Charlotte Duffee


PhD Student, University of Toronto

I am a PhD candidate in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Toronto with a specialization in bioethics from the Joint Centre for Bioethics. I study the history and philosophy of medical ideas about suffering. I am currently completing my dissertation, entitled "Thorns in the Flesh: A History and Philosophy of Suffering in 20th-Century American Medicine." My current and future research areas include the following:

Histories of Suffering in Western Medicine and Thought

My current historical research charts the emergence of a contemporary medical discourse about suffering, which most scholars say started in America during the early 1980s. My work focuses on the dominant theory in this discourse, proposed by physician Eric Cassell (1928-2021). I investigate some of the cultural factors that encouraged his theory to emerge with great success when it did, focusing specifically on ideas about suffering trafficked between medicine and law. My future work will build on this project, investigating influences additional disciplines may have had on Western medical notions of suffering. This project, tentatively titled "The Lot of Man: Suffering in Western Thought," will recover conceptualizations and moral values of suffering in the Western canon.

Philosophical Implications of My Historical Findings & Philosophies of Suffering More Broadly

My philosophical work explores the implications of my historical findings for philosophies of suffering today. With that end in view, my current philosophical study examines two questions related to legal influences in American medicine. First, I ask whether a legal point of departure is appropriate for philosophical analyses of suffering. I respond by arguing against the suitability of this starting point. In light of that answer, my second question explores how we should then theorize about suffering in clinical contexts. On this point, I suggest a few ways of parameterizing suffering, which help to sketch a new class of bioethical theories of suffering. My future philosophical work will concentrate on the impact cross-disciplinary ideas about suffering may have on Western medicine. I plan to concentrate specifically on theoretical questions about the nature of suffering, with an eye toward contemporary medical debates over its assessment and treatment. Beyond my historically inflected philosophical research, I have the following additional interests in suffering: distinctions between pain and suffering; discrepancies between pain science and bioethical theories of suffering; the satisfactoriness of these theories; and whether suffering from disease and injury can be noble.


BA: Philosophy

University of Toronto

MA: Philosophy

The New School

MA: Bioethics

New York University