Vanderbilt University and Nashville Public Library present

a series of lunchtime talks with a philosophical flavor

Conversations with David Wood

Centennial Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University

December 7, 2005

Can Our Best Values Betray Us?
Charles Scott,
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Ethics
One of the characteristics of having our "treasure in earthen vessels" is found in the limitation of the worth of our best values. Sometimes those values can occasion situations and consequences that are very different from what they intend.
Do we have a responsibility to put in question what we feel and believe to be most important?
If we affirm the value of basic differences among us, how are we to evaluate our expectation that our best values should be applied universally?
Do you think that our pluralist society in the United States carries with it a responsibility to protect the ways of life in our country that are contrary to what you most strongly hold to be right and true?
Video Archive

November 2, 2005

Choosing your Doctor - A Matter of Life or Death!
David Johnson,
Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor in Medical Oncology, Deputy Director of the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center
“It used to be assumed that differences among doctors [or hospitals] in a particular specialty were generally insignificant. In fact, if one plots a graph showing the results of all the doctors treating a particular illness like breast or lung cancer - most of us would assume that a majority of cancer specialists [and hospitals for that matter] cluster around the very best outcomes. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates otherwise. What you tend to find is a bell curve with a handful of doctors and hospitals demonstrating disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a small handful demonstrating remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle. For example, a recent study of patients with treatable colon cancer found that the 10-year survival rate ranged from a high of 63% to a low of 20%, depending on the surgeon one visited. For heart bypass patients, even at hospitals with a good volume of experience, risk-adjusted death rates in New York vary from 5% to under 1%. Similar disparate results have been found in the medical treatment of diseases like diabetes, cystic fibrosis and other life threatening illnesses. It is distressing for doctors to have to acknowledge the bell curve … but a bell curve does exist. In this discussion we will exam the characteristics of “good” doctors and how to determine if your doctor is good – or bad - for your health.”
Video Archive

October 5, 2005

Why Presidentialism is Bad for Democracy
Dana Nelson,
Gertrude Conaway, Professor of English
In the US, the President stands for democracy as the nation's (and the world's) "most powerful man." Every four years, we ferociously debate which candidate will be good for us, which one will be a disaster for the nation. Once he's installed, we credit him with what we like about our current state, and we blame him for what we find wrong. People feel strongly about their presidents: we love them, and we hate them, and these days, there's little in between.
This talk redirects our attention toward the presidency. It argues that it's not the President who causes problems for the nation: it's presidentialism. Presidentialism has been bad for democracy despite the particular virtues and leadership skills of many presidents.
Presidentialism is bad because it trains us to want to President to take care of democracy for us instead of remembering that democracy, properly defined, is our job. It's bad because it trains us to see democracy as being represented by a single body, a strong leader representing a strong consensus, instead of remembering that disagreement is a good word for democracy. It leads us to overemphasize democracy as unity, instead of helping us remember that a decently working disunity can make us even stronger as a nation.
This talk proposes that we put less energy into being mad at the president and more energy into finding ways to revitalize democratic practice--no matter who is president.
Video Archive

September 7, 2005

Democracy in the Age of Science: Trust, Numeracy, and the Voice of the People
Jonathan Gilligan,
Senior Lecturer, Earth & Environmental Sciences
Video Archive