Meet the Grantee: Attila Tanyi
Who is provided with which health care resources, and when, and by whom?
Our grantee Professor Attila Tanyi shares insights into his work regarding priority setting decisions in health-care in cooperation with his host Professor Julian Fink as well as his thoughts on the inescapability of ethics, and resurging exclusionary nationalism.
Prof. Attila Tanyi and Insa Kind, Managing Director of the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre
What are the foci of your joint research funded by the Short Term Grant?
Attila Tanyi: My research in Bayreuth focuses on priority setting decisions in health-care. The issue is how we distribute scarce health-care resources: who is provided with what and when and by whom. Of course, the problematic is more complex than this since, to mention one thing, priority-setting takes place at several levels: hospitals make decisions, ministries make decisions, the state budget allocates resources to various fields and so on. And, of course, health-care is not the only item in our shopping list for good health; there are many other factors, social as well as natural, which determine the health condition of a country’s population. How to approach this complex problematic? Mine being a primarily philosophical project, I take a normative perspective on the matter. Contrary to what is standard in the field, I query not so much what principles should govern the distribution of resources but what reasons decide the matter and how. With my host at Bayreuth, Professor Fink, we are working on a research paper as well as establishing cooperation between our respective departments. Since in 2022-23 I am based at CEU IAS as a fellow, our collaboration extends beyond the Humboldt grant tenure.
In what way is your work interdisciplinary, and what does interdisciplinarity mean to you in academic work and life?
AT: Philosophy is a discipline that can contribute to pretty much any field in the social and natural sciences and of course we often work with researchers in the humanities as well. This is because philosophy is primarily a mode of thinking and approach; and secondarily because many, if not all fields in philosophy investigate issues that have relevance also in the sciences (think of ethics, but also of philosophy of science, or metaphysics). My research has always been heavily interdisciplinary (I’ve worked with economists, psychologists, political scientists and medical researchers, among others) and my project in Bayreuth is no different. Health-care priority setting is by nature interdisciplinary since it fuses ethics with medical knowledge and institutional (political) questions, to mention just two fields. In my experience, both in this project and in my other works, such cooperation across the disciplines is essential - notwithstanding the fact that some questions remain purely philosophical, of course - while at the same time it is no easy endavour. Disciplines work with their own ‘logic’ and conceptual tools, but once we sort out our differences, cooperation becomes very fruitful.
What is in your opinion the future of your field, and in what way can research on Philosophy and Ethics contribute to meeting the urgent challenges of our time?
AT: Ethics is everywhere. All decisions at all levels have an ethical dimension and insofar as we intend to maintain a well-run society, decision-makers, that is to say, all of us, must pay attention to ethical problems. So, in this simple sense, the future of my field is ‘guaranteed’ - even arguing, as many do when it comes to, e.g., international affairs, that ethics has no relevance, is an ethical position. So, I think, ethics is in a sense inescapable. But I also think that it makes an important contribution to the quality of our decisions. One reason for this is that it focuses our attention on others - global problems offer good illustration: we cannot properly respond to the climate crisis without thinking about ethical issues having to do with the interests of future generations or past injustices. And my specific research topic in Bayreuth also offers a good example: deciding to whom we give what kind of health care cannot be done just by considering one’s own interests and technical or political problems.
What does international research mobility mean to you?
AT: Science does not recognize borders. Hence any restriction is a problem, although Covid has shown that we can carry out meaningful and intensive work without meeting in person at all. But this only lasts that long; ultimately, personal, physical, in-person interaction is essential. Of course, some of the limitations are legitimate by any reasonable criteria - some of the pandemic-induced border restrictions were needed, obviously. However, the border closures that hindered movement radically were, in my (published) view, not needed. Resurging exclusionary nationalism is an even bigger problem (especially assuming that, hopefully, pandemics won’t return too often). In fact, I’d say this is the major problem of our time. It hinders physical movement, as it did during the pandemic, but more dangerously, it distorts policy making and cooperation (just think of Brexit, the Trump presidency or the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine). Scientists must fight exclusion on grounds of national identity and the like since science will become gradually impossible in such a climate of fear and restriction (this is especially so with today’s science where lone geniuses are not the rule…)
How did the current challenges influence your cooperation?
AT: My Humboldt grant tenure fell mostly into the Covid pandemic (end of 2020 to end of 2022) and this has had an outsized effect since I was not able to travel to Bayreuth for over a year of this roughly two-year period. Luckily, and thanks to the flexibility of the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre (whose administrative support I’d like to praise also here), although I have planned with several shorter trips over two years, I have managed to come to Bayreuth for two longer stays in June and November 2022. I had worked in Bayreuth and have many contacts and friends, so for me these stays were joyful and fruitful. My host, Prof Fink and his institute (Philosophy) were very supportive and Bayreuth as a city and UBT as a university and campus have not disappointed. Our collaboration with Prof Fink will no doubt continue and I have also drafted a research paper with Vuko Andrić, a former doctoral student of mine who has been based in Bayreuth in the last years. Vuko is moving to Sweden and I will lead a research group in 2023-24 at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. I believe our collaboration with both of them will therefore continue uninterrupted.
Dr. Attila Tanyi is Professor of Philosophy and leader of the Ethics Research Group at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway, having moved there in 2016 from a post as Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. He is a trained philosopher, economist, and political scientist. He has published in the philosophy of law and on many topics in moral and political philosophy. He has held several research fellowships, guest professorships, and has led externally financed projects. In 2022–23 he serves as a Fellow at CEU IAS, Budapest, and in 2023–24 he will lead a project on the conflict of moral and prudential reasons at CAS, Oslo.