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Feature: Graduate Students of the KIE

The Kennedy Institute works in close collaboration with Georgetown’s Department of Philosophy in many ways, including the support its faculty often lend to graduate students writing dissertations. Students writing in bioethics—as well as those focusing on related issues such as political philosophy or religion and ethics—often work with senior scholars at the Institute in their final years at Georgetown.

Yashar Saghai is one such student. “I came from France to Georgetown because of the Kennedy Institute’s international reputation as the birthplace of contemporary philosophical bioethics,” he explains, but “what the KIE actually offered me went much beyond all my expectations and wildest dreams.” His dissertation, The Ethics of Health Nudges, is overseen by Maggie Little and Madison Powers (co-chairs), with Robert Veatch as a second reader. Saghai’s work builds on the work of behavioral economists and legal scholars interested in small social interventions known as “nudges,” which have the potential to contribute to disease prevention and treatment, especially through population-wide interventions, while ostensibly still preserving genuine liberty of choice for the individuals they affect.

Karim Sadek and Luke Maring are two recent students who explored issues in political philosophy with the guidance of KIE scholars Maggie Little and Henry Richardson. Sadek remembers their impact on his scholarly development fondly. After taking two courses with Little his first year at Georgetown, he recalls, “my attitude towards philosophical research was set. In my third year,” he continues, “I took a political philosophy course with Henry Richardson, and ever since then Henry has been a reminder of the intellectual virtues I shall always seek and probably never attain.” Now teaching in Beirut after finishing his dissertation,Islamic Democracy: The Struggle for and Limits of Recognition, Karim reflects: “what I find most wonderful about my experience at Georgetown is that my personal and academic development grew organically from the combination of my interests and dispositions with what Georgetown has to offer. Maybe that is why it feels like home!”

Luke Maring‘s work on political obligation in Political Obligation without Authority, successfully defended in May of 2012, was chaired by Henry Richardson as well; it builds on—and challenges—some strains of Richardson’s work in democratic theory. Maring’s thoughts on his time at Georgetown, and his time working with KIE scholars, emphasize skillful mentorship: “Early on my graduate career, my mentors gave me the patient instruction I needed; but especially in my last couple years here, they’ve treated me more like a colleague, including me in their research projects and expecting more originality from my own.” Marcus Hedahl, whose dissertation Owing It to Usdevelops and defends a theory of obligations owed to collective entities, also worked closely with Little (chair) and Richardson.

Emily Evans, who holds a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University acquired on the way to a PhD from Georgetown, combines philosophy of science with issues in bioethics and public health in her dissertation, chaired by KIE senior scholar Tom Beauchamp. Her project, Uncertainty and the Justification of Environmental Health Research, attempts to find a rubric for the justification of health research in conditions of scarce resources, unavoidable risk, and challenges to the integrity of the scientific enterprise—unavoidable conditions, according to Evans, which policymakers and health researchers must take into account. “The opportunity to pursue my interests in both philosophy and public policy, with the support of faculty who understand the importance of rigorous interdisciplinary scholarship, was one of the main reasons I decided to attend Georgetown for graduate school,” Evans explains. Saghai, too, has appreciated the KIE’s interdisciplinarity and its strong relationship with other academic and policy strongholds in the DC area and beyond. Saghai has “had the privilege of co-authoring articles with KIE scholars, such as Tom Beauchamp, Ruth Faden, and Madison Powers.” He goes on, “the tight institutional links between the KIE and Berman Institute of Bioethics have also allowed me to collaborate with a Hopkins team and to learn a lot through this experience.”

The Department of Philosophy at Georgetown is currently tied with Harvard as the top ranked department in applied ethics, and its strength in bioethics is a primary reason for this superlative ranking. Many of Georgetown’s philosophy PhD graduates in applied and policy-oriented ethics have gone on to do great things, and students former and current alike cite the mentorship of senior scholars of the KIE in their path from student to dissertation author and Doctor of Philosophy.