Dr Sean Sinclair

Dr Sean Sinclair


My background it that I worked for many years in marketing. For the last few years I have run my own marketing consultancy business. This partly involved market research interviews with healthcare commissioners. This alerted me to the major ethical issues involved in this area of policy.

My original first degree was in English Literature. But 19 years later, I kicked off my philosophical career with a part-time BA in Philosophy at Birkbeck in London. Birkbeck is part of the University of London, but it offers part time degrees for older students. In most subjects it was rated 5 or 5* in the last RAE, which makes it a world class research institution. I received a Congratulatory First, as well as the Cyril Joad Prize for high performance. I followed this with an MSc in philosophical ethics at Edinburgh. 

I did my PhD at Leeds. This was focused on the ethics of healthcare allocation. The "attraction" of this topic is that these are life and death decisions. There's no other issue where government decisions have such serious immediate consequences. What makes it even more interesting is that in the UK, the underlying assumptions of existing policy are distinctly utilitarian in character. The analysis and reports that policy-makers depend on are produced by health economists, who are utility enthusiasts. But it's questionable whether that perspective takes account of all the ethical considerations that matter. I defended an account which captures all the "messy" considerations that guide ordinary moral thinking, whilst also having some of the rigour of moral theories.

Research interests

I'm interested in the ethics of health policy issues and of other policy issues. I'm interested in analysing the dialectics of public debates about policy issues, and in improving the quality of public debate. This includes improving the quality of public input to consultations on policy questions. I am interested in professional ethics. I am interested in supervising PhD students in any of these areas.

You can see some of my papers by following this link.

In more detail, I am interested in three main areas of research: 

Ethics of healthcare and public health

I am interested in the ethical aspects of health policy issues. I wrote my thesis on the ethics of healthcare allocation, ie which patient groups should we fund? In the UK, the underlying assumptions of healthcare allocation policy are distinctly utilitarian in character. My thesis was a sequence of counterexamples against an exclusive focus on benefit maximisation; I  argued that other considerations matter too, such as rarity, age, and notice of death. I am also interested in the ethics of other health policy questions, such as: public health ethics; the potential role of MCDA and algorithms in policy-making; how policy-makers should handle qualitative evidence in their decision-making; and ways of increasing the impact of patient and public involvement.

Analysis of public debates

I am interested in analysing public debates as a method of understanding and assessing public opinion on policy issues. I find this highlights issues and arguments that are not considered in the academic literature on these issues. My approach is to analyse and assess the arguments on each side of a policy debate. A key tool is charity, which consists of taking an incomplete argument and interpreting it so as to represent it as plausible and sound. The resulting analysis goes beyond what's said in the text under analysis, yet remains importantly faithful to what proponents of a position have said, particularly in terms of their values. Assessment is facilitated by seeing what opposing sides say in response to each other’s arguments, rather than considering arguments in isolation. Overall, these methods can both throw light on public opinion, and reveal relevant considerations that policy-makers might have missed otherwise. 

Professional ethics

I am interested in Continuing Professional Development in ethics, specifically how to ensure that ethics CPD has more impact. Some ethics CPD is not found to be helpful by trainees. The IDEA centre has been working to change this, eg by getting trainees to think about hard dilemmas where different principles come into conflict, so trainees end up able to think about difficult situations sensitively and intelligently. I am planning research to investigate how this can be taken further, so that ethics CPD is even better oriented to the needs of trainees.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Research groups and institutes

  • Healthcare Ethics
  • Leadership Ethics, Persuasion and Public Reason
  • Professional Ethics
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>