Charlotte Duffee

Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

I am a John and Daria Barry Postdoctoral Fellow in the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University. I completed my PhD in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Toronto. I study ideas about suffering in medicine with a focus on the following areas:

Histories of Suffering in Western Medicine and Thought

The Historiography of Suffering

    • My historiographical research generally engages two themes. The first explores the state of the art of suffering in the history of medicine and adjacent historical subfields, as well as exchanges between them. The second examines different methodological ways to legitimize and address suffering as an object of historical inquiry.

Intellectual and Cultural Histories of Suffering in American Medicine

    • To date, my work in the history of medicine has centered around ideas about suffering in American medicine, especially during the 20th century. My dissertation charted the emergence of a contemporary medical discourse about suffering, which most scholars say started in America during the early 1980s. I focused on the dominant theory in this discourse, investigating the intellectual climate and cultural (especially legal) factors that encouraged this theory to emerge with great success when it did.

    • I am also planning a biographical work on Dr. Richard Cabot (1868-1939), a physician whose activities at the turn of the century anticipated much of the later research on suffering in America.

Histories of Suffering in Western Thought

    • Using digital humanities tools as well as more traditional methodologies, I also look beyond law to the influences additional disciplines may have had on Western medical notions of suffering in a new project that recovers concepts and moral values of suffering in a cross-disciplinary collection of the Western canon.

Medical Philosophies of Suffering and Their Antecedents

The Relationship Between History and Philosophy

  • I have deep interests in general debates over the relationship between history and philosophy, especially the upshots philosophers might reasonably expect from historical studies and the dangers that come with attempting to reap those benefits.

  • A number of my projects address the risks of philosophizing about rhetorically forceful terms like suffering in a historical vacuum, especially as it relates to the integrity of sound medical policymaking.

Philosophical Implications of My Historical Research

  • Most of my projects work to integrate my historical findings into my philosophical research. Thus far, I have focused on historically contextualizing contemporary theoretical debates about the nature of suffering and its distinctness (or not) from related experiences, such as pain.

  • My latest research will use the historical findings from my study of the Western canon to inform current disputes regarding the assessment (especially measurement) and treatment of suffering.

Additional Work on Suffering:

  • Somewhat independent from my historical research, I have or plan to publish on the following philosophical topics: distinctions between pain and suffering; discrepancies between pain science and bioethical theories of suffering; the satisfactoriness of these theories; interdisciplinary frameworks for collaborative research on suffering; and whether suffering from disease or injury can be ennobling.


BA: Philosophy

University of Toronto

MA: Philosophy

The New School

MA: Bioethics

New York University


New Academic Resume as of 10/2022