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Philosophers to discuss bioethical concerns

Members of Plato's Academy North Tonawanda Campus reading group are featured in this whimsical poster for the group's upcoming conference at UB. That's SUNY Distinguished Professor Barry Smith on the dissection table.


Published July 25, 2014

Plato’s Academy North Tonawanda Campus (PANTC) reading group and the UB Department of Philosophy will present their second annual conference, “Bioethics and the Philosophy of Medicine,” Aug. 1 and 2 at UB.

The conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 280 Park Hall on the UB North Campus.

The star attraction will be keynote speaker Christopher Boorse, professor of philosophy at the University of Delaware, a controversial figure widely regarded as the English-speaking world’s pre-eminent philosopher of medicine for the past 40 years.

PANTC is a Western New York reading group in bioethics and the philosophy of medicine co-founded in 2011 by David Hershenov, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, and James Delaney, professor and chair of the Niagara University Philosophy Department.

It meets monthly at JP Bullfeathers restaurant and bar on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, and includes faculty members and graduate students at UB, and faculty from the philosophy departments of SUNY Fredonia, Niagara University and Canisius College.

The conference is funded by the Hourani Lecture Fund in the UB Department of Philosophy.

Boorse will present two talks: On Aug. 1, he will discuss “The Goals of Medicine” on Aug. 1 and will give the conference keynote address, “A Second Rebuttal on Health,” on Aug. 2. Both talks will begin at 4:15 p.m. and be followed by question-and-answer sessions.

“Boorse’s stature in the field means that every philosopher of medicine feels required to state how their view differs from that of Boorse,” says David Hershenov, professor and chair of the UB Department of Philosophy and founding member of PANTC. “His Saturday keynote address will likely leave the audience with the impression that many of those philosophers would have been better off had they had fewer disagreements with Boorse.”

His talk, “The Goals of Medicine,” will challenge the idea that there is an internal morality of medicine that restricts doctors, independent of a general morality. Such internal ethics, he says, are typically alleged to be grounded in a list of goals that define medicine as a profession. Acts not aimed at fulfilling those goals, or those that counter them, are forbidden the “ethical physician.” Boorse argues there is no such internal morality of medicine, thus no natural moral ban on controversial activities by physicians, including euthanasia and human enhancement.

His second talk, “A Second Rebuttal on Health,” is a revision of his 1997 paper “A Rebuttal on Health.” In it, he will respond to specific criticisms of his influential and controversial bio-statistical theory of health, which holds that “disease” is a pathological state marked by any statistically subnormal function or partial function of an individual’s physical system. “Health,” therefore, is a theoretical state marked by the absence of old or new pathological conditions and is a value-free scientific notion. His analysis is sometimes referred to as “naturalist” or value-excluding.

In addition to Boorse, conferences speakers include:

  • Hershenov, with Rose Hershenov, adjunct professor, Department of Philosophy, Niagara University: “Health, Harm and Potential.”
  • Catherine Nolan, lecturer, UB Department of Philosophy: “Metaphysical Laws in Definitions of Death.”
  • Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Julian Park Chair, UB Department of Philosophy, and and director of UB’s National Center for Ontological Research: “The Ontology of Aging.”
  • Stephen Wear, associate professor, Department of Medicine, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences: “Ethical Expertise at the Bedside.”
  • Yuichi Minemura, lecturer, UB Department of Philosophy: “McMahan’s Embodied Mind Account and the Identity Problem.”
  • Jalena Krgovic, lecturer, UB Department of Philosophy: “Sartre and Mental Illness.”
  • Phil Reed, assistant professor, Department of Philosophy, Canisius College: “Artifacts, Intentions and Contraceptives.”
  • Peter Koch, lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Niagara University: “Medical Professionalism and the Patient’s Welfare.”
  • Steven Kershnar, professor and chair, Department of Philosophy, SUNY Fredonia: “How to Quantify Death across Populations.”
  • James Delaney, associate professor, Department of Philosophy, Niagara University: “Is Presumed Consent a Morally Permissible Policy of Organ Donation?”
  • Neil Feit, professor, Department of Philosophy, SUNY Fredonia: “The Welfare of the Dead.”
  • Adam Taylor, lecturer, Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, North Dakota State University: “Some Painful Implications of Four-Dimensionalism.”

To view Boorse’s two papers and the conference poster, which lists the times and titles of all the talks, visit the Department of Philosophy’s website.