Five Questions with Danielle Allen

Applying the principles of the Declaration of Independence to modern civic engagement and bioethics
Professor Danielle Allen
Danielle Allen is James Bryant Conant Harvard University Professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University

The HMS Center for Bioethics is pleased to have Danielle Allen, PhD, discuss her newest book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality,
on February 9, 2017 as part of the Contemporary Authors in Bioethics series.

This talk is cancelled due to severe weather.




Harvard Center for Bioethics: How does the concept of democratic equality apply to bioethics?

Danielle Allen: Issues in bioethics often generate dilemmas where the choices we make have implications for some of our most fundamental values. As we make these choices, we change our common world. That’s a process that requires us to weave in public deliberation and democratic decision-making in order to preserve our equality as democratic citizens as we work our way through these hard choices.

HCB: Why have youth and participatory politics been a part of your current work? Do you have advice for those looking to become involved in the political process?

DA: Most of my work focuses on citizenship and civic education, which are areas that focus on young people.

I am involved with the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, which helps politically motivated young people by helping establish a framework for youth involved in digital activism.

My advice to those looking to become involved is to prepare yourself to engage politically, decide on what level you want to engage — for example, as an individual or through an organization, and local and state level, or at the national level.

Then take the next step by getting active with organizations in your community or in areas of interest. That can include anything from sharing concerns on social media, converting your ideas into op-ed pieces for your local newspaper, building relationships with elected officials or even running for public office.

HCB: How do you think technology will influence political participation in future elections?

DA: We now have an oral, or televisual, culture, which means everyone has to learn to do things differently. Politicians have to learn how to communicate differently. Journalists and scholars need to learn new techniques for defending the value of evidence. We have to adapt our mindsets.

HCB: Do you consider the Declaration of Independence as a moral framework for medical decision making? Why or why not?

DA: That’s an interesting question. I think the Declaration’s lessons about “epistemic egalitarianism,” about hearing the stories of the people who are suffering and working up from those to a diagnosis, do provide an important guide for medical decision making. I hope to talk about this!

HCB: What books are you currently reading?

DA: I am currently reading John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, and Reginald Dwayne Betts’ A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.


Five Questions is an ongoing series featuring the Contemporary Authors in Bioethics series speakers. Paula Atkeson, HMS Center for Bioethics staff member, compiled these questions.