Philosophy & Bioethics Staff Seminar Series

Time: Seminars are held on Fridays at 2.15pm (unless otherwise noted)

Location: Room E561, 5th floor East, Building 11 (Menzies), Clayton campus (unless otherwise noted)

Convenor: Bob Simpson |

Upcoming Seminars – Semester 2, 2015


Friday November 20: Mark Budolfson (Princeton): Inequalities, Climate Vulnerabilities, and Justice: How Ethicists and Economists Can Work Together to Improve Integrated Assessment Models

PLEASE NOTE SPECIAL TIME — Friday 11.00am-1.00pm.

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) of the social cost of carbon are among the leading models that inform climate policy. The current generation of these models features a somewhat crude implementation of utilitarianism, and thus ignores considerations of justice and other values. In fact, these models are arguably inadequate by the lights of utilitarianism itself, because of their lack of representation of important inequalities. At the same, many ethicists also ignore the economic facts estimated by these models in a way that arguably undermines their application of theories of justice to the problem of climate change. I articulate these objections to the current work of both economists and ethicists, and I identify a number of concrete opportunities for economists and ethicists to work together to resolve these objections by improving IAMs, which is also highly policy relevant. As an example that makes the opportunities as concrete as possible, I describe a number of papers with co-authors Francis Dennig, Marc Fleurbaey, Asher Siebert, and Robert Socolow, where we create a variant of the leading RICE model that introduces a more fine-grained representation of economic inequalities within model regions. This allows us to model (as others do not) the common observation that climate change impacts are not evenly distributed within regions and that poorer people are more vulnerable than the rest of the population, in addition to representing basic inequalities in consumption within regions. (In one forthcoming paper, we show that properly accounting for these inequalities is as significant, potentially, to the utilitarian optimal mitigation response as the debate between Stern and Nordhaus on the social discount rate, depending on the extent of inequality in damages between rich and poor within regions.) Representing these inequalities allows for considerations of sustainability and justice to be comprehended by the models. This creates an opportunity for ethicists to contribute by identifying non-utilitarian social objectives (or constraints on utility maximization) that can be used in the model in place of unconstrained utilitarian objectives. Another opportunity is to improve the population ethics assumptions of these models. We aim to take up both of these tasks in future work, but further philosophical input would be valuable to design the best possible modifications of the models.


Monday December 7: Jennifer Radden (U Mass): Mood Disorder and Public Health: Seventeenth and Twenty-first Century Models

PLEASE NOTE SPECIAL TIME — Monday 11.00am-1.00pm.

Read selectively, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) bears striking similarities to some recent trends in today’s mind sciences. Its model of mind proves compatible with today’s cognitivist assumptions and with findings of contemporary brain science. And it relies on a conception of disease that, while it pre-dates the etiological models relied on in much of medicine today, corresponds to the network models recently proposed for mental disorders like depression. But Burton’s pre-modern compendium of classical and renaissance psychology also contains treatment principles and recommendations with surprising parallels in today’s approaches to the treatment of mood disorders, especially depression. Its emphasis on early prevention, eclectic and complementary practices, and self help, all anticipate the very recent trend towards public health approaches prompted by the apparently epidemic, worldwide incidence of depression, observed since the 1990s. With talk of “behavioral vaccines;” non-individuating preventive measures, including those directed at the young to avert mood disorders before they arise, and the use of aps providing self-administered cognitive therapy, this trend is part of a broader critique of the limitations of diagnostic psychiatry. The parallels between the earlier ideas and these contemporary developments are examined here to demonstrate the broader historical context for the twenty-first century public mental health care that seems to be fast joining, or even supplanting, earlier diagnostic and clinical approaches.