“Identity, medical ethics, and the problem of necrophilia.” Philosophy PG Seminar, University of Leeds, December 2019
Necrophilia is the sexual arousal to, and/or sexual acts involving, corpses. Although necrophilia is usually seen as an intuitively immoral act, references of it can be found in myths (e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, several Greco-Roman myths), films (e.g. The Devils Rejects, The Corpse of Anna Fritz, The Neon Demon), and fiction (e.g. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Gaiman’s short story “Snow, Glass, Apples”), as well as others. It is also a topic of research in forensics, biology, medicine, and law. Despite the research being done in all of these fields of study, there is very little literature on the philosophy and/or ethics of necrophilia (at least from professional philosophers). This is interesting in that the intuitions many have regarding the act (i.e. that it is immoral) are arguably in tension with commonly held views in philosophy. In particular (at least for the purposes of this presentation) I will show that some contemporary views regarding personal identity and medical ethics imply that necrophilia can (at least in some circumstances, such as when consent is given prior to death), be permissible. Potential responses to this conclusion, as well as areas of further research, will be briefly suggested.
“Structuring death: a case for Somatic Animalism.” Philosophy PG Seminar, University of Leeds, February 2019
Animalism is the view that we are necessarily biological organisms (rather than, say, our necessarily being persons). Most animalists (indeed, most philosophers) endorse a position known as the Termination Thesis—the view that we cease to exist, simpliciter, once we die. Animalists that endorse the termination thesis have been referred to as organic animalists. Those (few) animalists that argue we continue to exist after death (as corpses) have been referred to as somatic animalists. In this presentation I will argue that both positions are viable, but not equally so. Somatic animalism is, I argue, the more straightforward and fruitful position because it allows us to make sense of many scientific disciplines (for the purposes of this presentation I will focus on the science of forensic human identification) in a way that organic animalism cannot (at least not as easily). There may also be something about dinosaurs, but no promises.
“A structural realist approach to biological individuality.” Philosophy PG Seminar, University of Leeds, December 2018
An interesting problem in the philosophy of biology is what it is to be an individual—for the purposes of this talk, what it means to be an organism. Finding a good solution to the problem has been shown to be difficult for several reasons, including, a) many of the competing definitions are incompatible with one another, and b) any currently proposed definitions seem to be committed to controversial metaphysical theses. In this talk, I will suggest that by applying a form of ontic structural realism to the problem of biological individuality we may be able to solve some of these problems and absolve ourselves of others (admittedly, doing all of this by committing myself to a different controversial metaphysical thesis…what is one to do?)
“Forensic human identification as a defence of somatic animalism.” Guest speaker for Phi Sigma Tau: The International Honor Society for Philosophy (Hartwick College chapter), Hartwick College, March 2018 (Invited)
Most philosophers have assumed the termination thesis—the thesis that we cease to exist after death—to be true. Most animalists (i.e. those that argue human persons are fundamentally human animals, as opposed to psychological beings) for example, have accepted the thesis on the premise that being alive is both a necessary and sufficient condition for an organism to persist. Although some philosophers have argued against the termination thesis, very little attention has been paid to death-related sciences when doing so. Focusing on the aims and methods of forensic human identification, I argue that we do, under normal circumstances, continue to exist after death (as corpses).
“A new foundation for animalism: a division of labour and the need for a scientific metaphysics.” University of Leeds HPS Work-in-Progress Seminar, University of Leeds, May 2017
“Why an organism concept is not useful: a historical and philosophical analysis.” The Past, Present and Future of Integrated HPS: An International Postgraduate Forum, University of Leeds, January 2017
As (Pepper and Herron 2008) have pointed out, no operational definition has been given to the organism concept (p. 622). This is particularly interesting given how often the concept has been discussed (Pepper and Herron 2008, p. 622), especially as a key concept in the life sciences and theories of the ‘life’ concept (Wolfe 2014, p. 151). Despite the questions surrounding the organism concept, it may come as a surprise (but shouldn’t) that the term ‘organism’ has shifted in meaning since its earliest English usage in the 4th edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva in 1706, originally being published in 1664 with no use of the word (Cheung 2006, p. 622). What may not come as a surprise (but should) is that, despite no clear meaning, the ontological status (Wolfe 2014), meaning (Pepper and Herron 2008, West and Kiers 2009, Pradeu 2010), and importance (Wilson 2000, Pepper and Herron 2008, Clarke 2010) of the organism concept has been debated. In the following project, I will show that a historical and philosophical understanding of the organism concept casts doubt on its importance in biology and philosophy.
Interdisciplinary Workshop on Evolution and Ecology at Leeds. Co-organised with Helen Piel, Leonardo Miele, and Robert West. The website can be found here.