Tom Cavanaugh

Thomas Cavanaugh


Full-Time Faculty

(415) 422-6356 Kalmanovitz Hall 156


Professor Cavanaugh regularly teaches medical ethics, a medieval honors seminar (Boethius, Dante and Chaucer), and a first-year seminar entitled What is Wisdom? (for which he received a 2015 NEH grant). His most recent project concerns the Hippocratic Oath, which founds medicine as an exclusively therapeutic practice that especially excludes deliberately injuring patients. Oxford University Press published his book entitled, Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: The Birth of the Medical Profession. In this work, Cavanaugh articulates the philosophical, cultural, and anthropological bases for an ethic internal to medicine as a solely therapeutic practice, excluding salient wounds such as deliberately killing one’s patient, even at that patient’s request. He elaborates upon the connections between medical promising, professionalism, autonomy, and professional conscientious objection.

Cavanaugh also has a continuing project addressing agency and the moral import of intentions. In 2006, the Clarendon Press of Oxford University published his book entitled Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil. Double-effect reasoning arises out of the ethical thought of the medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas who introduces an embryonic form of it in response to the thought of Augustine of Hippo. To this day, thinkers rely on double-effect reasoning to evaluate actions from everyday life and the medical and military fora. They do so to distinguish consequentially similar acts with different intentional structures. Professor Cavanaugh offers a contemporary account of double effect that responds to critics who claim that acts which have similar consequences are morally equivalent, regardless of the respective agents' intentions. In this book, Professor Cavanaugh argues that two consequentially similar acts shaped by different intentions can significantly differ morally.

Medical Ethics: Hippocratic Oath, Medical Professionalism, Internal Medical Ethic
Ethics: Double-effect Reasoning, Intention-sensitive ethics, History of Ethics, Thomistic Ethics
Selected Publications

Cavanaugh, T.A. (2017). Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: The Birth of the Medical Profession. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cavanaugh, T.A. (2006). Double-Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Awards & Distinctions

2015 National Endowment for the Humanities; Enduring Questions National Grant for First-Year Seminar course entitled “What is Wisdom?”

2012/2013 USF Dean’s Scholar Award