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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Earlier Projects

Our past research continues to inform our teaching and shape the discipline. Many of the projects listed below have also had impact outside the academy, from informing government policy, to changing healthcare and business practice, we are proud of the ways in which findings from our philosophical research have been applied.


Principle Investigator: Professor Holger Maehle

In our time, when the electronic storage of personal health data and disease notification issues (e.g. in AIDS) cause widespread concerns, it is of great interest to explore the historical origins of discussions on medical confidentiality and patients' privacy. This study comparatively analyses, contextualises and explains debates on the limits of medical secrecy in Britain, Germany and the USA between c. 1880 and 1940. The chosen period of investigation is particularly relevant because the traditional obligation of medical confidentiality, reaching back to the Hippocratic Oath, then began to be challenged by state public health initiatives and the law. The results of this research are published in Holger Maehle's monography, Contesting Medical Confidentiality: Origins of the Debate in the United States, Britain, and Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

This project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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Principle Investigator: Professor Holger Maehle

In today's Western society, medical science and practice often seem to be taken for granted. Yet medicine's status as a science and as an ethically justified form of intervention in human life is the result of a large number of different historical processes - and even today its claims of scientific authority and moral respectability are not unquestioned. This project showed how, from classical antiquity until the present day, medical knowledge and practice have been established and communicated, and describes the factors that have contributed to the variety of ways in which doctors, patients, health, disease and treatment are, and have been, perceived and understood.

This project was funded by a Wellcome Trust grant.

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Principle Investigators: Professor Matthew Ratcliffe and Dr Benedict Smith

This project provided the first ever detailed, systematic philosophical study of the nature and role of altered mood, emotion and feeling in depression. It resulted in a cohesive account of emotional experience in depression that serves as the basis for further philosophical work, assists ongoing scientific research by providing clearer accounts of the emotional changes that require explanation, and contributes to clinical work by formulating a conceptual framework that patients and clinicians alike can use to communicate the experience of depression.

This project was funded by an AHRC grant.

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Principle Investigator: Wolfram Hinzen

For 400 years a guiding philosophical intuition on the nature of language has been that language is a - more or less deficient - medium for expressing our thoughts. But thoughts as such are independent of language. Linguistic signs, which serve the purpose of expressing thought, are arbitrary and regulated by convention. This view is a decisive component of the general, or rational, grammars arising in the 17th century, which was taken up and updated in the Chomskyan project of generative (universal) grammar. This project argued that this early modern, Cartesian axiomatics is at the root of a number of theoretical and empirical impasses in current linguistic theory. It developed another, non-rationalist, conception of universal grammar.

This project was funded by an AHRC/DFG grant and supported five post-doctoral researchers and one phd researcher

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Principle Investigator: Professor Holger Maehle

Discussions on stem cell research usually take as their starting point the year 1998. This was when researchers reported the first successful isolation of human pluripotent stem cell lines (cell lines that can differentiate into various tissues) from donated IVF embryos and aborted embryos. However, stem cell research predates this by over a hundred years. This project considers the period from the late 19th to the early 21st century and considers the way this research has been influenced by different medical, social, ethical, and legal implications.

This project was funded by a Christopherson/Knott Foundation Fellowship

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THE NEW ONTOLOGY OF THE MENTAL CAUSATION DEBATE (2008 - 2010) Principle Investigator: Dr Sophie Gibb

The phenomenon of mental causation remains an anomaly in our conception of the natural world. An increasing amount of research activity has been devoted to the problem of mental causation, but to no avail. This project utilised recent advances in metaphysics to identify a more fruitful metaphysical framework for the mental causation debate. It constitutes a significant step towards the resolution of the problem of mental causation.

This project was funded by an AHRC grant and supported a post-doctoral researcher.

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Principle Investigator: Professor Matthew Ratcliffe

This project brought together philosophers, psychiatrists and psychologists to focus specifically on the nature of emotions and feelings in psychiatric illness. It served as the basis for an enduring international research network on emotion, feeling and psychopathology

This project was funded by an AHRC grant.

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The research project's general aim was to delineate the concerns and tasks of aesthetic psychology conceived as a branch of philosophical aesthetics. More specifically, it set out to examine questions to do with aesthetic perception, representation, emotion, and cognition as explored in other disciplines (including psychology; cognitive science; anthropology) in order to establish whether, and if so how, philosophy can benefit from it. The approach adopted was inter-disciplinary, and principally aimed to strengthen the accounts that have been and are being developed in philosophical aesthetics.

This project was funded by and AHRC grant.

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Workshops brought together a group of philosophers working in areas relevant to moral phenomenology, to explore the variety of ways in which phenomenology and phenomenological insights can be used to shed light on central questions in ethics. Phenomenological approaches discuss the structure of experience, the place of norms, the nature of our access to reality, the structure of interpersonal understanding, and the nature of emotions and feelings. All of these themes have important implications for moral inquiry.

This project was funded by the British Academy.

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