Research Clusters

Research Clusters

Our Research

Cluster Leaders: Jeanette Kennett, Richard Menary, Wendy Rogers, Catriona MackenzieCAVE provides a platform for collaboration between researchers in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, law, medicine, applied ethics and bioethics. A distinctive feature is our focus upon the philosophical, ethical and legal issues raised by the cognitive neurosciences. 

Aims: 

  • to foster interdisciplinary theoretical research on human agency and the self, moral cognition, the foundations of moral and legal norms, and moral and legal responsibility;
  • to address practical issues at the intersection of ethics, law and medicine (bioethics, clinical ethics, and biolaw) and at the intersection of ethics, cognitive science and law (neuroethics and neurolaw).

Our work falls into five main research clusters:

This strand undertakes research on theoretical aspects of human agency and selfhood, informed by relevant empirical research. Our research aims to extend existing theoretical frameworks for understanding the normative (i.e. governed by legal, moral and rational norms), relational (i.e. shaped by significant human relations), embodied (i.e. originating from and being expressed in distinctive bodily manifestations), and socially embedded (i.e. arising out of characteristic social structures, conventions and practices) dimensions of human agency and selfhood.

Current projects

Cinematic Ethics: Exploring Ethical Experience Through Film (2016)

Robert Sinnerbrink

ARC Future Fellowship (2013-2016). Awarded $580,878. 

Summary: This project develops a new interdisciplinary framework for understanding cinema's unique power to evoke ethical experience via audiovisual means. Combining philosophy with film analysis, it moves beyond the prevalent view that cinema merely illustrates moral situations, and challenges the long-held suspicion toward film's manipulative aesthetic power. This project proposes instead a model of cinematic ethics: an investigation of how cinema evokes ethical experience through emotional, cognitive, and aesthetic engagement. This project will advance the emerging interdisciplinary field of film-philosophy by highlighting film's under-recognised potential to enhance ethical understanding, and thus to promote greater social awareness and intercultural communication.

Completed projects

Poor social functioning in schizophrenia: understandings its causes and developing better treatments (2015)

Robyn Langdon

ARC Future Fellowship (2011-2015). Awarded: $674,019

Summary: Most people with schizophrenia find it difficult to function socially, at work, at home and with friends, leaving them economically and socially isolated. Current drug treatments do not improve the poor social functioning which patients and carers report as one of their greatest unmet treatment needs. It is imperative to better understand the psychological processes which cause this poor social functioning so that effective non-drug therapies can be developed. The proposed research focuses on understanding how disruptions of 'social cognition' (the processes of perceiving and inferring the thoughts/feelings of others) affect social functioning in schizophrenia, and ultimately on translating this knowledge into better therapies.

Mindful Bodies in Action: a philosophical study of skilled movement (2015)

John Sutton and Doris McIlwain

ARC Discovery Grant (2013-2015). Awarded: $325,000

Summary: Skilled experts in sport or dance perform extraordinary actions in perfect time, with exquisite control, and display resilient coping under pressure: their mindful bodies blend cognition and emotion in action. This project in philosophy of psychology seeks to integrate disconnected research on skilled movement in distinct disciplines, in a new account of embodied intelligence.  Our studies focus on three sets of issues, concerning (a) timing and anticipation; (b) control and agency; and (c) resilience, personality, and pressure.

Moral reasoning and mental illness: Towards a model of moral judgment and moral accountability (2014)

Robyn Langdon

ARC Discovery Project (2012-2014). Awarded: $180,000.

Summary: People with a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia, experience symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. Sometimes these individuals act on their psychotic symptoms and commit crimes. When they do, lawyers and psychiatrists must consider the mentally ill defendant's delusional beliefs, motivations and mental capacities for moral judgment. There is a gap in current scientific knowledge of moral judgment in schizophrenia to inform these considerations. This project will redress this gap in knowledge. Findings will, in turn, advance psychological theory of moral judgment and inform legal and philosophical consideration of the moral accountability of mentally ill defendants.

Point of View in Personal Memory: A philosophical study of perspective in remembering and imagining (2014)

John Sutton

ARC Discovery Project (2012-2014). Awarded: $114,000

Summary: Why do we sometimes remember our past experiences from an external 'observer' perspective, seeing ourselves in the remembered scene? In a philosophical study of this puzzling feature of subjective experience, I show how memory perspectives can be constructed yet still reliable. I critically evaluate psychological research and apply it to theoretical problems about truth in memory. Distinguishing visual from emotional and narrative perspectives, I focus on the significance of our capacities to switch perspectives, and to hold divergent perspectives in mind. A better grasp on point of view in personal memory helps us understand the complexity of our temporal experience and the way we integrate our perspectives on past, present, and future.

Dignity and respect: a Kantian theoretical approach to practical rationality and human agency (2014)

Paul Formosa

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2012-2014). Awarded: $375,000.00

Summary: Appeals to the innate dignity of human beings are commonplace in important public debates in bioethics and on the grounding of human rights. But why do humans, and not other animals, have dignity? Do all humans have dignity? And how should we practically acknowledge the dignity of others? This project will provide systematic answers to these questions by deploying an innovative Kantian theoretical framework. This will be used to show that the demands of practical reason ground the moral status of human agents as the bearers of dignity. The outcome of this project will be an improved understanding of human dignity, its basis, and its implications.

Vulnerability, Autonomy and Justice (2013)

(Joint project with Applied Ethics, Bioethics and Clinical Ethics cluster)

Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, Susan Dodds (UTas)

ARC Discovery Project (2011-13).

Summary: Bioethicists demand that we protect the vulnerable, but the concept of vulnerability is poorly understood. How and why does vulnerability give rise to moral claims? What makes someone vulnerable? This project develops a philosophical analysis of vulnerability and elucidates the connections between vulnerability, autonomy and justice. We will test the applicability of our account using practical examples from bioethics, such as health promotion campaigns, drug trials in developing countries or research with mentally ill people. The project will help us to understand vulnerability in ways that avoid stereotyping and paternalism. Our account of vulnerability will be of relevance for ethical theory, bioethics, and health policy and practice.

Work and Self-development: A Philosophical Reappraisal (2013)

Nick Smith, Jean-Philippe Deranty, Emmanuel Renault (ENS Lyon), Christophe Dejours (CNAM, Paris)

ARC Discovery Project (2010-2013). Awarded: $260,000

Summary: Many Australians are worried about work, perhaps in more complex ways than ever before. Young people entering work lack the orientation once provided by established career paths, mid life workers are often subject to disorienting shifts in role and difficulties finding the right 'work life' balance, and many people leaving work find their lives suddenly bereft of meaning. This project will shed light on these anxieties by framing work within an image of the human that does justice to the depth and complexity of contemporary work experience.

Film as Philosophy: Understanding Cinematic Thinking (2013)

Robert Sinnerbrink, Lisa Trahair and Gregory Flaxman

ARC Discovery Project (2010-2013). Awarded: $147,000

Summary: Cinematic thinking is the fundamental presupposition of a recent trend in the study of cinema known as 'film-philosophy'. Yet what the concept of cinematic thinking entails and how precisely films can be understood as thinking objects remains a neglected or contentious issue in these new approaches. This project will establish the parameters for understanding cinematic thinking by analysing how thought is conceived in both philosophical approaches to film and films by key contemporary filmmakers. The project's significance lies in its critical intervention into a new genre of academic writing and its contribution to the understanding of film as philosophy.

Autonomy and Oppression: A Relational Analysis (2013)

Natalie Stoljar (McGill) and Catriona Mackenzie

SSHRC Grant (2010-2013).

Summary: This project investigates the problem of whether, and how, agents who are subject to oppression can nevertheless be autonomous. We define personal autonomy as the condition of governing oneself; that is, the condition of not being subject to the direction or will of others. Being in the condition of autonomy requires that agents have the capacity for autonomy. Can agents who are oppressed be genuinely free agents? Can they be genuinely self-governing even if their ability to make choices and adopt preferences is curtailed by the social circumstances of oppression in which they are embedded? To answer this question, the project makes three intersecting hypotheses: the first is that autonomy is relational; the second is that the condition of autonomy is substantive and normative, and not the result of a purely procedural capacity. The third is that a relational, substantive account of autonomy will illuminate and explain the invidious effects of oppression on agents' freedom.

Addiction, Moral Identity and Moral Agency: Integrating Theoretical and Empirical Approaches (2012)

(Joint project with Moral Cognition, Neuroethics, and Neurolaw cluster)

Jeanette Kennett, Steve Matthews and Craig Fry

ARC Discovery Project (2010 - 2012).

Summary: Recent scientific advances are clarifying the role of the brain in drug addiction and the impact of drug use on judgment, self-control and behaviour. This project seeks to examine the impact of addiction on the moral self-conception, practical identity, and values, of drug addicted persons themselves and compare it to perceptions currently informing treatment. It will test and refine philosophical accounts of the elements of responsible agency and self-control against the neuroscientific data and other empirical work, and develop a set of recommendations for ethical and effective public policies and practices in the addictions field.

Causes that make a difference: a philosophical theory of token causation (2012)

Peter Menzies

ARC Discovery Project (2010-2012).

Summary: Our understanding of causation, as it relates types of event (type-causation), has progressed in leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. However, our understanding of causation, as it relates particular events (token-causation), has lagged behind. Yet token-causal concepts play a crucial role in explanatory practices throughout the sciences and in moral and legal practices of attributing responsibility to agents. The aim of this project is to apply the techniques that have been so successful in elucidating type-causal concepts to token-causal concepts. The expected outcome will be an enhanced understanding of token-causal concepts and their role in core human practices.

Justice, Democracy, Cosmpolitanism and Political Identity: A Kantian Perspective (2011)

Paul Formosa 

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2009-2011).

Summary: At the foundation of many of the most serious and important practical problems facing modern societies are questions about the basis of normativity, and the relationship between normativity, values and agency. Through a novel theoretical appropriation of Immanuel Kant's constructivist approach to normative questions this project will provide practical insight into important issues such as: the nature of political identity in multicultural societies; cosmopolitanism and national sovereignty; the responsibilities of citizenship; the future of democracy; the connection between virtue and justice; and the relationship between obligations and values. The outcomes of this project will enhance our understanding of these core issues and their normative foundations.

The social ontology of personhood - a recognition-theoretical approach (2010)

Heikki Ik√§heimo 

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2008-2010).

Summary: Humans only develop into persons in interaction with others. But what exactly does being a person involve, and how exactly are the features that make someone a person dependent on social interaction, or more generally on social and institutional structures? This project aims, first, at developing a multi-componential model of "full-fledged personhood" that incorporates institutional, interpersonal and psychological elements and shows how exactly these are interrelated. Secondly, the elements of personhood are shown to be connected to fundamental social structures constitutive of any life-form of human persons (social norms, values and cooperative structures). The project enhances understanding on how the prerequisites of flourishing as a person and the prerequisites of flourishing as a society are interconnected.

Mental Causation in a Physical World (2009)

Peter Menzies

ARC Discovery Project (2006-2009).

Summary: It is part of commonsense psychology that mental states cause behaviour. The problem of mental causation arises because this seems to be impossible given a scientific view about the causal powers of the brain. How can mental states make a difference to behaviour when the underpinning physical states of the brain are already sufficient to bring about the behaviour? The current project proposes a novel solution to this problem. The project advances a systematic theory of causation that explains how physical causes of behaviour at one level of description can co-exist with mental causes at a different level of description.

This strand develops interdisciplinary collaborative research projects in applied ethics and bioethics on a range of issues with significant practical implications for public policy and professional practice in legal and health contexts. The focus of this cluster is distinctive in that it brings together philosophers, legal scholars, bioethicists and practitioners, to undertake projects characterized by theoretical sophistication and practical applicability.

Current projects

Gender in Surgery: An Exploration of Biases Affecting Surgeons, Trainees and Patients

Katrina Hutchison

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2016-2019)

Summary: Gender biases are evident in the underrepresentation of women in the surgical profession and in the experiences of women surgical patients, suggesting systemic inequities in surgery. Surgery is a highly utilised healthcare modality, and surgeons are a highly paid professional group, so gender inequities in surgery are significant both in terms of health and wider social impact.  The aim of this project is to investigate the causes of these disparities and connections between them, then to work with members of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to develop practical strategies for change based on the research findings. In addition to the development of these strategies, the research findings will be reported in academic and non-academic publications.

Conscience and Conscientious Objection (2015-2017)

Stephen P. Clarke, Jeanette M. Kennett, and Julian Savulescu

ARC Discovery Project. (2015-2017) Funding: $333,333

Summary: Medical professionals sometimes decline to provide particular forms of safe, beneficial and legal health care, on the grounds that provision would go against their consciences. Bioethicists and policy makers have failed to identify legitimate limits to the scope of appeals to conscientious objection in health care. This is in large part because the underlying concept ''conscience" is unclear. This project aims to advance bioethical debate by producing a philosophically and psychologically informed analysis of conscience, and by applying this to discussions about the legitimate limits to conscientious objection in health care. It is expected to result in academic and non-academic publications and enable improvements to Australian health care policy.

Defining Disease: addressing the problem of overdiagnosis (2013-2016)

Wendy Rogers

ARC Future Fellowship FT130100346 (2013-2016). Awarded $820,156.

Summary: This project aims to investigate and define the limits of physical disease, to answer questions about when a presentation is a disease, and when it is simply a risk factor or mild condition. The ensuing account of disease will make a practical contribution to growing international concern about asymptomatic people being diagnosed and treated for conditions that will not cause any health problems ("overdiagnosis"). The research will provide normative grounds for evaluating disease claims. Results will reduce the harms caused by people receiving treatment that they do not require, make a practical contribution to debates about the scope of health care, and yield findings that can help to reduce the cost-burdens associated with overdiagnosis.

Completed projects

On the cutting edge: Promoting best practice in surgical innovation (2012-2015)

Wendy Rogers, Jane Johnson, Angela Ballantyne, Mianna Lotz, Denise Meyerson, Bernadette Richards, Tony Eyers, Guy Maddern and Colin Thomson

ARC Linkage grant LP110200217 (2012-2015). Awarded $255,000.

The project is also funded by a Macquarie University Linkage Projects Seeding Grant (2010).

Summary: Innovative surgery refers to the evolution of existing surgical procedures and the development of new ones. The practice is vital to progress in healthcare, yet it raises a number of ethical, legal and regulatory concerns since it falls into a 'grey area' between research and ordinary practice. The aim of this project is to use theoretical and empirical investigation to develop a framework for evaluating innovative surgery. The associated tools and resources that we develop will improve informed consent processes, training for surgeons undertaking new procedures, and the hospital regulation of innovative surgery. The outcomes of this research will deliver benefits to patients, practitioners, healthcare managers and regulators.

There are two PhD students associated with this project. Rebacca Tock is investigating issues to do with embodiment, personal autonomy and informed consent in relation to innovative surgery (supervisors Prof Rogers and Dr Johnson). Leigh Dayton is investigating Australian innovation policy using the bionic eye as an in-depth case study (supervisors Prof Rogers and Dr Hutchison).

How do we know what works?: Ethics and evidence in surgical research (2012-2015)

Wendy Rogers

ARC Discovery Project (2012-2014). Awarded: $115,000.

Summary: This project aims to make surgery safer for patients by improving our understanding of evidence in surgery. We will look at the question "what works" in surgery; and the ethical implications of different ways of generating surgical research evidence.

Animals-as-patients: preventing human guinea pigs in innovative surgery (2012-2014)

Jane Johnson

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2012-2014).

Summary: Innovative surgery is vital to medical progress, yet its practice creates substantial ethical risks, including harm to patients. Animal experimentation can overcome some of these risks but at an ethical cost of its own. This project aims to overcome issues in both these fields by developing a new model of animal experimentation which treats animals as patients. This model is significant because of the gravity of the problems it addresses in surgical innovation and animal experimentation. The research will contribute to better outcomes for human patients undergoing innovative surgery, and improved treatment of animals in experimentation.

Vulnerability, Autonomy and Justice (2011-2013)

(Joint project with Human Agency and Selfhood cluster)

Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, Susan Dodds (UTas)

ARC Discovery Project (2011-2013).

Summary: Bioethicists demand that we protect the vulnerable, but the concept of vulnerability is poorly understood. How and why does vulnerability give rise to moral claims? What makes someone vulnerable? This project develops a philosophical analysis of vulnerability and elucidates the connections between vulnerability, autonomy and justice. We will test the applicability of our account using practical examples from bioethics, such as health promotion campaigns, drug trials in developing countries or research with mentally ill people. This project will help us to understand vulnerability in ways that avoid stereotyping or paternalism. Our account of vulnerability will be of relevance for ethical theory, bioethics, and health policy and practice.

A Novel Approach to Research Ethics: Using Social Epistemology to Investigate Social Responsibilities for Knowledge Generation and Use (2011-2012)

Cynthia Townley, Wendy Rogers

Macquarie University Research Development Grant (2011-2012).

Summary: Clinicians can prescribe novel (not yet approved) medical devices under special access provisions. Data from these treatments are collected and used to create unofficial pathways to regulatory approval. This process lacks the rigour and oversight of formal research, thereby undermining the integrity of our knowledge about safety and efficacy. Our analysis of special access schemes provides an original view of the ethical issues and suggests new ways of responding to these issues. 

Ethics and Evidence in Surgical Research (2011)

Wendy Rogers  

Macquarie University Safety Net Funding Scheme (2011).

Summary: Surgery can relieve symptoms, cure diseases and even save lives. But to do this, surgery must be safe and effective, as proven by research into surgical techniques and interventions. Existing research into surgical procedures is however, unsystematic and often of low quality. This project uses scholarship in epistemology and ethics to investigate the theoretical, ethical and practical challenges of surgical research. The results will improve and expand understanding about how we know "what works" in surgery.

Animals as patients: addressing ethical challenges in innovative surgery

Jane Johnson

Macquarie University Safety Net Grant Scheme

Summary: Innovative surgery is vital to progress in medicine, yet its practice creates substantial ethical risks, including harm to patients. Animal experimentation can overcome some of these risks but at an ethical cost of its own. This project aims to overcome issues in both these fields by developing a new model of animal experimentation which treats animals as patients.

Donations after Cardiac Death: ethical issues encountered by practitioners (2008-2009).

Wendy Rogers and Sheryl de Lacey

Flinders University Faculty of Health Sciences Partnership Grant (2008-2009).

Summary: Recently Australia has re-introduced the practice of organ donations after cardiac death, in which organs are retrieved after the person's breathing and circulation have ceased. Donations after cardiac death raise a number of ethical issues that differ from those raised by the more traditional organ donations after certification of brain death. This research project is a pilot investigation of the views of health care professionals involved in all aspects of donations after cardiac death. The aim is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the ethical and legal issues that face practitioners in this challenging area of practice.

Consent in the void: moral, legal and community values in decisions about human biological donations (2007-2009)

Sheryl de Lacey, Wendy Rogers, Ngaire Naffine, Annette Braunack-Mayer, Bernadette Richards, Angela Ballantyne

ARC Discovery Grant (2007-2009)

Summary: Decisions about the newly dead and embryos are growing in frequency and complexity. Current law and practical guidance do not fully address the range of issues that now exist. Personal sovereignty over the use of our bodies after death or for frozen embryos is sacrificed, as decisions are overturned by third parties. This leads to lost opportunities for improved health care. This study will contribute to understanding of legal and moral duties, and community views in relation to consent decisions about the newly dead and frozen embryos. The findings will inform both practice and future legislative reform.

INCISIVE (ARC Linkage Project) updates
Project publications
  • Hutchison, K., Rogers, W., Eyers, A., Lotz, M. Getting clearer about surgical innovation: a new definition and a new tool to support responsible practice. Annals of Surgery. (First published online: 25 Feb 2015.)
  • Richards, B., Porter, G., Lipworth, W. and Lysaght, T. The Medical Innovation Bill: Still More Harm than Good. Clinical Ethics. 2015.
  • Meyerson, D. Is there a right to access innovative surgery? Bioethics. (First published online: 3 Sept 2014.)
  • Johnson, J. and Rogers, W. Joint issues - conflicts of interest and the ASR hip. BMC Medical Ethics. 2014; 15: 63
  • Rogers, W., Lots, M., Hutchison, K., Pourmoslemi, A., Eyers, A. Identifying surgical innovation: A quality study of surgeons' views. Annals of Surgery. 2014; 259 (2): 273-8.
  • Lotz, M. Surgical innovation as sui generis surgical research. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 2013; 34 (6): 447-459.
  • Meyerson, D. Innovation Surgery and Precautionary Principle. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 2013; 38: 605-624.
  • Myerson, D. What Chapell v Hart really stands for and some ramifications for innovative surgery. ANZ Journal of Surgery. 2013; 83 (9): 601-602.
  • Rogers, W. and Johnson, J. Addressing within-role conflicts of interest in surgery. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 2013; 10 (2): 219-225.
  • Johnson, J., Rogers, W., Jeffree, L. Controversy over Vertebroplasty. Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology. 2012; 56: 449-451.
  • Johnson, J. and Rogers, W. Innovative surgery: the ethical challenges. Journal of Medical Ethics. 2012; 38: 9-12.
  • Johnson, J., Rogers, W., Lotz, M., Townley, C., Meyerson, D. and Tomossy, G. The ethical challenges of innovative surgery - a response to the IDEAL recommendations. Lancet. 2010; 376 (9746): 1113-1115.
Project Newsletters

For more information or copies of any publications, please contact Swantje Lorrimer-Mohr.

Neuroethics and neurolaw are new fields which have arisen in response to developments in cognitive neuroscience. This cluster engages in interdisciplinary, collaborative research that investigates the impact and theoretical implications of developments in cognitive neuroscience for our understanding of the elements of human moral cognition, of the capacities (such as self-control) which subserve moral and legal responsibility, and for conceptions of agency, free will, human nature, and moral competence.

Our research has led to the formation of the Australian Neurolaw Database, which is now a joint project with The University of Sydney Law School.

Current projects

Australian Neurolaw Database (2011-)

Jeanette Kennett (Project Leader), Nicole Vincent, Sascha Callaghan, Allan McCay, Elizabeth Schier, Chris Rudge, Armin Alimardani

Macquarie University Research Fellowship; Macquarie University's Centre for Agency and Values Bridging Funding; Macquarie University MQ Strategic Infrastructure Support Grant; Sydney University's SyReNs Sydney Neuroscience Network

Summary: The Australian Neurolaw Database began in Macquarie University’s Philosophy Department in 2011 when  Nicole Vincent was researching the use and impact of neuroscientific evidence in criminal law where it is most often used in sentencing to mitigate responsibility. In 2015, Macquarie University began a collaboration with the Law School at the University of Sydney, where Dr Sascha Callaghan was researching the use of neuroscience in civil law, where it is used for example to establish dementia or suffering.  With support from an MQSIS grant the database was launched in November 2015.

The aim of this database is to provide legal practitioners, academics, and anyone interested in neurolaw, a place where important Australian case law (and original summaries) can be found. Our research also involves detailed coding for relevant data that capture the flow of neuroscientific evidence within each case. We are in the process of analysing these to test various hypothesis regarding the uses of neuroscience and the differences that neuroscientific evidence makes in the courtroom.

Australian Neurolaw Database Project website

Conscience and Conscientious Objection (2015-2017)

Stephen P. Clarke, Jeanette M. Kennett, and Julian Savulescu

ARC Discovery Project. (2015-2017) Funding: $333,333

Summary: Medical professionals sometimes decline to provide particular forms of safe, beneficial and legal health care, on the grounds that provision would go against their consciences. Bioethicists and policy makers have failed to identify legitimate limits to the scope of appeals to conscientious objection in health care. This is in large part because the underlying concept ''conscience" is unclear. This project aims to advance bioethical debate by producing a philosophically and psychologically informed analysis of conscience, and by applying this to discussions about the legitimate limits to conscientious objection in health care. It is expected to result in academic and non-academic publications and enable improvements to Australian health care policy.

Completed projects

Sexism in scientific and pseudo-scientific explanations of sex inequality: An empirical, ethical and educative approach (2011-2015)

Cordelia Fine

ARC Future Fellowship (2011-2015). Awarded: $537,308

Summary: Today, as in the past, scientific claims about sex differences in the brain are drawn upon to explain and justify sex inequalities in society. Such conclusions are scientifically premature, and lead to confident popular claims that have potential for self-fulfilling effects and other negative consequences. The project will expand our knowledge of the consequences of beliefs and information about supposed hardwired differences between the sexes, and provide an account of the ethical responsibilities of scientists who work in this field. In addition, the quality of both scientific research and public understanding will be improved, through education and engagement of the scientific community and wider society.

Reapprasing the Capacitarian Foundation of Neurolaw: on the Assessment, Restoration and Enhancement of Responsibility (2011-2013)

Nicole Vincent

Macquarie University Research Fellowship. (2011-2013) Funding: $46,906

Summary: This philosophy of law project will investigate the theoretical potential for psychopharmaceuticals and other brain interventions to restore and enhance responsibility by amplifying mental capacities. This will shed new light on our "capacitarian" understanding of how responsibility relates to mental capacity, and that in turn will illuminate the conceptual soundness of some recent suggestions by "neurolaw" proponents that brain scans capable of revealing people's mental capacities could in principle help courts to more accurately assess responsibility. This project will also provide the first appraisal of how neuroscience is used in legal settings in Australia and New Zealand.

Emotions, Imagination and Moral Reasoning (2012)

Robyn Langdon and Catriona Mackenzie

Summary: This project brings together philosophical perspectives on the role of emotions and imagination in moral cognition with psychological findings from the neurosciences, cognitive sciences, social psychology, personality theory, and developmental psychology. Among the issues and the questions examined are the following: What can we learn about the importance of empathic responsiveness in moral cognition by studying typically developing young children, young children and adolescents with callous-unemotional traits, and adults from the general community with psychopathic tendencies? What are the theoretical implications for moral philosophy of recent experimental research on emotions and moral reasoning in the neurosciences, cognitive science and social psychology? Conversely, do the existing theoretical frameworks and experimental methodologies in empirical moral psychology do justice to the normative dimensions of moral discourse and to the complexity of everyday moral reflection? How might these theoretical frameworks and experimental methodologies be improved, with collaborative input from researchers across the various disciplines involved in moral cognition research?

Addiction, Moral Identity and Moral Agency: Integrating Theoretical and Empirical Approaches (2010-2012)

(Joint project with Human Agency and Selfhood cluster)

Jeanette Kennett, Steve Matthews and Craig Fry

ARC Discovery Project (2010-2012).

Summary: Recent scientific advances are clarifying the role of the brain in drug addiction and the impact of drug use on judgment, self-control and behaviour. This project seeks to examine the impact of addiction on the moral self-conception, practical identity, and values, of drug addicted persons themselves and compare it to perceptions currently informing treatment. It will test and refine philosophical accounts of the elements of responsible agency and self-control against the neuroscientific data and other empirical work, and develop a set of recommendations for ethical and effective public policies and practices in the addictions field.

Implicit persuasion in pharmaceutical marketing: ethical implications for regulators and consumers (2010-2012)

Paul Biegler, Jeanette Kennett, Justin Oakley.

ARC Discovery Project (2010-2012). Awarded $449,000.

Neuroethics: The practical and the philosophical (2007-2009)

Neil Levy and Jeanette Kennett

ARC Discovery Project (2007-2009). Awarded $185,000.

Summary: The benefits of the project are twofold: practically, it will enable us to better regulate, personally and socially, the new technologies that the sciences of the mind are already producing; intellectually, it will enable us to better understand human agency in the light of the new knowledge generated by the sciences of the mind, and it will help to maintain Australia's reputation as an international leader in applied ethics and in philosophy of mind and agency.

This research cluster explores the neural and cultural basis of mental phenomena such as: consciousness, self, agency, language, the emotions, and skills. Our research is interdisciplinary, drawing on work in philosophy, anthropology and cognitive science. In particular we focus on the evolution and development of mental phenomena in the context of rich socio-cultural niches.

Current projects

Causal Foundations of Biological Information (2013-2016)

Karola Stotz (Macquarie); Paul Griffiths, Arnaud Pocheville (Sydney)

Templeton World Charity Foundation (2013-2016). Awarded $1,255,579.

Summary:  Our leading big question is: Is biological information a substantive causal factor in living systems? The source of order and purpose in living systems has been the main question at the intersection of philosophy and biology since the 18th century. For many decades it has seemed evident that the answer must lie in some distinctive role for information in living systems. However, attempts to turn this idea into a rigorous theory have been disappointing. We have an original and promising strategy that learns from these past disappointments.

Our hypothesis is that 'Crick information' provides a common currency for the sources of order in living systems. Crick information is constituted by a distinctive kind of causal relationship. This relationship, which Crick originally identified between nucleic acids and their products, also describes the informing role of gene-regulatory mechanisms, of environmental signals that affect gene expression through those mechanisms, and the order that emerges from self organization. Living systems are informed by Crick information distributed between coding sequences, regulatory sequences, and the developmental environment, and assembled through gene regulatory mechanisms and the processes of morphogenesis.

The Enculturated Brain: How Culture Transforms the Brain and Extends our Cognitive Capacities (2013-2017)

Richard Menary

ARC Future Fellowship (2013-2017). Awarded $589,656.

Summary: This project aims to advance our understanding of the influence of the cultural and social environment on our cognitive capabilities. Its significance lies in producing a theoretical model of how human brains have evolved to be culturally situated. The outcome will be a model that explains how as a species: our brains evolved in richly social and cultural environments; how each human brain develops in such an environment; and, how culture transforms the brain. The cultural transformation of our brains results in culturally extended cognitive systems. This will be a significant innovation in our current understanding of how brains, bodies and culture transform our basic cognitive capabilities.

Changing your mind by changing your brain: An interventionist perspective on cognitive neuroscience (2014-2018)

Colin Klein

ARC Future Fellowship (2014-2018). Awarded $609,220.

Summary: Functional neuroimaging provides a tremendous amount of information about the brain, but what it shows about the mind is less clear. Addressing this fundamental philosophical question requires developing a detailed account of theory-testing in cognitive neuroscience. This project aims to connect neuroimaging to theories of explanation that focus on the way one variable can make a difference to another. By linking neuroimaging to facts about manipulable relationships between the brain and the mind, it will also provide a bridge between neuroimaging and complementary technologies for directly intervening on the brain. This, in turn, will provide a platform from which to explore the theoretical and ethical consequences of direct brain manipulation.

What is this thing called race? (2015-2018)

Adam Hochman

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2015 - 2018). Awarded $292,495.

Summary: Academic debate about the reality of race is raging once again. There is an emerging consensus amongst scientists and philosophers regarding the facts about human biological diversity. However, this is not moving the debate toward a resolution because scholars are employing different definitions of ‘race’. This project aims to show that those who argue for the reality of race get the meaning of ‘race’ wrong.

Completed Projects

Embodied Virtues and Expertise (2010-2013)

Richard Menary (lead investigator), Shaun Gallagher, Daniel Hutto, Christopher Winch and David Simpson

ARC Discovery project (2010-2013). Awarded $293,000. 

Summary: The main question that this project seeks to answer is: How do experts embody the knowledge and skills required for fluid and flexible skilled activity in real time? The proposed answer is a unique combination of embodied cognition and virtue epistemology which explains expertise in terms of embodied skills and reliable cognitive abilities, referred to in the literature as cognitive virtues.

This multi-disciplinary strand undertakes research into the theoretical and normative foundations of human rights and investigates how human rights can advance social justice. It brings together philosophers, lawyers and other human rights researchers and combines work on the nature, function and reach of human rights with investigation of their practical implementation. Researchers in this strand work on a range of human rights issues of contemporary importance. These include equality for vulnerable individuals and disenfranchised social groups, poverty, migration, detention and access to justice.

Current Projects

A Relational Theory of Procedural Justice (2017)

Denise Meyerson, Catriona Mackenzie, and Therese MacDermott

ARC Discovery Project (2017). Awarded: $207,000

Summary: This project aims to develop a relational theory of procedural justice, based on the quality of interactions between individuals and legal authorities. Just procedures maintain the public's trust in the legal system, but lawyers and philosophers have not studied what makes legal procedures morally justifiable. The project will use empirical studies about the public's understanding of procedural justice to enrich the normative analysis and demonstrate the value of the theory in the practical setting of tribunal proceedings. This research is expected to contribute to theoretical and practical debates about how to improve legal procedures.

Completed projects

Law, Morality and Risk

Denise Meyerson

Summary: The traditional response of the law to harmful conduct is backwards-looking: liability is imposed on the basis of past conduct. Increasingly, however, the law is being used to prevent conduct which poses a future risk of harm. On this forwards-looking approach, the rights and liberties of individuals are restricted not because of what they have done in the past but purely because of what they might do in the future. The aim of this project is to investigate the moral, political and human rights issues which attend such coercive preventive measures. It will propose an ethical and rights-respecting framework to guide policymakers in this area.

The Impact of Human Rights Legislation in Australia

Denise Meyerson and Simon Rice

Macquarie University Research Development Grant

Summary: This project contributes to the development of law and public policy in the field of human rights. The impetus behind it is the notable absence of information in countries which have enacted bills of rights as to whether they make a difference and even how one might tell. Since Australia is at the beginning of this process, and since the need for human rights legislation is a subject of national debate, the aim of this project is to assess the extent to which recent human rights legislation in the ACT and Victoria has increased respect for human rights. Target areas are courts and tribunals, public debate, lawyers and civil society organisations. The findings will be used to make submissions to current inquiries into human rights legislation.

Population Challenges for the Local Court of New South Wales (2012)

Brian Opeskin

Consultancy for NSW Department of Attorney-General and Justice, Sydney (2011-2012).

The Foundations of International Migration Law (2011)

Brian Opeskin

Consultancy for International Organization for Migration, Geneva (2010-2011).

The Influence of International Law on the International Movement of People (2010)

Brian Opeskin

Consultancy for United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report Office, New York (2009-2010)

Model Public Health Laws for the Pacific (2010)

Brian Opeskin, G. Howse

AusAID, Australian Research Development Award (2008-2010).

The Centre also hosts the following:

CAVE NetworkThe Agency and Moral Cognition Network brings together philosophers, psychologists and cognitive scientists from across Australasia for regular meetings and the exchange of research. It is informed by contemporary research in the relevant sciences and seeks to identify and focus upon key issues in the areas of moral reasoning and judgment, memory and emotion, skilled agency, disorders of agency, neuroethics, neurolaw, and moral and legal responsibility. One of the goals of the network is to capitalise on growing interest and engagement in interdisciplinary research in agency and moral cognition and to provide a platform for research collaborations and grant applications.  The network aims to develop research links and exchanges with the Moral Psychology Research Group in the US, the Florey Neuroscience Institutes in Melbourne, the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics in the UK and a number of European partners. 

Contact: Jeanette Kennett

Network members

Jeanette Kennett (Convenor)Philosophy, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Neil Levy (Co-convenor)Florey Neurosciences Institute and Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
Steve ClarkeCentre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University
Daniel CohenPhilosophy, Charles Sturt University
Marc de RosnayPsychology, University of Sydney
Jorge FernandezPhilosophy, University of Adelaide
Cordelia FineSchool of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
CAVE Member
Benjamin FraserPhilosophy, Australian National University
Philip GerransPhilosophy, University of Adelaide
Toby HandfieldPhilosophy, Monash University
Jakob HowhyPhilosophy, Monash University
Karen JonesPhilosophy, University of Melbourne
Colin KleinPhilosophy, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Simon LahamPsychology, University of Melbourne
Robyn LangdonCognitive Science, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Catriona MackenziePhilosophy, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Mem MahmutPsychology, Macquarie University
Jonathan McGuireCognitive Science, Macquarie University
Richard MenaryPhilosophy, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Gerard O'BrienPhilosophy, University of Adelaide
Dominic MurphyHistory and Philosophy of Science, Sydney University
Ian RavenscroftPhilosophy, Flinders University
Luke RussellPhilosophy, University of Sydney
John SuttonCognitive Science, Macquarie University
CAVE Member
Nicole A. VincentPhilosophy, Georgia State University
CAVE Member
Graham WoodPhilosophy, University of Tasmania

Network events

Information available under our conferences and workshops events page.

  • 2016: Workshop on October 14, at CAVE, Macquarie University.
  • 2015: Meeting on November 4-5, at CAVE, Macquarie University.
    Keynote speaker: Prof. Heidi Maibom (Cincinnati), "Imagining Feelings."
  • 2014: Meeting on May 29-30, at CAVE, Macquarie University. 
    Keynote speaker: Prof. Fiery Cushman (Brown University), "Why Learning Matters for Morality."
  • 2013: Meeting on September 25-26, at Florey Neurosciences Institute, University of Melbourne.
  • 2011: Meeting on July 21, at CAVE, Macquarie University.
    Topic: "Character, Capacity, and Personality."

Our members also work on the Australian Neurolaw Database Project.

Return to CAVE main page.

Page last updated: 13 Oct 2016

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