Areas of research and supervision

New reproductive technologies

A large proportion of my philosophical work in bioethics concerns the ethics of new reproductive technologies and especially their implications for our ideas about normal human bodies and the importance of genetic relatedness.

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and the ‘disability critique’

My other main area of research in bioethics concerns the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and the ‘disability’ or ‘expressivist’ critique of the use of this technology to prevent the birth of children with disabilities. In 2010 I was awarded an ARC “Future Fellowship” ($561 000) for a project on “A new ethics for the development and application of genetic technologies in a pluralist society”, to run from 2011-2014. Read an interview with me, discussing some of my work in this area.

Human enhancement

It is almost impossible to work in contemporary bioethics without becoming concerned about the prospects for, and ethics, of human enhancement. In particular, I am interested in the possible use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for non-therapeutic purposes. My liberal intuitions make me suspicious about state regulation in this area but my communitarian leanings cause me to worry about the extent it is possible to embrace these technologies without radically changing what it means to be human. I have recently authored a series of papers examining the implications of a commitment to “enhancing” human beings for our attitude towards sex selection.

Robotics and artificial intelligence

I have a major research project underway on the ethical issues associated with robotics, including military robotics, robotic companions, and robots in aged care. Roughly speaking I am pursuing two avenues of investigation in this research. Firstly, I am interested in the ethical issues which might arise if we took some of the more outre pronouncements of roboticists and futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec seriously; doing so also offers an excellent opportunity to test out intuitions (for instance, about the nature of persons) which are important in other philosophical debates. Secondly, I am interested in doing serious work in applied ethics in relation to the application of real or near term robots in various roles. My work on the ‘Good Soldiers and Ethical Soldiers’ grant (described below) was largely concerned with real-world military robotics. You can learn some of my conclusions by reading an interview with me.

Military ethics and Just war theory

Along with Dr Jessica Wolfendale and Professor Tony Coady (both from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne division), I have investigated how current and future developments in military technology may affect the military’s core ethical commitments, the character of individual warfighters, and traditional applications of just war theory. The Australian Research Council granted our research team $440,000 to conduct this project from 2007-2009. I have previously done work on the foundations and moral significance of the combatant/non-combatant distinction in just war theory.

Cochlear implants and Deaf Culture

I have written on the ‘cochlear implant controversy’ and on the ethics of the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to choose to have a deaf child. My research in this area is informed by my philosophical commitments in the liberal-communitarian debate and also my interest in the disability critique of prenatal screening.

Open borders and the politics of exclusion

Debates about the boundaries of the political community and the right of communities to exclude others are some of the most politically urgent and also philosophically difficult debates in contemporary politics. The demand for ‘open borders’ and the free movement of peoples is one that anyone with liberal or egalitarian intuitions must take extremely seriously. Yet the ideals of national self–determination, land rights, bio-regionalism, democracy, federalism, and self government, all seem to presuppose that a distinction can be made between the inside and the outside of a social group or geographical region; in some form or other, they require borders. My current work in political philosophy for the most part involves trying to resolve, or at least negotiate, this apparent tension.

Organ Transplants and Xenotransplantation

I am interested in the ethics of organ donation and salvage from patients at various stages in the dying process. I am also interested in xenotransplantation and especially the issues of international justice raised by the risk of xenozoonosis which may be involved in xenotransplantation.

The political philosophy of anarchism

I have long-standing interest in the political philosophy of anarchism. While it is not currently a major focus of my research I continue to publish on it occasionally, especially in so far as anarchist political philosophy can illuminate issues in my other areas of research.

The ethics of nanotechnology

I have worked in debates about the ethics of nanotechnology both because of the possible implications and impacts of nanotechnology and also because these debates offer a unique opportunity to discuss how a democratic society should make decisions about science and technology policy.

Historical injustice

Debates about historical injustice and our obligations to past generations are fascinating in part because contemporary analytic philosophy has so few resources to explain our intuitions (and indeed social practice) in this area. This is a topic I would like to work on more.

Media Ethics

I developed and taught a media ethics course at the University of Wollongong and have a continuing interest in the politics of communication and the ethics of representation.

The liberal-communitarian debate

My doctoral studies at the Australian National University, with Professor Robert Goodin, were concerned with the liberal communitarian debate. I haven’t revisited this material recently but I maintain an interest in it and am currently supervising students in the area.

Environmental ethics

I’m interested in environmental ethics, especially the ethics of genetic modification, the ethics of our treatment of complex in organic systems, and also applications of virtue ethical arguments to environmental issues