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CHESS Seminar Series 2021/22 - FULL PROGRAMME

Staff and students are very welcome at the following events hosted by CHESS this academic year. For further information on all our events, including details on how to register, contact us at


Somogy Varga (Aarhus University) Thursday 7th October 2021 (5pm GMT) What is the Aim of Medicine?

Recent debates indicate that the scope and societal role of medicine is fated to be altered in the twenty-first century. The debates raise fundamental questions about the aim of medicine and the main task of the talk is to contribute to clarifying this issue. I start by examining an initially plausible proposal according to which medicine is pathocentric, aiming to restore the health of individuals by curing disease. Discussing and rejecting this as well as competing proposals, I present and defend the Autonomy Thesis, which holds that medicine is not pathocentric, but sanocentric, with the final aim to enhance autonomy. I close by considering the objection that the Autonomy Thesis is overly permissive and allows many highly controversial procedures as legitimate parts of medicine.

Zinhle Mncube (University of Johannesburg) Thursday 23rd November 2021 (5pm GMT) Is testing for predictive biomarkers a reliable strategy to ground therapeutic prediction? Personalized Medicine (PM) is touted as a medical revolution where medical treatment and
diagnosis is tailored to the individual patient, so that it is optimal, safe, and exactly appropriate. In
this talk, I assess the underexplored reliability of what I call PM’s the stratification strategy. This
strategy requires that clinicians make therapeutic predictions based on evidence of commonly
shared molecular biomarker status among patient subgroups. I show that this strategy relies on
assumptions that cannot be presumed to be true. I argue that in many instances of its use, this
strategy can result in imprecise, unpersonalised, and unsafe care for individual patients (contra the
promises of PM).
Juliette Ferry-Danini (FNRS and Université Catholique de Louvain) Thursday 27th January 2022  (5pm GMT)

Mapping the opacity of artificial intelligence in medicine

Artificial intelligence has been met with great enthusiasm by the scientific community. However, philosophers and ethicists have voiced some concerns. The concepts of “opacity” and “transparency” of artificial intelligence have been coined with the presupposition that opacity in AI is something to avoid and conversely transparency is a goal to achieve in the field. Numerous guidelines have been published on the ethics of AI, resulting in several reviews. In these guidelines, transparency is routinely described as one of the key principles the field of AI should follow. The aim of this talk will be twofold: first, to map the different meanings of the concept of “transparency” and its mirror concept “opacity” both in the philosophy of AI, on the one hand, and in the philosophy of medicine, on the other hand. Second, my goal will be to pave the way to understand in which sense – ethical and/or epistemological – opacity should be avoided both in medicine and in AI and a fortiori in AI in medicine. In other words, what is the problem with the opacity of artificial intelligence and does the medical context change anything to the issue?

Janet Stewart (Durham University) Thursday 10th March 2022  (5pm GMT) tbc tbc
Jacob Stegenga (University of Cambridge) Thursday 31st March 2022  (5pm GMT)

Sisyphean science: why value freedom is worth pursuing

(co-authored with Tarun Menon, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru)

The value-free ideal in science has been criticised as both unattainable and undesirable. We argue that it can be defended as a practical principle guiding scientific research even if the unattainability and undesirability of a value-free end-state are granted. If a goal is unattainable, then one can separate the desirability of accomplishing the goal from the desirability of pursuing it. The state with the ideal degree of value involvement cannot be given an independent characterisation, and cannot serve as an action-guiding target, so it can only reliably be attained if scientists treat value-freedom as their goal.
Keith Lindsay (Durham University) Thursday 31st March 2022  (5pm GMT) tbc tbc
Quassim Cassim (University of Warwick) Tuesday 26th April 2022  (5pm GMT) tbc tbc
Sharon Crasnow (Norco College) Tuesday 3rd May 2022  (5pm GMT) tbc tbc