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.