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Engaging philosophy with science

Philosophers work side by side with researchers to ask questions about scientific discovery

July 10, 2013

Engaging philosophy with science
Members of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, including Andrew Peterson (left) and Melissa Jacquart (middle) and acting director Chris Smeenk (right), ask questions to help researchers make informed choices about scientific discovery.

Some questions are tough to answer. Can a sperm donor be sued for child support? What are the moral consequences of climate change? What ethics should influence how medical clinical trials are conducted with patients? Are the effects of evolution visible in human history? Do astronauts age more slowly when they’re in space?

These are the types of questions that researchers at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy address.

Addressing ethical and moral queries
By collaborating directly with scientists, the Institute’s scholars ask philosophical questions that help researchers make informed choices and understand the implications of discovery.

“Philosophers working side by side with scientists can articulate questions that arise in the practice of science, bringing to the table a range of new ideas and new ways forward,” says Carl Hoefer, incoming director of the Institute.

Andrew Peterson Pull Quote

Bridging researchers with policy makers
Currently, the Institute is engaged in research projects that involve physicists, cognitive neuroscientists, environmental scientists and medical researchers.

“Philosophers who are genuinely engaged with working scientists can make good connections and communication happen more quickly and effectively,” says Hoefer. “This is one of the main purposes of the Institute.”

By asking ethical and moral questions, the Institute’s members serve as a bridge between researchers and the public, and between scientists and policy makers – especially as questions about bioethics, climate change, medical advances and other scientific discoveries are asked in public discourse.

Creating impact now and in the future
“Understanding how scientific and medical research works, what it needs to succeed and its limitations and implications is absolutely necessary for designing public policies that promote the well-being of people now and of future generations,” says Hoefer.

Through initial funding from the Rotman Family Foundation and Western, the Institute is already having an impact on the world stage.

“We address practically relevant and scientifically engaged questions, and Western is poised to be the most prominent institution in the movement to re-engage philosophy with science and public policy,” says Hoefer.

“No other place has the kind of depth and range of engagement with working scientists found at the Rotman Institute.”

To discover how to support the critical work at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, contact Jessica Schagerl, Alumni & Development Officer (519.661.2111, ext. 87896).

This article appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Impact Western
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