Department of Philosophy



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The Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series presents

Katherine Wayne (Ottawa)

"Defusing the threat of the old with pragmatic bioethics"

In both popular media and professional circles, Canada's aging population is frequently portrayed as an impending crisis, as a burden and threat to a health care system struggling with limited resources. Yet this crisis narrative tends to obscure rather than expose genuine barriers to effective and sustainable health care planning, partly because its content and authority draw heavily from systemic ageism and ableism in health care. Subverting that authority demands critical scrutiny of widely applied normative approaches to health care challenges. In this paper, I make a case for why and how two concepts that are foundational to these approaches – namely autonomy and vulnerability – should be de-prioritized and refined in health care ethics and policy discourse and practice. Effective and ethically informed health care planning for older persons will, I argue, shift significant attention away from autonomy concerns, and toward the good of agency and the harms of compromised agency. I begin the paper with an overview of the crisis narrative and its effects on older persons and healthy aging discourse. I then set out to show how the concept of autonomy and the principle of respect for autonomy are—in their common presentations in applied bioethics, and in their functions of delineating and navigating ethical conflicts and challenges raised in relevant scenarios—unlikely to be reliably and meaningfully guiding. I outline and defend the positive dimension of my proposal through consideration of how compromised agency creates high-risk vulnerability, which eventually results in poor health outcomes and intensified resource demands. Moreover, re-directing focus to facilitating and restoring agency in order to reduce high-risk vulnerability, rather than establishing greater means of evaluating, preserving, and enhancing autonomy in the context of broadly constraining age-based vulnerability, could be multiply advantageous. I explore how implementing such a shift would be likely to, for instance: circumvent unproductive rehearsals of autonomy vs paternalism debates, encourage desirable innovations in health care, and foster clearer communication among normative theorists, health care practitioners and researchers, and policy makers. 

THURSDAY, November 9th, 2017

CHERNOFF HALL, ROOM 117 @ 4:00 p.m. (Note room change from our usual room)


*If you have accessibility requirements, please contact Susanne Cliff-Jüngling (


Fall Colloquium Schedule

September 21: Mark Kingwell, Toronto, Kennedy Lecture

"The Decline of Civility and the Collapse of Democracy"

September 28: Henrike Moll, University of Southern California

“A Transformative Account of Shared Intentionality”

October 5: Benoît Godin, INRS​ 

"X-innovation: A Story of Appropriation and Contestation"

October 12: Henry Laycock, Queen’s 

"Reality and reference: Metaphysics and the mind-forged manacles of logic"

October 19: Rahul Kumar, Queen’s

"The Value of Accountability"

October 26:  Nigel DeSouza, Ottawa 

"Pre-reflective ethical know-how"

November 2: David Murakami Wood, Queen’s (Sociology)

"After the Authoritarian Turn: The Long Run to Planetary Surveillance"

November 9: Katherine Wayne, Ottawa 

"Defusing the threat of the old with pragmatic bioethics"

November 16 & 23: No colloquium


Tentative Winter Schedule

January 11     TBA (Social Epistemology)

January 18     TBA (Social Epistemology)

January 25     TBA (Social Epistemology)

February 1     TBA (Social Epistemology)

February 8     Patti Lenard (Ottawa, jointly sponsored by Political Studies) 

February 15   TBA

March 1         Michael Tomasello (Duke University, Dunning Trust Lecture)

March 8         Agnes Tam (Queen’s)

March 15       Charlotte Blattner (Queen’s)

March 22       Pablo Gilabert (Concordia)

March 29       TBA

April 5           Brad Inwood (Yale, Vlastos Lecture)