Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year in Review (2011)

And so yet another year comes to a close. This year has been an especially busy one for me on all fronts-- research, teaching, admin and family -- hence the light load of blogs over the past 6 months.

Highlights from the year include the CPSA conference and my promotion to full professor.

Favourite blog posts from the year include:

The Timeless Rousseau
New Aging Video
Notes on Fatherhood (ch. 1)
Life Extension, "Sacred Values" and Taboo Tradeoffs
POLS 250 End of Term
Abstraction and Sacred Values (The Preamble)
Happiness and Mood Enhancement
The Life History of Men
Bentham, Sacred Values, and Ideal Theory
Patriarchy and Historical Materialism
Why Do Political Theory *Today*?
The Detective's Virtues
The Importance of History

New puzzles/questions/topics I started to think seriously about this year include:

The medical sciences today are predicated on the assumption that the most important questions to answer concern the causes of pathology rather than the causes of exemplar examples of valued phenotypes (e.g. longevity and happiness). A new paradigm of "positive biology" might help us better realize the demands of well-ordered science in today's aging world.

What are the "intellectual virtues"? What is their relation to the "moral virtues"? What fosters, and impairs, the intellectual virtues?

Why incarcerate? Subjective wellbeing is adaptive, so what are the implications of this for theories of punishment and the practice of incarceration?

Other questions seriously pondered this year include: why is there gender inequality? What can evolution tell us about the biology of males? (e.g. our higher propensity towards violence, shorter lifespan, investment in parenting, etc.).

Why do political theory? And what constitutes success and failure in political theory?

Why advance an account of "genetic justice"? (i.e. an account of what constitutes a fair distribution of genetic endowments).

Summary of research activity in the year 2011:


(1) Virtue Epistemology and the "Epistemic Fitness" of Democracy (forthcoming) Political Studies Review

Abstract: In this paper I explore three distinct advantages of linking virtue epistemology to an epistemic defence of democracy. Firstly, because intellectual agents and communities are the primary focus of epistemic evaluation, virtue epistemology offers political theorists the opportunity to develop an epistemic defence of democracy that takes ‘realism’ seriously (e.g. the cognitive limitations and biases of humans). Secondly, because virtue epistemology conceives of epistemology as a normative discipline, it builds normative criteria into the exercise of assessing the ‘epistemic fitness’ of a political arrangement (e.g. democracy vs epistocracy). Thirdly, by assessing the epistemic powers of democracy from a virtue-epistemological perspective, a more robust (Deweyan) conception of democracy needs to be employed and assessed than the ‘minimalist’ conception employed by the Condorcet Jury Theorem.

(2)Biogerontology and the Intellectual Virtues (forthcoming) Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences

Abstract: The case for prioritizing the study of the biology of aging can be persuasively made by making explicit its connection to the exercise of the intellectual virtues needed to realize well-ordered science. These intellectual virtues include a range of attitudes and dispositions integral to all areas of science (e.g. sensitivity to details, adaptability of intellect, the detective’s virtues), but the so-called “teaching virtues” are especially important for biogerontology. Without the foresight to anticipate how your audience will likely respond, biogerontologists risk marginalizing the field’s importance to well-ordered science as the general public are likely to dismiss, or underestimate, the health and economic benefits of an intervention that retards the rate of biological aging.

(3)”Positive Biology” as a New Paradigm for the Medical Sciences (forthcoming) Nature’s EMBO Reports

Abstract: Most basic and applied research in the medical sciences today is premised upon the presumption that well-ordered science requires us to prioritize what one can call “negative biology”. Negative biology is the intellectual framework that presumes the most important question to answer is- what causes pathology? Positive biology, by contrast, focuses on a different set of questions and priorities. Rather than making disease the central focus of our intellectual efforts and financial investments, positive biology seeks instead to understand exemplar examples of health and happiness. Understanding why some (rare) individuals can live a century of disease-free life, or why some individuals enjoy more well-being (e.g. positive subjective experience, optimism, perseverance, high talent) or possess greater memory or resilience than the average person could lead to new knowledge that permits us to significantly expand the opportunities today’s populations have for health and happiness.

(4) Normative Theorizing about Genetics (forthcoming) Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

Abstract: Most contemporary theories of distributive justice are ill-equipped to tackle the kinds of concerns that arise once we expand the domain of justice to include the distribution of genetic endowments. One cannot begin from an account of distributive justice that was designed with the distribution of wealth in mind and then simply “add genetics and stir”. The genetic revolution requires us to undertake a major re-conceptualization of what the demands of justice are. And this means that the fundamental (or first-order) principles or theories we begin with must be open to revision in light of the new empirical discoveries in genetics and human biology.

Genes are special, from the perspective of theorizing about justice, because they (a) have been neglected in our normative theorizing (and thus warrant special attention in order to redress this neglect so that we are better prepared to fairly regulate new genetic technologies); (b) are unique resources and thus require the normative theorist to develop a skill-set that is unique from the skills required for tackling the distribution of external resources like wealth; and (c) genes are special because they play an important role in the development of a wide range of valued phenotypes.