F. Daniel Davis Ph.D.

Where do you work?

President’s Council on Bioethics, Washington, D.C., executive director

How long have you had this position?

Since January 2006. Serve as designated federal officer for this 18 member council established to advise the president of the US on ethical questions/issues generated by advances in biomedicine, biomedical research, and biotechnology. Lead/supervise the administrative and research staffs. Direct staff processes of conducting research to support Council deliberations; of developing and writing staff working papers; of drafting and finalizing Council reports and white papers.

What kind of additional training does this job require besides your degree?

My background: Ph.D. in philosophy with specialization in philosophy and ethics of medicine. Executive directors of previous national bioethics commissions have had similar backgrounds, as well as backgrounds in law and medicine.

What is a typical day like?

Some portion of each day is devoted to administrative tasks (i.e., addressing personnel, budget, etc. matters) but most of the day is devoted to meetings with the staff and/or Council chairman to discuss ongoing or future work; to one-on-one work with particular staff members; to the conduct of research in the literature pertinent to the topics at hand; to writing.

My job has involved travel, yes: I am the lead member of the US observer delegation to the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Bioethics (held every 6 months in Strasbourg, France).

What do you like most about your job?

I love being immersed in the field of bioethics and working in public policy. I dislike the need to operate within the confines of the federal bureaucracy.

How do you feel Philosophy has prepared you for this job?

I didn’t have a formal major in Philosophy at WVU but I certainly had enough credits in the discipline. My declared major was political science but I took a lot of economics along the way and then the semester before graduation, I took a philosophy course from a long deceased professor by the name of Bill Haymond—who ended up having a profound influence on my subsequent development as a person. I ended up sticking around WVY for an extra semester just to study with him and he pointed me in the direction of Georgetown (where he had been on faculty). After graduation I moved to DC and eventually went to grad school in philosophy there.

Is there anything philosophical about what you do?

Of course! Although bioethics is a multidisciplinary “field” (and at its best, it can be truly interdisciplinary), ethics and philosophy are, to my mind, first among equals vis-a-vis the other disciplines engaged in bioethical questions.

When did you graduate WVU and with what Degrees (if more than one, or minors)?

December 1976, BA in political science

What attracted you to Philosopy/Why did you choose to major in Philosophy?

I am drawn to “fundamental” questions—why we’re here, what’s our purpose, what should we do? These are, of course, eminently philosophical questions. It was only after my encounter with Haymond, however, that I was inspired to make these questions the focus of my professional life.

What advice would you give to an up and coming student considering majoring in Philosophy?
If the “utility” of philosophy is a concern, a major in the discipline is, indeed, very useful—it can help you understand and acquire the capacity to think and analyze critically, to communicate your thoughts effectively, and to write with clarity. But the real enticement of philosophy is to become part of humanity’s ongoing conversation with ourselves about those fundamental questions I mentioned previously. It is an ennobling and a humbling experience at the same time.

What would you say to someone who was worried about the job prospects of Philosophy majors?

I still believe that the liberally educated person has a value that eventually gets recognized through employment and other practical means.

Do you consider yourself a philosopher?

Well, let’s say that moniker is a destination I hope someday to reach.

What is the number one thing you learned from your experiences as an undergraduate Philosophy major at WVU?

Your education is just that—YOUR education. No matter where you are and who you are: it was and will be what you make of it.

What are your current hobbies/interests?

Bioethics, especially end of life care, moral formation, and global bioethics.

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