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Elisabeth Gedge Ph.D. (Calgary)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy

E-mail: gedge@mcmaster.ca (personal business)
chair.philosophy@mcmaster.ca (department business)
Phone: 905-525-9140, ext. 23459
Office: University Hall 303
Curriculum Vitae

Research Interests

My primary interest in philosophy of law is in feminist jurisprudence. Feminist jurisprudence questions assumptions embedded in law, foregrounds the impact of legal policies, decisions and institutions on disadvantaged populations, and sees law in terms of its transformative possibilities. My particular research focus has centred on the intersection between bioethics and law. The last two decades have seen fascinating debates in Canada over whether and how reproductive technologies should be regulated, and I entered into those debates with several published articles on legal equality and the practices of sex selection and contract pregnancy. In a similar vein I have looked at genetic/prenatal testing for disability. I engage with the “expressivist” argument, according to which the widespread practice of testing for disability sends a message that persons with disabilities are of lesser value as citizens, and the silence of Canadian law and policy is complicitous in that message.

Very recently I have begun to research what has been called ‘the turn to dignity’ in Canadian equality jurisprudence. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that legal subjects will enjoy equality and freedom from discriminatory treatment under the law, and according to Justice Iaccabucci “the overriding concern with protecting and promoting human dignity infuses all elements of the discrimination analysis” (Law v Canada (1999)).Feminist commentators fear that the vagueness of the concept of dignity may place an additional and unreasonable burden on vulnerable legal subjects claiming discrimination. Yet dignity discourse appears to capture an important intuition about the equality of persons as legal and moral subjects. My current research attempts to fill out that intuition.

My earliest research in philosophy of law was on standards of legal sanity, and the mens rea, or mental element in crime. My interest in philosophy of law began when I was working on a doctorate on the legal and moral responsibility of psychopaths. Psychopaths represent an interesting test case for legal definitions of sanity, insofar as they appear to “know what they are doing, and know that it is wrong” (the MNaghten Rule), yet they appear to lack relevant capacities. An interest in the capacities necessary for legal responsibility and the defences available to women also led to research on Canada’s infanticide law, which writes a woman’s state of mind into the description of the offence, thus rendering it unavailable as a full defence.

If any of the above topics interest you, come to McMaster and collaborate with me!

Select Publications/Presentations


"Women, Madness, and Special Defenses in the Law," with E. Sobstyl and S. Guerin, Journal  of Social Philosophy, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Fall/Winter, 1990, 127-139.

"Sex Selection and the Charter," Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence; Vol.  VII, No. 1,  Jan. 1994, 173-192.

“Equality, Autonomy and Feminist Bioethics,” Embodying Bioethics: Recent Feminist Advances, editors Anne Donchin and Laura Purdy, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999, 121-137.

"Particular Crimes: Pornography” The Philosophy of Law: An Encyclopedia, editor Christopher Berry Gray, New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999, 659-661.

“Symbolic Harms and Reproductive Practices” Law and Medicine: Current Legal Issues 3.  Editors  Michael Freeman and Andrew Lewis, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 327-340.

“Genetics, Symbolic Harm and Disability”, Social Studies of Health, Illness and Disease: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities, Peter Twohig and Vera Kalitzkus (eds), Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2008, 129-142.

“The “Healthy Embryo” and the Symbolic Harm of Testing for Disability,” forthcoming in  Nisker, Baylis, Karpin, McLeod & Mykitiuk, The Healthy Embryo, Cambridge University Press.


Commentary on "'Mental Disorder” in The New General Part," International Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (Canadian Division), Kingston, Ontario, May, 1991.

“Expressive Harm and Dignity,” International Association of Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, (Canadian Division), Vancouver, June 1, 2008.

“Dignity and Equality in Constitutional Jurisprudence,” Philosophy and Law Society, University of Auckland, New Zealand, March 10, 2009.