Welcome to My Web Page!

colin 2020

I am Professor and Queen’s National Scholar in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University.  I am cross-appointed with the Department of Philosophy and I also teach in the School of Policy Studies.

My research interests are interdisciplinary, integrating normative insights from political theory and ethics with empirical insights from diverse disciplines.

The foundational aspiration of my research is the advancement of the Enlightenment Project into the 21st century.  The themes of reason, science, progress, and optimism inform my curiosity-driven research interests and interdisciplinary focus. The philosopher Immanuel Kant described enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.”  Our immaturity can stem from our ignorance of the facts, ideological convictions, cognitive biases, unquestioned assumptions, a myopic perspective, etc.  These cognitive blindspots often lead us to categorize societal problems in overly simplistic terms either because we treat certain values as “sacred” (that is, moral imperatives we’re unwilling to compromise on) or we categorize problems as stemming from one group of people oppressing another group.  By embracing the critical thinking inherent in the Socratic method, I (cautiously and tentatively) aspire to help generate emancipatory knowledge that goes beyond what arm-chair normative theorizing typically has to offer.

This site contains information about my academic career and research interests.

My CV isavailable here.   PubMed entries here.

TedX Queen’s Talk on Global Aging and Longevity Science:

National Post article on “positive biology” here.  Open access JRSM Essay here.  CFRC interview:  

Details about my new “Philosophy for Children and Teens- Kingston” initiative are available here.

Central question which  preoccupies most of my research and life:   How should we live?

My past and current research focuses on more specific topics that arise from this general question, including:

  1. How can we best improve human health in an aging world?
  2. Why play (and what is play)?
  3. What is political theory? And why is it important for us to do political theory?
  4. Why is there patriarchy?
  5. How and why should we punish?
  6. What are the “epistemic virtues”? And how can virtue epistemology help us improve our understanding of the moral landscape?

If you are looking for my blog “In Search of Enlightenment” please click here.

List of publications is here, and detailed research statement is here.  And some details about what I teach are here.

I also have a multimedia page here, which has some video presentations of published papers and works in progress.  I hope you find something of interest! 🙂


I am a political theorist and philosopher and received my PhD from the University of Bristol in England in 1999.  I have published 6 books (two edited volumes and four single-authored books) and numerous articles in a variety of different journals.  My research interests are interdisciplinary and include normative issues in politics, philosophy, law, science and medicine.  My publications have appeared in journals such as Journal of the Royal Society of MedicinePolitical StudiesBritish Medical Journal, Journals of Gerontology, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Biogerontology, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, American Journal of BioethicsCanadian Journal of Political ScienceNature’s EMBO ReportsUniversity of Toronto Law JournalBioethicsPublic Health Ethics, Hypatia, Political Studies Review, Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline, Rejuvenation Research and Philosophy of the Social Science.

I am also a father to three amazing kids.  When not working or tending to parental duties I stay sane by engaging in a variety  of activities that help me achieve “flow”.  These include daily exercise (weights, running or biking) and team sports (ultimate frisbee and all sports league), as well as cooking (one of my greatest passions in life).  And I am also active in volunteer work, I find such prosocial activities deeply rewarding.  For more than a decade I have volunteered my time reading to elementary school children and coaching soccer for children.  In recent years I have started teaching political philosophy to inmates.

Before coming to Queen’s University in 2008 I was Associate Professor of Political Science (Cross-Appointed with Philosophy) at Waterloo University for 5 years.  I also spent a year as a Research Fellow in the Dept of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University and as a Visitor in Oxford’s Program on the Ethics of the New Biosciences, and a semester as Visiting Professor at UCLA’s Dept. of Public Policy.  For the Fall term of 2018 I am the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in the Social Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

In the more distant past, I held full-time academic appointments in the Dept of Government at Manchester University, the Dept of Political Science and International Studies at Birmingham University and the Dept of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

The bridge of life: frontispiece to Pearson (1897).

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831AA4B4-C452-4285-8773-00F695202C00-23157-00000738AF7E65F5reader coverbook cover image


(1)  Genetics Ethics:  An Introduction  (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018)

(2) Biologically Modified Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)

(3)  An Introduction to Contemporary Political Theory (London: Sage Publications, 2004).

(4)  Contemporary Political Theory: A Reader (London: Sage Publications, 2004).

(5)  Justice, Democracy and Reasonable Agreement (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)

(6)  Virtue Jurisprudence (co-edited with Lawrence Solum) (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008 )

Publications(by discipline)


● “Play and Politics” (forthcoming) Journal of Political Science Education

●“Virtue Epistemology and the “Epistemic Fitness” of Democracy” Political Studies Review  10(1), 2012, pp. 7-22.

●“Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation”  Political Studies Volume 55, 2007, pp. 844–864.

● “Dualism, Incentives and the Demands of Rawlsian Justice” Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 38(3), Sept. 2005, pp. 675-95.

● “Making Deliberative Democracy a More Practical Political Ideal” European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 4(2), 2005, pp. 200-208.

● “Taxation and Distributive Justice” Political Studies Review, Vol. 2, 2004, pp. 185-197.

● “Incentives and the Natural Duties of Justice”, Politics, Vol. 20(1), 2000, pp. 19-24.

● “Does Rawls Support the Procedural Republic?” Politics, Vol. 19, No. 1, February 1999, pp. 29-35.

● “Neutrality, Toleration and Reasonable Agreement” in D. Castiglioni and C. Mackinnon, eds.,Toleration, Neutrality and Democracy (Amsterdam: Kluwer, 2003).

● “Deliberative Democracy and Nanotechnology” Nanoethics: Examining the Societal Impact of Nanotechnology (NJ:  John Wiley and Sons Inc.) edited by Fritz Allhoff, Patrick Lin, James Moor and John Weckert.


● “Why the NIH Should Create an Institute of Positive Biology” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (forthcoming)

● “Towards a More Inclusive Vision of the Medical Sciences” QJM: An International Journal of Medicine 102 (2009): 579-582.

● “Has the Time Come to Take on Time Itself?” British Medical Journal, Vol. 337, 2008, pp. 147-48.

● “Preparing for Our Enhanced Future” Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline Vol 93(2), 2007, pp. 12-18.


● “Biogerontology and the Intellectual Virtues”  Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences   67(7), 2012. pp. 734-6.

● “”Positive Biology” as a New Paradigm for the Medical Sciences” Nature’s EMBO Reports 13, 2012, pp. 186 – 188

●  “Global Aging, Well-Ordered Science and Prospection” Rejuvenation Research 13(5) (2010):607-12.

● “Framing the Inborn Aging Process and Longevity Science” Biogerontology 11(3) (2010): 377-85.

●  “Why Aging Research?”Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1197 (2010): 1–8.

●  “A Tale of Two Strategies:  The Moral Imperative to Tackle Ageing” Nature’s EMBO Reports, Vol. 9(7), 2008, pp. 592-95. [PDF available for free via PubMed]

● “Sufficiency, Justice and the Pursuit of Health- Extension” Rejuvenation Research Vol. 10(4), 2007, pp. 513-20.

● “Genes and Distributive Justice” Nature Encyclopedia of the Human Genome 2003.


● “Normative Theorising about Genetics” (forthcoming) Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

● “Equality and the Duty to Retard Human Aging” Bioethics 24(8) (2010): 384-94.

● “Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, Reproductive Freedom, and Deliberative Democracy” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 34(2) (2009):135-154.

● “Aging Research, Priorities and Aggregation” Public Health Ethics , Vol. 1(3), 2008, pp. 258-67.

● “3 Wishes” Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol. 20(1), 2008, pp. 23-28.

●  “The Case for Re-thinking Incest Laws” Journal of Medical Ethics Vol. 34:e2, 2008, pp. 1-2.

●“Genetic Justice Must Track Genetic Complexity” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Vol. 17(1), 2008, pp. 45-53.

● “Virtue Ethics and Prenatal Genetic Enhancement” Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology Vol. 1(1), 2007, pp. 1-13.

● “Justice in the Genetically Transformed Society” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Vol. 15(1), 2005, pp. 91-99.

● “Genes and Equality” Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 30(4), 2004, pp. 587-592.

● “The Genetic Difference Principle” American Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 4(2), 2004, W21-28.

● “Genes and Social Justice:  A Rawlsian Response to Moore” Bioethics Vol. 16(1), 2002, 72-83.


● “Empirical Ethics and the Duty to Extend the Biological Warranty Period” (forthcoming) Social Philosophy and Policy

● “Patriarchy and Historical Materialism” Hypatia 26(1), 2011, pp. pages 1–21

●“Mind the Gap: Beneficence and Senescence” Public Affairs Quarterly Vol. 24(2), 2010, pp. 115-130.

● “Gene Patents and Justice” Journal of Value Inquiry Vol. 41 (2-4), 2007, pp. 147-163.

● “Historical Materialism and Supervenience” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 35(4), 2005, pp. 420-446.

● “A Challenge to Brink’s Metaphysical Egoism” Res Publica: A Journal of Legal and Social Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2003, pp. 243-256.

● “Genetic Intervention and the New Frontiers of Justice” Canadian Philosophical Review XLI, 2002, pp. 139-154.

● “Justice and a Citizens’ Basic Income”, Journal of Applied Philosophy 16(3), 1999, pp. 283-296.


●  “The Institutional Theory of Legal Interpretation” University of Toronto Law Journal, Vol. 58(2), 2008, pp. 217-32.

● “Civic Liberalism and the ‘Dialogical Model’ of Judicial Review” Law and Philosophy Vol. 25(5), 2006, pp. 489-532.  Reprinted in edited volume Virtue Jurisprudence.

● “The Social Character of Freedom of Expression” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 14(2), 2001, pp. 261-71.

● “Public Reason, Neutrality and Civic Virtue” Ratio Juris: An International Journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law, 12(1), 1999, pp. 11-25.


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Research Statement

Research Statement

More than 2000 years ago Aristotle described politics as a normative practical science. He believed that politics was the most authoritative of all the sciences (prescribing which sciences ought to be studied) because the central concern of politics is the good of humans. This ancient conception of the discipline inspires my  current research which integrates ethics and political philosophy with the empirical findings of evolutionary biology, genetics and psychology. Aspiring to help bridge the gap between the biological sciences and political theory, I am interested in how our species’ evolutionary history impacts (for better and worse) our ability to flourish, as both individuals and collectively as societies. Three general (related) topics encapsulate my current research:

(1) Our susceptibility to late-life morbidity and mortality.

The leading cause of disease and death in the world today is evolutionary neglect. Because the force of natural selection does not apply to the post-reproductive period of the human lifespan, aged persons are highly susceptible to the chronic diseases of aging, like cancer, heart disease and stroke. In an aging world perhaps no other field of scientific research is as important to the health prospects of today’s populations as biogerontology. This science might enable us to eventually modify the biological clocks we have inherited from our Darwinian past, thus permitting humans to enjoy more years of disease-free life. My  research focuses on the social and political obstacles that impede aging research and the aspiration to decelerate the rate of aging.

(2) Our potential for happiness.

Political scientists have long asked the question: “Why vote?” But this question presupposes a more fundamental question: “Why do anything?” This latter question requires us to consider what kind of animal humans are. The ultimate (or evolutionary) causes of human behaviour have typically been ignored by political scientists who invoke rational choice theory or focus on the proximate causes of political behaviour. My interest in these topics seeks to integrate political theory with the recent findings of evolutionary biology and positive psychology. Aristotle argued that we are a “political” animal; and Socrates famously claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. These sage insights from Ancient Greece actually possess a great deal of empirical plausibility. And my current research explores the similarities between love, play and politics, the goal of which is to help bring to the fore the different range of activities, relationships, institutions, habits and dispositions that a good society ought to cultivate and celebrate if it is to flourish in the twenty-first century.

(3) Ideal and Nonideal theory. 

What is political theory? What are the evaluative criteria by which we judge success or failure in the field? And why is it important for us to do political theory? My interest in these methodological issues informs both my teaching and research. I am interested in how political theory can both enhance and hinder our capacity for practical deliberation. As the instructor of a required, full-year course on the history of political thought (POLS 250), I believe it is imperative that a student of politics study how different theorists have attempted to link the “realm of ideas” to the “realm of governing human affairs”. Theory can help a student re-experience the past (via a survey of the history of ideas) as well as pre-experience the future by simulating different potential collective futures. The latter is a central focus of my seminar “Science and Justice”, which aspires to develop the diverse skills needed to address the ethical and social challenges posed by advances in the biomedical sciences.

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Video presentation of Essay in Oct. 2012 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:
Paper presented at the Social Philosophy and Policy Conference in Tucson, Arizona (Jan. 2013)
Video presentations on aging and longevity science (1st video is short, 2nd video is long):
Video presentation of “Patriarchy and Historical Materialism”:
Play and Politics video:
“3 Wishes” Video (my personal favourite):
Presentation of Ottawa talk on the humanities and natural sciences (May 2013)
Favourite Quotes Include:
“No biological problem is fully solved until both the proximate and evolutionary causation has been elucidated”
Ernst Mayr The Growth of Biological Thought (1982)
“Science marks the emancipation of mind from devotion to customary practices and makes possible the systematic pursuit of new ends.  It is the agency of progress in action…. Science has familiarized men with the idea of development, taking effect practically in persistent gradual amelioration of the estate of our common humanity”.
John Dewey Democracy and Education (1916)
“No gentlemen, the difficult thing is not to escape death, I think, but to escape wickedness- that is much more difficult, for that runs faster than death.  And now I, being slow and old, have been caught by the slower one; but my accusers, being clever and quick, have been caught by the swifter, badness.  And now I and they depart, I, condemned by you to death, but these, condemned by truth to depravity and injustice.  I abide by my penalty, they by theirs.  Perhaps this was to be so, and I think it is fair enough.”
Socrates  (399 B.C.) addressing the Athenian jury which condemned him to death for questioning their beliefs (as told by Plato in The Apology)
“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom.  Is there no virtue among us?  If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.  No theoretical checks, no form of government , can render us secure.  To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea”.   James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788.

“Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study…And the man who says that the age of philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who says that the age for happiness has not yet come to him, or has passed away… We must then mediate on the things that make our happiness, seeing that when that is with us we have all, but when it is absent we do all to win it”. Epicurus, 300 BC 

“…the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

I wish I had the voice of Homer
To sing of rectal carcinoma
Which kills a lot more chaps in fact,
Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) Geneticist and evolutionary biologist who died of cancer.

Places I have lived:


Hamilton, Ontario



Bristol, England


Aberdeen, Scotland


Birmingham, England


Manchester, England

(I worked in Manchester but actually lived in a small town nearby called “Cheadle”).


Waterloo, Ontario


Oxford, England





Los Angeles, CA

Manoa Hawaii








Kingston, Ontario

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