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UC San Diego Philosophy Department Offers Another ‘Big Idea’


  • Cynthia Dillon

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  • Cynthia Dillon

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Image: UC San Diego Department of Philosophy Chair and Professor Craig Callender

Department of Philosophy Chair and Professor Craig Callender. Photo by UC San Diego Department of Philosophy

The University of California, San Diego is not short on big ideas. Just ask Craig Callender, chair of the Department of Philosophy, who was recently featured in San Diego Magazine’s Big Ideas” feature for his vision to establish the Institute of Practical Ethics on campus. Callender conceptualizes UC San Diego as a leading center for ethical science; to realize that vision, the philosophy department now offers a new minor program in bioethics, with its first students enrolled this winter quarter.

“Intellectually, there is a great need for bioethics,” explained Callender. “Scientific progress in genomic manipulation, cloning and much else mean that society faces increasingly tricky ethical decisions. The health professions are clamoring for guidance, and philosophy, with its long traditions in ethics, complemented also by philosophy of science, is in a position to help.”

According to Callender, more and more philosophy departments across the nation are offering bioethics majors and minors. For example, students at the University of Pennsylvania lobbied for it last year. Callender cited other schools with bioethics minor programs: Georgetown University, SUNY, University of Toronto and University of Rochester.

Importantly, the UC San Diego campus community—from biology to healthcare to medicine—needs it, according to Callender. He noted that the campus is responding to that need, not only with the new minor in philosophy, but with programs in other areas such as a minor and new bachelor of arts in global health, the bachelor of science in public health, and new master’s degree in health law.

Image: UC San Diego philosophy department undergraduate conference last year

Professor Clinton Tolley and students engaging in discussion during a philosophy department undergraduate conference last year. Photo by UC San Diego Department of Philosophy

There is another good reason for the bioethics minor in philosophy at UC San Diego.

“For us, a bioethics minor will increase enrollments, tempt a few double majors and make us more visible on campus,” admitted Callender.

The UC San Diego bioethics minor program requires seven courses, including five upper division, as well as a blend of classes from the humanities, social sciences and medical sciences.

New bioethics minor Madeline Gillette said that she discovered an interest in philosophy her freshman year through taking a few lower division classes.

“I had known that I had a particular interest in ethics. As I continued taking classes in both philosophy and my major, psychology, that interest developed and focused into a particular interest in ethics in psychological studies,” explained Gillette. “I had previously declared a double major in psychology and philosophy, and so when the new minor came out I was excited for the opportunity to take classes particular to my interests and really focus on what I want to get out of my classes in the philosophy department.”

Gillette acknowledged that studying the humanities at a heavily research-based university like UC San Diego is a unique experience.

“While the humanities have a reputation for being easy, the standard for humanities classes at UC San Diego is rigorous. The professors all have a great deal of knowledge about their subjects, and are excellent at teaching about them,” said Gillette. “The greatest skill I've taken from my philosophy classes here has been learning to take apart and construct good arguments, which is helpful in any field. An education in the humanities helps to provide a strong base for any further education, and UC San Diego is a great place to do that.”

The UC San Diego Department of Philosophy is ranked in the top 10 or better nationally in multiple sub-fields. With its interdisciplinary approach, the department intersects with science, technology, health and social sciences, and other arts and humanities. For more information visit the website.

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