Research Clusters and Themes

Research Clusters and Themes

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:

CAVE Cluster Agency

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

No current projects.

Completed 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.

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.

CAVE Cluster Bioethics

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

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.

Gender in Surgery: An Exploration of Biases Affecting Surgeons, Trainees and Patients (2016-2019)

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.

Defining Disease: addressing the problem of overdiagnosis (2014-2018)

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.

Project Publications

  1. Walker M and Rogers W. Diagnosis, identity, and the experience of asymptomatic disease. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics (accepted June 2016)
  2. Walker MJ and Rogers WA. A new approach to defining disease. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (accepted May 2016)
  3. Doust J, Walker M and Rogers W. Current dilemmas in defining the boundaries of disease. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (accepted 13 October 2016; published online 21 April 2017: DOI: 10.1093/jmp/jhx009)
  4. Rogers W and Walker MJ. The line-drawing problem in disease definition. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (accepted 19 August 2016; published online 21 April 2017: DOI; 10.1093/jmp/jhx010)
  5. Rogers WA and Mintzker Y. Response to Bjorn Hofmann: Clarifying overdiagnosis without losing conceptual complexity (invited response). Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice (published online 15 December 2016) DOI: 10.1111/jep.12682
  6. Walker M and Rogers W. Defining disease in the context of overdiagnosis. Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy (first online: 15 November 2016; DOI: 10.1007/s11019-016-9748-8).
  7. Rogers W and Mintztker Y. Casting the net too wide on overdiagnosis: benefits, burdens and non-harmful disease (invited commentary) J Med Ethics 2016;42 (11): 717-719 (Published online 9 Aug 2016. doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103715).
  8. Brown RCH, Rogers WA, Entwistle VA, Bhattacharya S. Reframing the debate about state responses to subfertility. Public Health Ethics 2016; 2016 9: 290-300.  doi: 10.1093/phe/phw005
  9. Rogers WA and Mintzker Y. Getting clearer on overdiagnosis. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 2016; 22: 580-587. (doi:10.1111/jep.12556) [6 May 2016]
  10. Rogers W and Walker M. Fragility, uncertainty, and healthcare. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2016: 37(1); 71-83. DOI: 10.1007/s11017-016-9350-3
  11. Rogers W and Mintzker Y. General Practice Ethics: Overdiagnosis, harm and paternalism Australian Family Physician 2015; 44 (10): 765-766.
  12. Carter SM, Rogers W, Heath I, Degeling C, Doust J, Barratt A. The challenge of overdiagnosis begins with its definition. BMJ 2015; 350: h869. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h869 http://www.bmj.com/specialties/digital-theme-issue-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.

CAVE Cluster Mind

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

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.

Solving the puzzle of the emergence of individuals in evolution (2017-2020)

Pierrick Bourrat (Macquarie)

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2017 - 2020).

Summary: This interdisciplinary project will make progress on the concept of individuality and how it relates to the formal aspects of evolutionary theory. It aims to provide a general framework to understand the origins of individuals in evolution and more particularly the transitions from uni- to multicellular organisms. The question of the transitions in individuality is one to which current evolutionary theory does not adequately respond. The project will use a wide range of tools (such as statistical modelling, computer simulations and collaborative experimental work) which, once integrated into this framework, will lead to an improved understanding of the processes involved in the emergence in evolution of new kinds of individuals.

Completed 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.

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.

CAVE Cluster Rights

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

Forensic Ecologies: States of War, Biopolitics of the More-Than-Human, Justice

Joseph Pugliese

Monograph: forthcoming Edinburgh University Press

Summary: Forensic Ecologies refracts the concept of the biopolitical through a non-anthropocentric frame in order to disclose the more-than-human entities that are also the targets of armed conflict. Focusing on the occupied Palestinian territories, the US drone killing fields of South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, and Guant√°namo, the book challenges Euro-anthropocentric law’s dogma of human exceptionalism. In the context of states of war, trees, rocks, animals and water offer forensic testimonies that articulate a call for ecological justice. Situated in the global anthropocenic crisis, the book contends that ecological justice offers the foundational ground for all other modalities of justice.

Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States (2016 - 2018)

Joseph Pugliese, Sherene Razack, Jonathan Inda, and Marianne Franklin.

ARC Discovery Project (2016 - 2018). Awarded $440,000.

Summary: This research seeks new ways to document, understand and respond to the critical issue of racialised deaths in sites of state custody such as police cells, prisons and immigration detention centres. It brings together a cross-disciplinary and transnational team from four countries to examine the conditions under which Indigenous and border-related deaths occur, and to explore how legal and social accountability for them is assigned. Moving away from individual national contexts, it seeks to identify and map, at global as well as local levels, the shared institutional practices, technologies and explanatory frameworks that characterize custodial deaths in the key settler states of Australia, Canada and the United States. Lead CI: Professor Suvendrini Perera, Curtin University. Partner Investigators are Professor Sherene Razack, University of California, Los Angeles; Professor Jonathan Inda, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne; Professor Marianne Franklin, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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.

In addition to the clusters, our work has three cross-cutting themes:

Neuroethics and Neurolaw Theme Leaders

This theme explores the impact and implications of developments in cognitive neuroscience for agency, moral cognition, and moral and legal responsibility.

Current projects

No current projects.

Jane Johnson

This cross cutting research theme develops interdisciplinary collaborative research on the cognitive capacities and moral status of animals, and the implications of these for human and animal interactions. It aims to contribute to an empirically informed animal philosophy and to enhance the quality of engagement and understanding between the sciences and the humanities around animals. The theme builds on existing research strengths in the Department of Philosophy on animal ethics and cognition, and taps into animal related work being done across existing research clusters in CAVE and Macquarie University more broadly.

Current projects

No current projects.

Paul Formosa

This research theme explores the ethical implications both of advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning and of increasing human-computer interactions. This research theme cuts across several areas, and includes interdisciplinary work examining the nature of moral engagement in videogames, the workplace implications of increasing automatisation, the use of AI in medicine, and the ethical issues raised by artificial intelligences making autonomous moral judgments.

Current projects

Cybersecurity ethics training simulations for values-based decision-making, 2020-2022

CIs D. Richards, M. Ryan, P. Formosa, M. Hitchens. PIs V. Dignum

ARC Discovery Project. Funding: $375,000

Summary: This Project will investigate ways to train reflective ethical decision making in cybersecurity management through the design of interactive social simulations. The Project will advance understanding and management of human factors in cybersecurity breaches and the field of serious game design for cybersecurity training by using new techniques for building artificially intelligent virtual agents, drawing on interdisciplinary expertise in ethics, artificial intelligence and serious game design. Expected outcomes of the Project include a new framework and technologies for cybersecurity training. This should provide significant benefits through deeper understanding of the ethical impact of new cybertechnologies and training solutions.

Designing for moral engagement in videogames, 2018-2020

CI Malcolm Ryan, CI Paul Formosa, CI Stephanie Howarth, and PI Jane Messer

Macquarie Research Seeding Grant. Funding: $47,986

Summary: There is a growing interest in videogames for ethics education as they can provide a safe yet meaningful space for players to practice moral choice. A well-designed game can immerse a player in a world and challenge them with difficult moral choices, but poor design can negate this challenge by making in-game morality merely a strategic choice made to win, instead of for its own sake. To establish which design factors are most important in maintaining moral engagement, we will implement a variety of games based around a common set of moral narratives and test them with human subjects, recording their choices. The outcome will be a set of validated design principles for the creation of games for ethics education.

Conferring dignity in law and health care, 2019-2021

CIs L. Barclay, S. Killmister, C. Crock, P. Formosa. PIs J. Tasioulas & O. Sensen

ARC Discovery Project. Funding: $240,000

Summary: This project aims to develop a new and more inclusive philosophical conception of dignity. It expects to generate an innovative alternative to the view that dignity is inherent, which is exclusionary: not all human beings possess the relevant inherent traits. A conception of dignity as something conferred will be developed, and the case made that such dignity can and should be conferred on all human beings. The expected outcome is a new understanding of the importance of dignity in human rights law and in health care services. The intended benefits are better appreciation of the role of dignity in human rights, and concrete guidance for health and aged care services on how they can promote the dignity of all of their clients.

Our members also work on the Australian Neurolaw Database Project.

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Page last updated: 21 Jan 2020

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