Skip to main content

Sex and Death

Ms Teresa Baron

Our beliefs about the world around us, our own nature, and what is morally required of us, are rooted in a certain conception of the world. This introductory course in bioethics and the philosophy of biology aims to deeply question those beliefs, and critically examine the grounds on which they are established. What does it mean to be alive, and to die? Is a pregnant woman one organism, or two? Should you be allowed to sell your kidney? And do androids dream of electric sheep? If any of these questions spark your interest, this course is for you.

The course will begin by closely examining certain fundamental concepts, discussing what it means for something to be alive and to die, what we mean by evolution, and what constitutes a biological individual. These questions have clear ramifications for biologists: we cannot describe changes in populations unless we know which individuals to count and we can define generations. The ways in which we frame these concepts also lay the foundation for tackling problems in political philosophy and ethics: what it means to live or die is a crucial question in philosophical work on rights, duties, and morality. We will explore the implications of our philosophical views for scientific research, medicine, and law.

Having established a groundwork in the philosophy of biology, the course will look more broadly at bioethical issues arising in society, from questions of end-of-life decision-making to the notion of bodily autonomy and self-ownership. What is the difference between killing and ending life? Is the answer the same for doctors in the operating theatre and the designers of self-driving cars? Answering these questions requires us to recognise the profound ways in which our understanding of biological life can inform our philosophy, and vice versa.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable for students from all disciplines, whether humanities- or science-based. However, the course may be of particular interest to students of philosophy, social sciences, biological sciences, and medicine.

Previous Knowledge

No prior knowledge is assumed or required, although a high school standard knowledge of biology may be helpful.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

This course will develop skills in close reading, critical analysis and argument, and awareness of theoretical and practical relations between academic disciplines. Students will be encouraged to consider the real-world application of theoretical views. These analytic skills will be useful for students in any area of study.


Ms Teresa Baron

Teresa Baron is a PhD candidate with the Better Understanding the Metaphysics of Pregnancy (BUMP) research group at the University of Southampton, having completed her previous degrees at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. She has published on the fetal container model in the medical sphere and in commercial surrogacy, and her doctoral research is broadly situated in reproductive ethics. At Southampton, she teaches undergraduate courses in metaphysics, metaethics, and the ethics of scientific research and medicine.