Featured Alumnus: Jeffrey Bishop, Ph.D. ’09
Jeffrey Bishop, Ph.D. ’09, is a professor of philosophy and holds the Tenet Endowed Chair in Health Care Ethics at St. Louis University (SLU); he is also the director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics. Bishop was a practicing physician for 17 years prior to coming to SLU in 2010, and has been published widely in medical, philosophical, theological, humanities and ethical journals. He held positions at medical schools in England and the U.S. prior to joining the faculty at SLU.
Bishop will be speaking on campus Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Legacy & Future of Liberal Arts Education panel on the topic of “Popular (Neuro)science and Other Political Schemes.”
Q: I understand that what drew you to the University of Dallas was a chance meeting in the ER with the great Louise Cowan, architect of the University of Dallas’ undergraduate Literary Traditions sequence and Braniff graduate programs. Could you speak more about this encounter?
A: I had heard of UD because several people in my medical school class from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston had gone there. I was always impressed with the students and the more I learned, the more I wished I had gone to the University of Dallas. One day, when I was a resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, I was the resident in charge of the Emergency Department. One of the attending physicians called me and said that a patient of his was coming into the ED and that she might be having a stroke. When she arrived I went to her and took a history and examined her, and it became clear that she had not been having a stroke. As I talked to her, I learned that she was a literature professor at UD. I told her my wife was in school at North Texas working on an M.A. in English, and she said that Cyndy, my wife, should come to UD and do her M.A. there. When I told her about my medical school colleagues who had gone to UD and how I wished I had gone to a place like UD for school, she said, “It’s not too late for you either.” So my wife entered UD and finished a master’s degree in August 1997. I enrolled first for my M.A. in theology and then in for my Ph.D. in philosophy. That chance encounter changed my wife’s life, my life, my brother’s life (who went to UD at my urging), and the life of our eldest daughter, who is a freshman at UD right now. Turns out Louise Cowan didn’t need me that day, [as] she was not having a stroke, but I came to find out just how much I needed her that day.
Q: As a medical doctor, what initially drew you to the discipline of philosophy?
A: When I entered medical school, I found the work to be rather intellectually vacuous. You memorize about a bunch of facts that more or less cohere. However, I always had questions about how those facts came to be understood as facts. I would ask my lab graduate students who were teaching us about histology or pathology questions as we looked through the microscope; questions like, “How do we know what this tissue really looks like?” And they would say, “Just look through the microscope and you can see it.” And I would say, “But we stained the tissue with dyes and the like, so we changed it in order to see it, so how do we know what it really looks like?” So I nearly left medical school in the first two years because I had other kinds of questions that animated my pursuits.
Q: How does your UD education inform how you teach and the work you do in bioethics and health care ethics? How has it been having your daughter start her freshman year at UD this fall?
A: The professors at UD like Philipp Rosemann, Lance Simmons, Robert Wood, Joshua Parens, Louise Cowan, John Alvis, John Norris, Father David [Balas], Father Roch [Kereszty] … not only taught me about the history of ideas and thought, about epistemology and metaphysics and ethics, but they taught me how to understand philosophy as a sustained conversation through history about the things that appear before us right now. They also taught me how to teach.
As for Madeleine, my daughter, I am so thankful that she gets the opportunity to learn from some of these same people. She asked me the other day to explain Plato’s divided line and I was in heaven knowing that she gets to be a part of the Core curriculum at UD.
Q: What areas of ethics, philosophy, theology, etc. are you most currently interested in pursuing? Do you have any new books or projects in the works?
A: The questions that I find most interesting in philosophy and ethics are questions about how we think. Thus my scholarly work asks the question: What would we have to believe about the human person, or the human body, in order to justify the things that we do to bodies and to persons in medicine, medical science and medical technology? In other words, contemporary medicine and medical science hold to an unexamined anthropology and ontology at work when [they seek] out novel ways to treat patients. Do those anthropologies and ontologies do justice to the truth about bodies and persons? Do they do justice to the way Thomas Aquinas or Gregory of Nyssa conceived of the human person?
So my first book looked at these questions about how we care for patients from I.C.U. care to palliative care.
My next book will examine the way that neuroscience conceives of morality, of vices and virtues, and asks what we would have to believe about human persons to think that if we do an MRI of someone’s brain we can tell whether they are virtuous or vicious. What kinds of political philosophies would that permit?
I am interested most lately about how a social imagery is constructed at the intersection of science, technology and society. And UD made these questions come alive for me.
Students, are you interested in speaking with Alumnnus Jeffrey Bishop and/or learning more about a career in bioethics? Contact UD Alumni Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.