Thursday, January 25, 2018

Philosophy for Children and Teens- Kingston

I am creating a new educational outreach initiative called "Philosophy for Children and Teens- Kingston".

Phase 1 of the program will involve me giving a 45 minute interactive class to children in grades 4-5 on what philosophy is, and why it is important to their lives and society.

Phase 2 will involve getting high school students involved, and hosting a "Day of Philosophy" at Queen's University for high school students in the area. Please help spread the word and encourage your schools to get involved!


Monday, January 22, 2018

Genethics and Ethics: Finished!

Tonight I finally finished all the revisions to my latest book Genetic Ethics: An Introduction.

Over my 18 year academic career I have never worked so intensely on just one project as I have in the last year on this book. I typically have 3-4 different things I work on simultaneously, but over the last 12 months I have worked solely on completing this book (with the exception of 1 invited chapter I wrote the draft of 2 months ago). While this new book is on the same topic as Biologically Modified Justice, I decided to address the ethical and social implications of the genetic revolution from a completely different moral lens than the one adopted in that earlier book. In many ways this introductory book profited immensely from the hard lessons I learned spending 16 years writing Biologically Modified Justice first. So starting this new book with a fresh normative lens, and aspiring to reach a broad audience of students in the humanities/social sciences and life and medical sciences, proved to be the catalyst I needed to generate more new ideas on the topic.

Here is the table of contents (book totals about 68,000 words):

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Eugenics: Inherently Immoral?
Chapter 2: The Genetic Revolution: A Snapshot
Chapter 3: Disease
Chapter 4: Epigenetics
Chapter 5: Reproductive Freedom
Chapter 6: Aging Research and Longevity
Chapter 7: Happiness, Memory and Behaviour

And here is a sample from the final few paragraphs in the Concluding chapter:

The biology of humans has a long and varied evolutionary history. A history shaped by the hazards of the external world, such as infectious disease, scarcity of food, intergroup conflict, etc. And humans have crafted various forms of social engineering to help redress or minimize some of these external risk factors. Public health and preventative medicine, democratic governance, market economies, these are all forms of social engineering that have shaped a culture that, indirectly, influenced the biology of humans. Technological innovations in food production, coupled with a global economy, mean that billions of (but not all) people in the world today have been emancipated from the daily hunger and risks of starvation which would have been typical for many humans living in earlier historical epochs. And yet, in developed countries, the abundance of relatively cheap high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages has increased the incidence of childhood obesity. Social engineering of any kind- whether it be to modify the technologies of food production, or political governance or expedite economic growth, is not necessarily all-good or even desirable. A virtuous polity must continuously modify, refine and improve the forms of social engineering it employs, to improve its knowledge and technology so that individuals and the polity itself can flourish, rather than flounder.

“Genetically engineering” humans, via gene therapy or genome editing or a drug that modulates aging by activating the “longevity genes”, is yet one further possible form of social engineering. The critic might ask why should we should seriously consider adding genetic intervention into the possible mix of technologies humans pursue. Our response can highlight the prevalence of genetic disorders, from early onset single gene conditions, to more common multi-factorial conditions. The genes we inherit influence not only our health, but also our intelligence, behavior (e.g. parent investment), happiness and how we age. The genetic revolution might permit humans to intentionally intervene in the genetic lottery of life in a way that improves our life prospects much further than what could be realized if we left our biology to the blind and arbitrary process of evolution by natural selection.

By reducing mortality from infectious diseases, and developing medical procedures and pharmaceuticals that permit us to manage multi-morbidity in late life, humans can now survive beyond the “biological warranty period” of seven decades. The aging of human populations is a very new and novel phenomenon and one that demonstrates how important the epistemic virtue of adaptability of intellect is if we hope to improve the health prospects of an aging world. New knowledge about our genes might prove to be foundational in developing the health innovations needed to realize greater equality, health and economic prosperity for all of the world’s diverse populations.

As with other intellectual projects I have completed, it is a somewhat bitter sweet feeling. Sweet to be able to feel the sense of accomplishment in completing something so ambitious and arduous. But at the same time, it is a bit bitter because it leaves a gaping whole in one's life when something that has consumed so much of one's time, thought and energy is finally completed. The next major project will get under serious way in the fall when I am on sabbatical. Until then, 3 classes to finish teaching this term, a book chapter to revise, and a presentation on play and happiness to prepare and present at Harvard in the spring term. So I am sure I will find ways to keep myself busy!

Fingers crossed that this book makes it out in print for the summer!


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Chipping Away at the Bibliography for Genetic Ethics...

I am in the final completion stage of Genetic Ethics, which should be off to the production team later this week. The last looming task is compiling the bibliography. It has proven to be a very laborious task to try to complete during a busy teaching term with 3 courses.

My rough count of the sources listed in the bibliography is approximately 230 articles and books that I have utilized. Reading over the list of sources I have relied upon it made me appreciate how much work I have undertaken on this topic over the past 18 years. And while compiling a bibliography is not a particularly rewarding task, it has provided me with deep gratitude and a sense of accomplishment.

Paradoxically many academics do not place much importance on writing a textbook designed for the students they teach, and even less value on something that is interdisciplinary. Looking over the diverse sources I have engaged in while writing this book has reminded how enriching the experience has been. In addition to engaging with the standard philosophical literature on bioethics and genetics, I draw upon the feminist literature on reproductive freedom and patriarchy, insights from epidemoliogy and evolutionary biology on the causation of disease, demography and population aging, and findings on epigenetics. I have also learned new things about the role of genes in intelligence, behaviour (such as addiction, investment in parental care, empathy, etc.), happiness and memory. And of course I had to stay abreast of, and think of some new ideas for, addressing findings about the biology of aging and extending the human lifespan.

I am very proud of the final, finished product. I just need to get this formatting of the bibliography finished so I can enjoy some much needed R&R!


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Caloric Restriction: Special Journal Issue

The January 2018 issue of THE JOURNAL OF GERONTOLOGY: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES is a special issue dedicated to CR. A sample from the editorial for the issue:

The principle of GeroScience is that aging itself is a worthy target for intervention: if aging can be offset then age-related vulnerability to diseases and disorders such as cancer, heart disease, frailty, and neurodegeneration, would be postponed and attenuated (6). If we could understand how CR exerts its effects to prolong health and delay mortality we will surely be able to identify key regulatory nodes involved in countering the causative factors in aging that lead to morbidity and mortality. In this special issue, we have collected a series of primary papers and reviews showcasing the breadth of CR research, including studies from the simple unicellular yeast to humans. Each model brings its own strengths and together CR studies continue to provide unique insights into aging biology.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Year in Review (2017)

Another busy year comes to an end! So it is fitting to summarize some of the highlights of the year for me.

This past year was a very busy year for me teaching-wise. It was the most courses, and students, I have taught in my 18 year career! Most academics tend to wind-down their teaching as their career progresses, but I seem to be going in the opposite direction. And this has been a positive development for me, as teaching remains a major catalyst for my research and passion of mine. In addition to increasing my year-long Plato to Marx course from 250 students to 275 students, and teaching an overload course in my department again this year, I also taught a summer MPA course in the School of Public Policy at Queen's.

Research-wise I am, as a write this, putting the final edits on this Genetic Ethics book which I expect to be out by the summer. It was actually a very grueling summer for me, with teaching, finishing the draft of this new book, and undergoing surgery shoulder on my dominant arm no-less!. Somehow I forget to schedule myself any summer vacation. But the promise of a sabbatical term next fall, dedicated solely to writing and regaining some life-balance, gives me something to work towards.

My contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Virtue will be available in about 2 weeks time. And I am writing a new paper on Rawls and ideal theory for an edited volume on the work of John Rawls.

In the coming year I hope to be able to make serious headway on a new book on play- integrating insights from evolutionary biology, psychology and philosophy. I also have plans to write more on genetics and aging, topics I find I cannot stop contemplating.

As part of my ongoing research on play I actually played a season of archery tag this past fall. A really fun, fast-paced, and (I found out half-way through the season!) a somewhat painful game. I also retired, after a 13 year-stint, coaching kids soccer as my youngest son decided to hang up the cleats for good. But I have been able to foster new play interests with him and his friends, including being the Dungeon Master for some homemade D & D campaigns we have enjoyed over the past few months. And my kids are constantly exposing me to new ideas as they navigate various games and apps.

Blogging has been light as teaching, research and parenting continue to take up more of my time. But I still aspire to return to this space to think through ideas when time, and my interest, permit. I have made a conscious effort to devote more time to activities like this blog.

All the best for New Year!


Monday, November 06, 2017

Play in Ancient Greece Interview

The latest issue of The American Journal of Play has an interesting interview with Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge. Here is a sample:

Did ancient authors regard play as a serious subject for reflection? Did they
celebrate play’s benefits or warn about its dangers?

Goldhill: The ancients discussed play extensively, talking about how to behave at a symposium, what theater meant, or what the role of nonwork—leisure—was in society. They discussed it philosophically, in comedy, and in casual remarks. A host of moralists considered the danger and necessity of humor, for example, and what constituted acceptable playfulness in social discourse. And their discussions were picked up by hundreds of later writers. Aristotle’s definition of wit as “civilized outrageous violence” has been hugely influential. The language in which play was debated, and especially the nature of humor, was set by Greek philosophy, just as the first extended discussion of the value and purpose of social life in the city was by Plato.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Virtue Handbook (pre-order available)

This monumental volume (nearly 1000 pages!) on Virtue edited by Nancy Snow is now available to pre-order. I think it will be a must read for those interested in the virtue ethics tradition. It contains 42 chapters, the last chapter in the book is my contribution on "Virtue Epistemology and the Democratic Life". Looking forward to seeing the completed volume when it comes out.

Here is the abstract of my contribution:

Integrating insights from the Ancient Greeks (e.g. concerning virtue, eudaimonia, and the original meaning of “democracy”), John Dewey, and recent work in virtue epistemology, this chapter develops a virtue-based defense of democracy, one that conceives of democracy as an inquiry-based mode of social existence. This account of democracy is developed by responding to three common concerns raised against democracy, which the author calls the Irrationality Problem, the Problem of Autonomy, and the Epistocracy Objection. Virtue epistemology can help elucidate the link between democracy and human flourishing by drawing attention to democracy’s potential for cultivating and refining the “intellectual virtues” (e.g. intellectual humility, fairness in evaluating the arguments of others, the social virtue of being communicative, etc.) constitutive of the good life.