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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


This paper is part of the BBS Major Subject History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine

Lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Science and Communism
Mary Brazelton (4)
Thu 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine
Stephen John (4), Michael Diamond-Hunter (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–8)
Lent Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine (continued)
Stephen John (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–4)
Ethical Issues in Psychiatry
Tom McClelland (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 5–8)
Ethics and Politics of Technology
Tom McClelland (4)
Wed 12noon (weeks 5–8)

This course provides students with the opportunity to explore core concepts in medical ethics and bio-ethics, ranging from the ethics of reproduction to resource allocation. It also provides an introduction to some of the broader social and political forces which shape the provision of care, and provides tools for thinking about how these forces might influence not only the use but the production of medical knowledge. This course provides students for thinking critically about the challenges medicine raises for society, and the ways in which society structures medicine.


Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with debates around the ethical implications of new technologies, and the role of ethical concerns in shaping new technologies;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the ways in which medical and scientific knowledge more generally is, can be and should be shaped by broader social and political concern;
  • to encourage students to place contemporary debates about the ethics and politics of medicine within broader historical and sociological contexts;
  • to facilitate students' critical understanding of developments and uses of medicine.



Science and Communism

Mary Brazelton (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

The rise of governments that used the term 'Communist' to describe themselves in the 20th century involved a variety of new understandings and practices of science and technology. During the Cold War, science took on a variety of forms and meanings across the Eastern Bloc and its sphere of influence, from the emergence of Lysenkoist genetics in the Soviet Union to promotions of mass science in the People's Republic of China. These lectures discuss the meanings that Marxist and related political theories attributed to science, as well as science and technology in policy and practice in the Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, Cuba and other Communist-aligned states. Topics covered include the roles of technical expertise and the place of techno-science in global Cold War politics.

Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine

Stephen John, Michael Diamond-Hunter (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

This course considers two important sets of questions. In the first four lectures, we look at some of the central questions of bio-medical ethics, focusing in particular on issues of autonomy and consent in clinical and research settings. In the second group of lectures, we turn to consider the broader political and institutional settings which influence population health, paying particular attention to questions of the allocation of scarce resources, and the proper ends of – and limits to – public health policy.

Ethical Issues in Psychiatry

Tom McClelland (4 lectures, Lent Term)

It is commonly reported that we are living through an epidemic of mental illness. Psychiatric treatment has never been more widespread, but the ethical issues raised by psychiatry run deep. When, if ever, should a pattern of mental behaviour be regarded as a medical condition? Does the pathologisation of suffering serve the interests of the patient or the interests of industry? How might psychiatric disorders complicate the possibility of informed consent? Should a patient be free to choose how to address their condition, even if it causes them harm? When, if ever, is it ethical to impose compulsory psychiatric treatment on a patient? How does society discriminate against those diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and what implications does this have for the practice of psychiatry? How is diagnosis and treatment biased by gender, age, race and their intersections? Might issues of discrimination be improved or exacerbated by the increased use of AI in psychiatry? Should therapists always be human, or could a patient form an effective therapeutic relationship with an AI?

Ethics and Politics of Technology

Tom McClelland (4 lectures, Lent Term)

Technology plays an integral role in society and has the power to bring about both huge benefits and terrible harms. Focusing on the development of Artificial Intelligence, this course explores the ethical and political ramifications of technology. How, if at all, can technology be evaluated normatively? When technology causes harm, who should be held responsible: the designers, the user or society as a whole? Can AI be used to overcome the blight of human prejudice or do algorithms themselves encode societal biases? What ethical principles should be encoded into AI, and can an artificial system ever really be ethical? Should we take seriously the idea of AI one day destroying humanity and, if so, what should we be doing about it? Under what conditions would an artificial system deserve our moral consideration? If moral worth is bound to consciousness, how should we go about assessing whether an AI is conscious? And if we can't be sure whether an AI is conscious, what is the most responsible policy to adopt?


Preliminary reading


Resources for Ethics of Medicine on Moodle