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It Matters That It Matters

by YPU Admin on April 3, 2020, Comments. Tags: bioethics, Health, Humanities, Law, patient safety, PhD, Philosophy, and Research

Introduction

Hi, I'm Vicki. I'm a second year PhD student in Bioethics and Medical Jurisprudence here at the University of Manchester. I'm also part of the Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre - yes, it's a very long name! The 'translational' bit means that we are developing and testing new ideas and approaches to patient safety. My research aims to understand how effective our healthcare regulation system is at keeping patients safe when they leave hospital.


In Depth…

Before starting my PhD I studied for my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and a master's degree in Healthcare Ethics and Law. I had no idea when I graduated with my Philosophy degree that I’d end up where I am now. I worked for a charity as a Fundraising Manager and studied for my master’s degree via distance-learning. My master’s was helpful for me in switching job roles – after graduating I spent a few years working for the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors in the UK. This really sparked my passion for healthcare ethics, regulation, and patient safety!

After that I applied for my PhD, which is funded by the National Institute of Health Research. Unlike a traditional PhD, my PhD is 'by publication'. This means that rather than writing one huge piece of writing, I produce a series of shorter articles to be published in academic journals. But these articles still need to relate to each other under a common theme! At the end, they will form the middle chapter of my PhD, sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion.

One of the main aims of healthcare regulation is to keep patients safe. This is done by several different regulators in the UK. Some regulate healthcare professionals (like doctors and nurses), whilst others regulate healthcare providers (such as hospitals). The common theme of my research is how do all of these regulators make sure patients are kept safe when they leave hospitals? You might be surprised to learn that leaving hospital can be a really dangerous time for patients, especially the elderly! I’m nearly halfway through my research but I already have several ideas for how regulators could be doing more to keep patients safe.

A friend once said to me that when choosing her career 'it matters that it matters'.  She meant it was important that her work made a real difference to people's lives. It’s an odd quote but it sums up how I feel about my research! I hope that it will be useful in improving safety for patients at a time when they should be going safely home.

Going Further…

  • For a useful introduction to the variety of topics that philosophy examines, see here.
  • Visit this blog by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, to learn more about the field of bioethics.
  • You can read about my research centre here.
  • Find out more about the exciting work Greater Manchester are doing to improve patient safety.
  • For more information on distance-learning see here

 

Philosophy: often misunderstood

by YPU Admin on May 23, 2014, Comments. Tags: Philosophy and Research

Introduction

My name is Andy Routledge and I’m currently in my fourth and final year of a philosophy PhD at the University of Manchester. I tutor on undergraduate courses and work for the University as part of their Widening Participation project. 


In Depth

Philosophy is a hugely misunderstood subject. Many people think that it is just about ‘The meaning of life’, or that it is similar to religion, or that there are no right or wrong answers in philosophy. While philosophers probably share a large part of the blame for not explaining the subject very well, all of these views are mistaken.

As with science, philosophy has many different areas and looks at lots of different issues. What is common across these different areas of philosophy, though, is its interest in understanding some of the deepest and most puzzling questions – some of which other subjects may be unable to answer. Most subjects begin with a certain starting point: ideas or assumptions that they take for granted. Philosophy is in the business of looking closer at these basic ideas and assumptions and questioning them. What is the best way to understand them? And are the assumptions right?

Science, for example, tries to discover the different laws of nature – such as the way that tiny particles behave. When scientists notice that a particular kind of particle always seems to behave a certain way they might put forward a theory that says that it is a law of nature that a particle of that kind must behave that way. But this doesn’t tell us what a law of nature actually is. We know what a law is in our society. It’s a rule that has been written down somewhere that is enforced by the police and legal system. But what is it for something to be a law of nature? There’s no law book for the universe to follow, or particle-police. What makes a particle behave that way every time? Could the law just change one day? If not, why not? What stops it? When we start asking these questions we move from science into the philosophy of science. We begin to question the basic ideas and assumptions of science. We can do this for almost any subject area. Some might be directly to do with us and our lives but some – like this question in the philosophy of science – might not be. But what makes it philosophy is the fact that it involves looking at the most fundamental ideas in that area – the basic ideas that are otherwise taken for granted. Because philosophy examines some of the deepest and difficult questions, it is easy to get the impression that there is ‘no right answer’. But many philosophers would disagree with this. It’s not that there are no right answers; it’s just that they are very difficult to work out and progress takes time.


Philosophy also involves a particular way of doing things. Just as science has a certain method – using physical experiments to test a theory – philosophy has its own method. Philosophers use rational discussion to try and work out whether something makes sense or is correct. Philosophers give reasons. It is never enough to say that something is right ‘just because it is’ or because so-and-so says so. Philosophers try and give reasons for what they’re saying. Even if somebody doesn’t agree, they can then at least say why. They can say which bit they disagree with and their reason for that. And the discussion can progress. Philosophy involves a commitment to this way of doing things. Everything can potentially be challenged. For this reason, good philosophy needs a certain kind of mindset. It involves being independent and thinking for yourself – willing to question common or popular beliefs. You might need to point out something that is unpopular and controversial. It involves being critical whilst remaining open-minded – you shouldn’t accept something without good reason but you shouldn’t dismiss it either. And it needs a sense of curiosity - a desire to understand the world is the biggest motivator of all. It is curiosity that keeps you going even when people may not like the questions you’re asking and you may not yet fully understand them yourself.

But don’t worry if you don’t think you’re naturally like this. Many people develop these skills just by doing philosophy. So if you want to be that kind of person then philosophy is an incredibly useful pathway. You develop these skills by practice. Because philosophers share their ideas and discuss and debate them, the subject also equips people with the ability to communicate ideas, both in written and spoken forms. Being able to speak clearly and persuasively to others is one of the most important skills you can have. There is no area of life in which this isn’t useful.

In a future entry I will say more about the philosophy research that I am conducting at the University, the particular area of philosophy that I work in, and some of the challenges that I have faced.

Going Further…

You can learn about the University of Manchester’s philosophy department and the courses it offers here:

http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/philosophy/

This website offers a range of interactive tests and activities to help you learn more about your own philosophical views:

http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/

This article explores some of the most famous philosophical thought experiments:

http://io9.com/9-philosophical-thought-experiments-that-will-keep-you-1340952809

A popular philosophy magazine:

http://philosophynow.org/

The two leading online philosophy encyclopaedias with a large number of articles on a range of subjects:

http://plato.stanford.edu/

http://www.iep.utm.edu/

Career information:

http://www.prospects.ac.uk/options_philosophy.htm


 

Whose Time is it Anyway?

by YPU Admin on June 20, 2013, Comments. Tags: Humanities, Law, Philosophy, Research, and Time

Introduction

My name is Tanzil Chowdhury and I am a Ph.D researcher in the School of Law. My work lies in the field of Jurisprudence which, generally, is a fancy word describing philosophical questions about law.These, for example, can include basic questions, such as: what is a law (how is it different from the rules you have in the classroom)? What role does law have in our lives (to control us? protect us?)? Are law and justice the same thing? 

My research looks at a very specific aspect of law which is ‘time’ or temporality (the two mean roughly the same thing). A famous philosopher, St Augustine, once said: ‘What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know’. Whilst we often think of time as being what our watch or clock tells us (called objective time), we also have experiences of time, like the feeling we have of time passing slowly when sitting through a boring film or ‘time flying when we are having fun’ (called subjective time). Law, as a ‘thing’ that exists in society, also has its own temporality. But why should it matter what the law’s time is?


In Depth

Bear this in mind: that time and temporality is intrinsically linked to how we construct events.



To explain what this means, imagine this: your mother has been forced to sort out a conflict between you and your brother. According to your elder sibling, he says you hit him in the leg. You don’t necessarily disagree, only that this was not the entire story. You tell your mother that your punch was a response to years of pent up aggression at the hands of your brother’s bullying. Your mother, preoccupied with more pressing matters, looks to you both and hands down her judgement: ‘this is going to stop now! From now on, if either of you complains about the other, you shall both be grounded’.

Her justice is firm and swift; her construction of the event is directed toward guiding both your future actions.  Your focus, however, was rooted firmly in the past. Put simply, your mother and you have different temporalities (your mother is more concerned with the future, and you the past) and this directly effects how you construct the pattern of events. Lawyers, judges and law makers exercise construction in very much the same way. 

The main question, therefore, is to look at how laws construct their own time (what we might call ‘legal temporality’). The clearest way of determining this is looking at the way legal actors (such as judges and law makers) apply legal principles to facts when they are ruling on a case and how this directly affects the way they reconstruct events in those cases. Interestingly, we don’t all share the same ‘temporality’. For example, the law aims to guide future conduct but I may be preoccupied with an event in the past which affects my future conduct. Because humans and the law courts have‘competing temporalities’, it maybe that the legal system can never really work.

I hope that my work will contribute to understanding how the law is a unique phenomenon within society and allow others to criticise and discuss the law from an entirely new angle. It may hopefully help to inform how the law can be more sensitive to the temporalities of humans’ who use the courts, and also help us to understand why a person may have committed wrongdoings.


Going Further

For another explanation of my research check out my university webpage and for information about studying Law at the University of Manchester, the department's pages are a good resource.  


 If you would like to learn more about the jurisprudence, and the philosophy of law generally, Law Teacher and Princeton University's Wiki provide useful resources. The Legal Theory Blog also contains some great information. 


Sixth Form Law provides opportunities for you to explore the questions that legal philosophers ask, and Stanford University's Encyclopedia of Philosophy an interesting section on Justice as a VirtueThis website is generally good for anything related to philosophy.

Discussions about time and temporality vary in philosophy, sciences and the social sciences. A good starting point for understanding this is the video attached to an article on time in the Huffington Post, while Stanford's Philosophy encyclopedia again provides a detailed overview of the experience and perception of time

The Guardian's Law Student section is great reading for those studying, or interested in, law.

Bright Knowledge, from the Brightside Trust, has some excellent information on studying law and pursuing a career in law.