Internal Research WiP: Dominic Wilkinson

COVID-19 guidance for attending our events in-person

  • All Oxford Uehiro Centre seminars (public and internal) will take place online in Hilary Term 2022.
  • Please refer to the University's current health guidance on minimising the risks of COVID-19.
  • Face coverings are essential for reducing the spread of COVID-19 and should be worn by all staff and students when indoors.
  • Additional social distancing and face covering requirements may be introduced soon.

Updated 5 January 2022

The harm principle, personal identity and identity-relative paternalism

We hope to be able to offer the option of joining either in-person at Littlegate House (Suite 1 Seminar Room) or online via Zoom. If we are unable to hold in-person events, the seminar will take place online only.

Abstract: Is it ethical to stop someone making an unwise choice, one that will predictably cause him to suffer significant harm? In terms of the law, and intervention by the state, one oft-cited response draws on an important liberal principle articulated by the philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill’s so-called "harm principle" claims that the only justification for infringing the liberties of an individual  is to prevent harm to others; harm to the self does not suffice.

But in this paper, I wish to explore some reasons suggested by the philosopher Derek Parfit for dissolving or blurring the distinction between harm to self and harm to others. On Parfit’s account, some apparently self-harming decisions are relevantly like harming someone else. In some of his work, Parfit noted that his reductionist account of personal identity might be considerably more permissive of paternalism than traditional ethical approaches. In this paper, I identify two different versions of reductionist paternalism, according to which the harm principle is undermined and health professionals and states may be justified in being paternalistic in a wider range of cases. I also explore the relevance of Parfit’s 'wide value-based objective view' of reasons and suggest that this supports what I call Identity Relative Paternalism

Bio: Dominic Wilkinson is Director of Medical Ethics and Professor of Medical Ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. He is a consultant in newborn intensive care at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. He also holds a health practitioner research fellowship with the Wellcome Trust and is a senior research fellow at Jesus College Oxford.

Dominic has published more than 120 academic articles relating to ethical issues in intensive care for adults, children and newborn infants. He is the author of 'Death or Disability? The 'Carmentis Machine' and decision-making for critically ill children' (Oxford University Press 2013) ("the best book of the decade in bioethics... this is a book that must be read by everybody who is seriously interested in the bioethical issues that arise in neonatal intensive care or, more generally, in decision making for children with chronic, debilitating or life-threatening conditions." (John Lantos, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews). He is co-author (with Julian Savulescu) of Ethics, Conflict and Medical treatment for children, from disagreement to dissensus (Elsevier, 2018).

This internal talk is for Oxford Uehiro Centre members and associates.

Joining via Zoom: Please email to request the Zoom links.

Booking for in-person attendance: In case we need to run at reduced capacity, please register to attend by email to so that we can track attendance numbers and keep you updated with any changes. Please also indicate if you don’t have Eduroam access.