Philosophy Research

Sustainability: Theory and Measurement

Bryan G. Norton, Distinguished Professor

The term "sustainable" has become a touchstone of contemporary environmentalism, but it seems that everyone—or at least every discipline—has their own meaning for the term. Philosophical research, being sensitive to language and meaning, can articulate principles and ideas that give sustainability both depth—by linking it to theories of justice and intergenerational obligations—and breadth, by developing cross-disciplinary understandings. Such research, based in theory, but shaped by the requirements of environmental discourse and deliberation, can then be the basis of a broad approach to environmental policy and management.

Biodiversity: Valuation and Protection

Bryan G. Norton, Distinguished Professor

How should we place a value on biological diversity and its various aspects? How should we set priorities in protecting species when resources are insufficient to save all species? There are also important issues about the scale at which to target biodiversity: should priority be on saving species? On saving habitats? Biodiversity hotspots? All of these questions involve a fascinating interaction of science with social values.

Environmental Ethics and Values

Bryan G. Norton, Distinguished Professor

Environmental ethics, since its inception in the 1970s, has concentrated on metaethical questions about who and what, in nature, has intrinsic value. More recently, however, more and more philosophers have turned their attention to "environmental pragmatism", a movement that emphasizes a more problem-oriented and hands-on kind of philosophy in which philosophers become enmeshed in networks of actors working to solve environmental problems. By embedding its PST program in a school of public policy, Georgia Tech has been a pioneer and continuing leader in this approach to practical philosophy.

Spatial Scaling in Environmental Policy Formation

Bryan G. Norton, Distinguished Professor

One general problem that is justifiably getting attention is the question of scale in environmental policy. The scalar problem has two aspects: first, environmental problems have a physical aspect, open to study by the sciences, and the task is to characterize a system, complete with processes and subsystems, which is the locus of a “problem”. At the same time, since environmental problems hardly ever "fit" any political jurisdiction, there is the problem of what level of government should be mobilized—and what special institutions should be developed to effectively deal with perceived problems. Because any situation considered to be problematic involves a social value that is being underserved, philosophical research, in conjunction with work by empirical social scientists, can clarify how individuals and groups, in the process of problem formulation, create bounded systems as the objects of intervention and management.

Health Care Ethics, Policy, and Law

Roberta M. Berry, Associate Professor

Health care issues include questions about bioethics, from abortion to assisted reproduction to end-of-life decision making, to questions about the provider-patient relationship, including the duty of confidentiality and the requirement of informed consent, to questions about the organization and financing of our health care system. These issues, touching on life, death, procreation, and access to health care, tend to be ethically fraught, widely debated, and subject to significant legal regulation.

My research addresses a number of these controversies as they arise at the intersection of ethics, policy and law.

“Fractious” Problems in Bioscience and Biotechnology

Roberta M. Berry, Associate Professor

Bioscience research and biotechnologies often generate challenging, ethically fraught, policy problems. Policy debates surrounding these problems tend to be unfruitful and acrimonious and to culminate in policy gridlock. These problems share five characteristics that render them “fractious,” that is, especially difficult to understand and address and, hence, especially likely to generate social discord and policy failures.

“Fractious problems,” as I have defined them in my research, are (1) novel, (2) complex, (3) ethically fraught, (4) divisive, and (5) unavoidably of public concern. The problems are novel in that we have not encountered their like before and have no experience in comprehending and learning to cope with them. They are complex in their scientific and technical dimensions and in their implications for individuals and society. The problems are ethically fraught in that they pose questions about fundamental human concerns across religious and secular worldviews, such as questions about moral agency and free will, privacy, what it means to be human, and the possibility and desirability of trans- and post-humanism. Given the diversity of worldviews within and across political borders, these problems will be divisive. And, given their implications for individuals and societies and their ethically fraught and divisive nature, these problems are of unavoidable public concern. Fractious problems have been or will soon be posed by human embryonic stem cell research, the use and withdrawal of life-support technologies, neuroimaging, genetic research and technologies, and human enhancement technologies.

My research examines the nature of these problems and proposes and develops a “navigational approach” to addressing them.

Research Ethics in Bioscience, Translational Science, and Engineering

Roberta M. Berry, Associate Professor

Issues in the responsible conduct of research (RCR), including protecting human subjects of research and preventing fraud and plagiarism, are essential to the social and scientific missions of research.
These issues are the focus of study by an ethics team headed by an Emory faculty member and including additional team members from Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine. The efforts of the team are part of the $32 million, 5-year, Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI) funded by the National Institutes of Health. Team efforts include preparing jointly authored expert opinions on ethical dilemmas submitted by science researchers. The dilemmas are anonymized and posted at the ACTSI Web site. My other research has addressed these issues in the context of ethics education for scientists and engineers.

Ethics Education for Scientists and Engineers

Roberta M. Berry, Associate Professor

Future science and engineering professionals will make a difference, for better or worse, in the responsible conduct of research and its implications for the social and scientific missions of research. Likewise, these future professionals will help determine how well our society understands and copes with the ethical and social implications of research and technology. If we can devise and implement effective approaches to ethics education for scientists and engineers, this will contribute to their capacity to make a positive difference.

My research includes an ongoing, 3-year experiment in problem-based learning for graduate science and engineering students, focusing on the ethical and social implications of science and technology through the study of “fractious problems.” I serve as Principal Investigator for the study, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, and includes researchers at Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State College of Law, Morehouse School of Medicine, Agnes Scott College, UCLA, and Duquesne University.

Diagrammatic Reasoning

Michael Hoffmann, Associate Professor

Diagrammatic reasoning is reasoning by means of external representations which visualize in particular structures and relations. We are especially interested in the following questions: How can diagrammatic reasoning support reflection, learning, communication, conflict resolution, and creativity? How to design representational systems for diagrammatic reasoning that are optimized for these purposes? What are the cognitive and semiotic conditions of diagrammatic reasoning? ...more

Logical Argument Mapping, Argument Visualization, and Argumentation Theory

Michael Hoffmann, Associate Professor

Logical Argument Mapping (LAM) is a method of argument visualization that is supposed to fulfill the following functions:

  • In educational settings: to acquire the ability to argue and to learn critical thinking and some basics in logic
  • To facility communication, collaboration, and reflection on highly complex issues in science, across scientific disciplines, between science and the public, and in policy and decision making
  • To support conflict resolution and cross-cultural understanding by visualizing the inferential structure of framing processes that determine how parties to a conflict make sense of what is going on

Our objective is to develop a general representational system for Logical Argument Mapping that is optimized for these functions, and more specific software applications that realize the ideas of diagrammatic reasoning (see above).

More information on Logical Argument Mapping

AGORA: Particpate - Deliberate

Michael Hoffmann, Associate Professor

The objective of the AGORA project is to develop an interactive web technology that makes both deliberation and the analysis of positions and controversies more effective and efficient. This web tool focuses on visualizing the structure of positions and underlying belief-value systems.
In a Greek city, the “agora” is an open place in the middle of town where citizens come together for all kinds of public purposes. Our AGORA provides a space to interact with others, to engage the representation and discussion of a diversity of perspectives, to develop and refine positions in social interaction, and to clarify controversies by visualizing the best possible argumentation for each point of view. The AGORA is a virtual online world in which users can walk around, find interesting discussions in which they can participate, or create their own topics for a debate.

Prototype of the AGORA web tool, and more information

The Phenomenology of Everyday Technologies

Robert Rosenberger, Assistant Professor

Insights developed in a tradition of philosophy called phenomenology can be used to describe how technologies change and shape a user's experience. I work from this tradition to describe the experience of everyday technologies such as the television, telephone, and desktop computer. These descriptions are useful in their potential for identifying the ways user experience is relevant to a number of larger discussions, such as television's effect on quality of life, and the effects of cell phone use on driving ability. In addition, detailed description of these experiences prompts the development and refinement of phenomenological philosophy.

Imaging Technologies and Scientific Research

Robert Rosenberger, Assistant Professor

A central way imaging technologies are used in scientific research is for transforming otherwise imperceptible objects of study--such as events too small, too fast, or too far away to see--into images we can perceive and analyze. Philosophical tools can be developed for drawing out and reconceptualizing such transformations in ways potentially useful to contemporary scientific research. This line of investigation includes case studies of ongoing disputes over image interpretation, such as a disagreement in neurobiology over the mechanisms responsible for neurotransmission, and a debate in space science over rock formations on Mars with implications for the planet's climatological history and a potential landing site for the next rover.

The Philosophy of Simulation, and Computational Simulation of Prejudice Reduction

Robert Rosenberger, Assistant Professor

How should the use of computer simulation in science be understood? Despite simulation’s long history, the multiplicity of techniques developed, and the variety of ways simulations are instantiated (from physical to computational types), it is possible to articulate abstract structures that many simulations share, and to develop evaluational rubrics. A research collective called The Group for Logic and Formal Semantics investigates the epistemology of simulation generally, and topics such as robustness and simulation failure in particular. In addition, we contribute to social psychological discussions on prejudice reduction by developing of computer-instantiated, game-theoretic models of scientific theories. http://www.computationalphilosophy.org

Robot Ethics

Jason Borenstein , Director of Graduate Research Ethics Programs at Georgia Tech

Robots ethics is an emerging area of study largely because of the numerous ways in which the military uses robotic technology. Uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) and many other robots are now commonly used in war. This raises many ethical issues including what the proper method is for assigning blame if a robot malfunctions and whether the technology may cause wars to become more frequent. It is also important to focus on the civilian applications of the technology because this realm can raise many ethical issues as well. For instance, will incorporating robots into the workplace and our personal lives benefit humanity?