Grant Gillett

Prof. Grant Gillett

Otago University – Bioethics Centre

Grant Gillett is Professor of Biomedical Ethics in the Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago. View profile HERE

My research ranges quite widely in Bioethics, philosophy, and neuroscience. In Bioethics I work on end of life care, complementary and alternative medicine, autonomy, and the patient’s journey. In Neuroethics I have written widely on brain birth, brain death, PVS, and minimally conscious states, and issues of free will identity and responsibility.
My work in neuroethics arose from research in the philosophy of psychiatry, focusing on the nature of mental disorder, psychopathy, and dissociative disorders. I examine these topics through post-structuralist philosophy, an exploration of the patient’s voice, post-colonialism, and human subjectivity.
I have authored Subjectivity and being somebody: neuroethics and human identity, Bioethics in the Clinic (Johns Hopkins University Press) The mind and its discontents (Oxford Univ Press) Reasonable Care (Bristol Press), Representation, Meaning and Thought (Oxford University Press) and co-authored The Discursive Mind (Sage) as well as numerous articles in a variety of international journals such as Philosophy, British Medical Journal, Lancet, Philosophical Psychology, Inquiry, Mind, Journal of Medical Ethics, Journal of medicine and Philosophy, Consciousness and cognition, Brain, Philosophy, psychiatry and psychology, and Bioethics.

Books include:
Gillett, G. (2009). The mind and its discontents (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press, 432p.
Gillett, G. (2008). Subjectivity and being somebody: Human identity and Neuroethics. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 286p.
From Aristotle to Cognitive Neuroscience (2018)

From Aristotle to Cognitive Neuroscience identifies the strong philosophical tradition that runs from Aristotle, through phenomenology, to the current analytical philosophy of mind and consciousness.
In a fascinating account, the author integrates the history of philosophy of mind and phenomenology with recent discoveries on the neuroscience of conscious states. The reader can trace the development of a neuro-philosophical synthesis through the work of Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Brentano and Hughlings-Jackson, among others, and so explore contemporary philosophical puzzles surrounding consciousness and its relation to cerebral synchrony and connectedness.
Of interest to students and scholars of neuroethics, neurophilosophy and philosophy of mind, as well as philosophy of psychiatry, From Aristotle to Neuroscience demonstrates the real essence of consciousness as it increasingly connects with philosophy, law, morality, aesthetics, and spirituality.

Video interview with John Z Sadler, July 2013 on the Philosophy of Psychiatry, view HERE

From July 2013, Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Otago, Dr. Grant Gillett shares anecdotes about how he came to the Philosophy of Philosophy community from his roots in neurosurgery. In this colorful interview, Dr. Gillett speaks about the importance of his personal mentors and the influence of Karl Jaspers, and expounds on ideas concerning Philosophy of Mind, consciousness and Bioethics, and how they have come together in his published works. Additionally he speaks about the history and growing awareness of the Philosophy of Psychiatry movement in New Zealand.
Grant Gillet was working on “a systematic exploration of the mind, which integrated philosophical analysis with psychology.” “It seemed to me that the right way to get to unifying theories was to look at what psychiatry shows us about minds that have developed some kind of mis-match with the demands being made on it in real life.”
“There are two fundamentally different ways of explaining human behaviour, both of which have a huge amount of analysis and enlightenment to offer. If we leave out either of those levels we are going to fall over when we try to understand human action.

Why is it that psychiatric phenonemon are not just brain phenomenon? Brain phenomenon are dealt with by neurology and can be relatively easily explained in terms of brain circuits. Psychiatry in some respects is closely related to what is going on at a neural level. But in other respects it is more related to a social and cultural level. If you try to shoe-horn your explanations into one or other of those you are going to make big mistakes; you are going to miss out on knowledge and understanding of the human condition.”

“Ethics puts the person who is suffering back into the picture as a genuine engaged participant, rather than as somebody who has things done to them by experts. It surfaced as a cry for patient autonomy, to get the patient voice properly engaged and respected within the therapeutic encounter. My orientation towards ethics was always far more towards respecting and recognising that voice and drawing it into the conversation, than towards formulating principles and rules by which the professional can conduct itself.”

“Ethics is ‘first philosophy’. All philosophy begins when two people address one another and respect one another’s ideas and take them seriously. If we apply that into the clinical setting the whole clinical encounter becomes reframed. It is not so much an issue of autonomy and rights, as respect, attention and listening, sharing responsibility, and trusting between parties so that both become empowered to solve the problem that has brought them together.”

Interview on Newstalk ZB with John Cowan, Mon, 25 Jun 2018, 2:52PM. Listen HERE.

Bioethical moral issues “tie you up in knots, and you do have to very much be guided by your own feelings for people as well as the arguments which sometimes seem so convincing but which tend to move in different directions.”
“We all like to think that we are guided by reason and argument, but in some of the key decisions in life our human feelings for one another do move us in certain ways. Sometimes this is the right way and sometimes this is to be resisted.
“One of the things that has always driven me is to put the needs of people to be cared for right at the top of the list in terms of the values that ought to be considered.
“Being a Christian has definitely influenced my thinking. It is a sense of being part of something that does not begin and end with your own opinions. You are here and you have been given what you have been given by sources that are not your own to control.
“The psyche is that aspect of us that is not completely thinkable through just thinking about our biological form. We have been encouraged to think in either biology or supernatural, but the person is located not in the brain but in a much wider context of relationships, memberships, a place they have developed in and a life that has been shared. You don’t find this by opening up their brain. You have to talk to them and get a sense of the chords that they play a part in sounding, the ways they resonate with others.”