Romanell Center fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Canisius College Philip Reed recently published a target article, "Expressivism at the Beginning and End of Life," in the Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (2020): 538-544. The article addresses how certain controversial biomedical practices might send a message of disrespect to the disabled. The journal solicited commentaries from Felicia Nimue Ackerman, Professor of Philosophy at Brown University; Bjørn Hofmann, Professor at the Department of Health, Technology and Society at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology; John Keown, Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics; Janet Malek, Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy; and Joel Michael Reynolds, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Disability Studies at Georgetown University. The journal also published Prof. Reed’s response to the commentaries.
Romanell Fellows David Limbaugh and Neil Feit debated the question “Whether Diseases must be Harmful?” at the Seventh Annual Romanell Conference. Feit had earlier published his “Harm and the Concept of Medical Disorder” in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics (TMB) 38: 5, pp 367–385. Feit argued that Jerry Wakefield was in error to claim that disorders had to be harmful. David Limbaugh offered an original defense of why disorders were harmful entitled “The Harm of Medical Disorder as Harm in the Damage Sense” that was published in 2019 in TMB 40:1, pp. 1-20. The debate took place in Buffalo on July 28, 2018 in Buffalo. Wakefield, who was keynoting the conference at which the debate took place, declared Limbaugh the debate winner. Feit then wrote a response to Limbaugh’s response entitled “Medical Disorder, Harm, and Damage” that will be published in a future issue of TMB.
Romanell Fellows Phil Reed, David Hershenov, and Stephen Kershnar debated the question “Are Pro-Lifers Committed to Killing Abortion Doctors?” The Reed and Hershenov presentation was facetiously entitled “Should Steve Kershnar be Given Hemlock for Corrupting the Pro-Life Young?” Reed and Hershenov were responding to a Kershnar paper that ended up as a chapter entitled “Forfeiture and Killing Abortion Doctors” in Kershnar’s 2017 Routledge Press book Does the Pro-Life Worldview Make Sense?: Abortion, Hell, and Violence Against Abortion Doctors. The debate audience voted neither to execute or acquit Kershnar, but compromised, concluding that exile would be appropriate. The Reed and Hershenov response to Kershnar entitled “How Not to Defend the Unborn” has been accepted by the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (forthcoming).
Release Date: July 8, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. – John Martin Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California Riverside and the recipient of a $5.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation in 2012 to study different aspects of immortality, will deliver the keynote address as part of this year’s Romanell Summer Conference, titled “Death, Disease and Identity.”
Fischer’s talk, “Near-Death Experiences: To the Edge of the Universe,” will be on Thursday, July 25, at 4:45 p.m. in 141 Park Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus.
The three-day conference, presented by the UB Department of Philosophy, will run July 25-27 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. All events take place in 141 Park and are free and open to the public.
Fischer is among the world’s leading authorities on free will, moral responsibility, and metaphysical and ethical issues related to life and death. His keynote seeks to explain away the alleged out-of-body experiences of those near death, according to David Hershenov, a professor in UB’s philosophy department and co-director of the university’s Romanell Center for Clinical Ethics and the Philosophy of Medicine.
“For Fischer, these near-death accounts, though often sincere, are not evidence of the soul leaving the body or that anyone has gone to heaven and come back,” says Hershenov.
But Fischer is not an “immortality curmudgeon,” a term he actually coined to identify an opposing belief to the widespread notion that eternal life is indisputably desirable.
These curmudgeons, by Fischer’s definition, view potential immortality as most likely boring and maintain the absence of an end point in the narrative structure of human existence makes life meaningless.
“Although he has argued that immortality would be welcome, Fischer is an atheist who doesn’t think an immortal posthumous existence awaits us,” says Hershenov. “And his talk will be easily accessible to non-philosophers."
Hershenov says Fischer has worked on how death can be harmful – a statement that inspires pause until Hershenov provides context.
“We think harm occurs when you’re in a particular state that we compare to a state when you weren’t harmed. Someone who injures their knee is harmed because we can compare that to the state when the same knee wasn’t injured,” he explains. “But with death, you don’t exist. So how can that be harmful?”
This is among the puzzles addressed by another conference speaker, Travis Timmerman, an assistant professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University, who will discuss if death is a harm and when it can be harmful.
Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Julian Park Chair in UB’s philosophy department, will look at the possibility of a digital afterlife.
“We have these Hail Mary passes to the future trying to prolong existence through cryogenics or downloading the contents of our brains onto a hard drive,” says Hershenov. “Barry thinks it’s a false model of the mind to believe that information from our minds can be extracted and put somewhere else where we will live on digitally forever.”
The conference closes with the “ever-controversial” Stephen Kershnar, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the philosophy department at SUNY Fredonia.
“If you’re religious, death might not be bad,” says Hershenov. “We hear people say, ‘Grandma is in a better place.’ Stephan’s talk will explore how that belief might relate to decisions we make about resources and health care.
“Like I said, he’s always controversial,” notes Hershenov. “That’s why we schedule him last, so if protestors arrive they’ll only disrupt his talk.”
Published February 6, 2019
The Romanell Center is pleased to announce that five of its fellows have collaborated on a primary text for undergraduate courses on the philosophy of death and dying, which is forthcoming by Routledge Press. Exploring the Philosophy of Death: Classical and Contemporary Perspective is co-edited by Romanell Fellow, Travis Timmerman.
The book uses classic texts and contemporary contributions to investigate central questions within the philosophy of death literature. It is ideal for courses that aim to address several of the fundamental philosophical questions related to death and dying. By including works that draw from both Western (analytic and continental) and non-Western traditions, the authors present a diversity of voices that have contributed to the philosophy of death and dying throughout history.
Chapters, authored for the text by Romanell Center Fellows, include:
"Death Is Bad for Us When We're Dead.” by Neil Feit (SUNY Fredonia).
“Can We Survive our Deaths?” by Rose Hershenov and David Hershenov (University at Buffalo).
“The Possibility of Suicide.” by Philip Reed (Canisius College).
"Refuting Symmetry Arguments." by Travis Timmerman (Seton Hall University).