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USC College Philosopher Wins Prestigious Fellowship

Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will support book project on ethics

USC College Philosopher Wins Prestigious Fellowship

Philosophers and lawmakers have long argued about whether killing someone is morally worse than letting a person die.

It’s one thing not to save a drowning child. Another to force a child’s head under water.

In groundbreaking research, USC College’s Kadri Vihvelin explores the differences and moral significance. An associate professor of philosophy, Vihvelin has been awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, research division.

Beginning in the fall, she will spend a year writing a book about the complex differences between doing harm and allowing harm, and its moral significance in the context of debates about euthanasia, abortion and “bad Samaritan” laws — laws that make it illegal to stand by while a crime is being committed.

Vihvelin was one of 155 awarded from a pool of 1,395 candidates throughout the nation. She receives a grant of $40,000.

The prevailing thought is that killing someone is morally worse than allowing someone to die. Many people hold this belief because when you let someone die, you’re not doing anything. Vihvelin challenges this notion.

“After all, when you don’t help a drowning child, you are still doing something — not helping — and it’s something that has the direct and foreseeable upshot that the child will die,” said Vihvelin, who earned a law degree at Oxford University and a Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. “Why isn’t that just as bad as drowning a child?”

Vihvelin’s book will be based on her paper published in the April 2005 issue of The Journal of Philosophy.