Sandra Woien

Sandra Woien, a lecturer here at ASU, opens about their academic journey and research interests while discussing important matters related to applied philosophy in a pandemic ridden world. From peculiar yet simple topics like marijuana stocks to addressing deep and intense questions like should a person end their life due to immitigable suffering? Professor Woien explores the nuances of applied ethics.

What is your understanding of ‘Applied Philosophy’?

Applied philosophy, or more specifically, applied ethics is an area of philosophy. It applies ethical concepts such as autonomy and the normative ethical theories such as utilitarianism, along with facts and relevant legal analysis, to reach conclusions on specific ethical issues. Since normative ethics is action-guiding, it aids us in the successful navigation of moral dilemmas by helping us answer questions: What should I do? What virtues do I want to adopt? What type of life ought I lead?

How does your research relate to Applied Philosophy? Tell us a little more about some of your work

Bioethics is the study of ethical issues that arise in the practices of medicine and biomedical research. When studying bioethics, we apply ethical theories, concepts, and principles to medical issues and issues that arise during biological research, so it is clearly a form of applied ethics as described above.

It also employs a type of normative decision-making that often draws from empirical research. One pertinent saying shaped my training in clinical ethics is “Good ethics starts with good facts.” To me, this showed that in clinical decision-making, facts matter, and I believe this is true of all forms of applied ethics. All areas of applied ethics whether it is bioethics, business ethics, or environmental ethics incorporate facts, along with ethical concepts and theories, to reach defensible and justified decisions.

Thinking back to your early academic career, what made you realize philosophy was the right choice for you?

My research interests primarily focus on the use of the ethical theories and other related concepts such as well-being in personal decision-making whether the decision is something as seemingly mundane as whether a person should include marijuana stocks in her investment portfolio to something profound such as whether a person ought to end her life due to immitigable suffering.

Any philosopher or school of thought that inspires you the most or stands out? Recommended readings for our readers
I had some great undergrad professors who brought philosophy alive for me. The seminal figures like Socrates and Nietzsche seemed to talk directly to me through them, and they made philosophy fun and relevant to my everyday life. So, during my senior year, I knew that I wanted to continue studying philosophy, so the next logical step, at the time, seemed to be graduate school.

What kind of opportunities and careers exist out there for students pursuing philosophy?

I love the writing of the classical utilitarians like John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham along with those from the Stoics and some contemporary theorists. The work that inspires me the most not only has to do with what we should do, but also how we should live. That is, practice guidance about living the good life is important.

Considering this, books that stand out to me are those that are as relevant today, as they were when I first read them, or really, when they were first written. With such criteria in mind, my top six and formative philosophy books (not rank ordered) are:

  • John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”
  • Jeremy Bentham, “The Principles of Morals and Legislation”
  • Fred Feldman, “Pleasure and the Good Life”
  • Epictetus, “Enchiridion”
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”
  • Plato, “The Apology”

Lastly, on the topic of applied philosophy and bioethics we cannot leave out the pandemic. What have been some bioethical issues that have been prominent during the pandemic?

What a question! Books will need to be written to fully answer this question, but in short, I can say that the response to the pandemic has raised many ethical ethics relevant to bioethics from infringements on liberty and autonomy to the suppression of scientific information. The media has really become a problem, and it is troublesome how it spreads irrationality and misinformation. As a result, public trust has been compromised.

Sandra Woien is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and currently teaches a variety of courses dealing with ethics including bioethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, applied ethics, and introduction to ethics. Some of their publications include Donation After Cardiac Death: An Alternative Solution to Burying the Dead Donor Rule, Life, death, and Harm: Staying Within the Boundaries of Nonmaleficence, and a fascinating explanation of marijuana as a potential investment stock.

Interview conducted by Areesha Hassan.

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