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About C. Barry Hoffmaster

My work has two hallmarks: it is empirically informed and practically attuned, and it is broadly collaborative. I was hired by the University of Western Ontario to help teach a large undergraduate course in philosophy of law. Several years later the Department of Philosophy decided to establish a graduate program in bioethics, and I was dubbed to be the head of it. The University of Western Ontario, to its great credit, released me from some of my teaching responsibilities for two years so that I could spend time in various clinical settings. London, Ontario is a wonderful place to do that because of the range, diversity, and excellence of the health care services it offers. I was allowed into, for example, medical and adult and neonatal intensive care units in tertiary-care hospitals, a psychiatric hospital, a long-term and chronic care hospital, a family medicine center, and a short-term diagnostic, treatment, and research center for children with developmental delay. Those experiences profoundly changed my understanding of the nature of morality and philosophy.
My research proceeds, in large part, from the collaborations that developed during my exposure to the realities and complexities of providing health care. My first extended collaboration was with Dr. Ron Christie, a family physician. We jointly taught graduate students in the Department of Family Medicine, and we wrote a book on ethical issues in family medicine (please see the brief review in the comments on the book). Dr. Christie unexpectedly and tragically died just before the book was published. My changing views about the nature of ethics led me to collaborations with medical anthropologists and sociologists to explore how work in the social sciences and in philosophy can be creatively and productively integrated. Although I knew that the orthodox philosophical conception of morality (morality = a moral theory) was wrong and that the social sciences could make valuable contributions to morality, for a long time I did not know how to put the two together constructively. A current, extended collaboration with Cliff Hooker, a former colleague in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, provided the answer and the direction. We now are bringing Professor Hooker’s work in philosophy of science and the broader conception of rationality as nonformal reason he developed to vindicate the rationality of science to the domain of ethics. This undertaking is in the grand tradition of orthodox moral philosophy, which often takes science to be a paradigm of objectivity and then asks whether ethics possesses the kind of objectivity that science displays. The difference, however, is nonformal reason, which provides a process-based account of the nature of rationality, and thus objectivity, in both science and ethics, an account that recognizes the ineliminability and ubiquity of judgment and explains how judgment can be rational.
Two other collaborations of which I am particularly proud developed while I was the Director of the Westminster Institute for Ethics and Human Values. I was able to put together and lead two groups, comprised of parents, teachers, school administrators, administrators of organizations for persons with developmental delay, a labor representative, a police officer, a lawyer, psychologists, and a psychiatrist, that produced two reports: That’s the Policy; That’s the Law: Alternatives to Suspension from School for Students with a Developmental Handicap and Responsible but Not Guilty? The Accountability of Persons with Developmental Disabilities or Psychiatric Impairments. I was most gratified to learn that the former once prevented a student in Alberta from being suspended from school.


Present Elected Fellow, The Hastings Center
Present Professor, Department of Philosophy, Western University

Research Interests

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Honors and Awards

  • President, Canadian Bioethics Society, 1994-95

Contact Information

Room 4137, Stevenson Hall
The University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
Phone: 519-661-2111, ext 85745


Books (6)

Articles (28)