Julian Savulescu

What are you most trying to accomplish in your work? 

I am trying to get people to understand how every decision we make every day involves ethics and there are better and worse ways of making ethical decisions. I am trying to help the next generation to have a group of professionals with training in philosophy who can carry on the crusade of improving everyday ethical decision making.

What do you think sets your work apart from the work of others in your field?

There are not a lot of analytic philosophers working in practical ethics. Because ethics is a completely different field to science, it involves making value judgements and moral decisions that require moral philosophical, not merely scientific, expertise. I am proud to work with some of the best analytic philosophers in the world now on issues of practical importance.

What or who inspired you to get into your field? Do you have any individuals or groups of people that you credit with helping you achieve the goals you set out to accomplish?

Peter Singer inspired me when I was a first year medical student in 1982. He caused me to shift from being a doctor in 1990 to doing a doctorate in philosophy. Derek Parfit inspired me with his ruthless philosophical ability as my post doc supervisor between 1994-7 to continue on in this new field of practical ethics and not return to medicine.

What role has serendipity played in the turning points in your career? 

"Enormous. I would not be the Uehiro Chair in Oxford if it were not the serendipitous donation of the Uehiro Foundation for Ethics and Education in Japan, as well as the support of Tony Hope, Roger Crisp, Derek Parfit, Peter Singer and many others. I was in the right place at the right time to get a Chair at Oxford when I was 37, not because I was some kind of genius. Prior to that, I had the great fortune to work under Bob Williamson, a fantastic scientific research leader who was passionate about both ethics and politics. He fostered my career and again, I was in the right place at the right time coming top of medicine and having a Ph D and post doc with the two world leaders in the field, Peter Singer and Derek Parfit, at the time the Human Genome Project was going off. This was pure chance. Someone once asked Napoleon, “What is the quality you most look for in your generals?” He reputedly replied, “Luck.”"

What have been the greatest challenges that you have encountered in your career?

The internet and its ability to indirectly censor freedom of thought by mobilising people with a destructive agenda. It should be a tool for free speech and in -depth sharing of ideas worldwide, and I hope we can bring that back. At the moment it has turned into a tool to silence people on the basis of a very superficial engagement.

Do you believe leaders and innovators have certain qualities that they all share? If so, what?

Resilience, ambition and drive. And vision. People orient themselves around those going in a clear direction, whatever the direction.

How would you most like to change the world through your work?

I guess by having the next generation of leaders who are better than me. We are all small links in a very long chain of progress, hopefully.

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