202793 Reasoning Across Differences: New Uses of Experimental Philosophy For Public Health Ethics

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Catherine Womack, PhD , Department of Philosophy, Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA
Norah Mulvaney-Day, PhD , Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, Cambridge Health Alliance, Somerville, MA
In this paper, we propose to expand the methods of experimental philosophy to include those of qualitative social science to better explicate the role of personal autonomy and control in public health ethics. Experimental philosophers use survey results to uncover people's often-divergent responses to traditional thought experiments, revealing nuances in concepts like control and responsibility. By using qualitative methods like open-ended questions and interviews, more information can be gathered about the psychological processes underlying concepts that help us understand and navigate the tensions between the roles of individual and government in public health decision-making.

The boundary between individual and environmental causal factors in health is inchoate and discussion regarding these issues spans both theoretical and ethical questions (Bayliss et al., 2008; Holland, 2007), as well as public health practice focused on developing and testing interventions to improve individuals' health (Story et al., 2008). The complex interplay between these factors in health promotion underscores ethical issues of liberty, autonomy and the right to self-determination that are present in public health decision-making (Holland, 2007).

Our proposed expansion of experimental philosophy methods includes sample open-ended interview questions that solicit alternative ways of framing ethical dilemmas in public health, from which researchers can create theoretical models of human agency, targeting areas of constraint and limitation. This bottom-up approach to ethical inquiry parallels social justice approaches to developing strategies for interventions emerging from often-disenfranchised communities; the goal is to enable understanding across differences without eliminating the viewpoints of those whose voices should be heard.

Learning Objectives:
formulate a combination of philosophical and social science methods to problems in public health ethics identify frameworks for assessing claims of individual agency and responsibility in public health ethics

Keywords: Ethics, Methodology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a co-author on the paper, and have collaborated with Dr. Womack in every phase of the development and writing of the manuscript and presentation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

See more of: Ethics SPIG Round Table
See more of: Ethics SPIG