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. My dissertation is tentatively titled "Thorns in the Flesh: Essays On the History and Philosophy of Suffering in 20th-Century American Medicine." This project focuses on the following three areas:

History of Suffering in 20th-Century American Medicine

My 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 a physician-philosopher hailing from New York named Eric Cassell. I investigate some of the cultural trends that encouraged his theory to spring up with great success when it did, focusing specifically on ideas about suffering trafficked between medicine and law.

Philosophical Implications of My Historical Findings

My philosophical work explores how my historical findings might affect the way researchers in medicine understand suffering today. Here, I am mainly interested in two questions. First, I examine whether a fundamentally legal point of departure is appropriate for a philosophical analysis of suffering. My answer at this point seems to be ‘no.’ From this answer, my second question asks how we should then theorize about suffering. To this question, I offer a few ways of parameterizing suffering and plan to also sketch a new theory of suffering in medical contexts.

Bioethical Philosophies of Suffering More Broadly

Apart from my historical research, I have other philosophical interests in suffering, including the following: 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