms that individuals think they should have. Public health ethics then, lie at the intersection of medicine, political philosophy, and public policy. This course will examine the values of health, social needs, and freedom through a systematic examination of situations in which these conflicts arise. We will examine the issues by looking at it through three levels: through theoretical readings in philosophy, through readings in the broad issues of public health, and by considering case studies.