Tollefsen, Christopher 1968-

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Tollefsen, Christopher 1968-


Born January 25, 1968. Education: Graduate of Saint Anselm College; Emory University, Ph.D., 1995.


Home—Columbia, SC. E-mail—[email protected]


University of South Carolina, Columbia, associate professor in the philosophy department, director of the graduate program in philosophy.


Fellow, Witherspoon Institute, Princeton, NJ.


Biomedical Research and Beyond: Expanding the Ethics of Inquiry, Routledge (New York, NY), 2008.

(With Robert P. George) Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2008.


(With Olaf Tollefsen) Foundationalism Defended: Essays on Epistemology, Ethics, and Aesthetics, Cambridge Press (Bethesda, MD), 1995.

John Paul II's Contribution to Catholic Bioethics, Springer (Norwell, MA), 2004.

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration: The New Catholic Debate, Springer (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2008.


Born on January 25, 1968, Christopher Tollefsen graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, and received a Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1995. He is an associate professor in the department of philosophy and the director of the graduate program in philosophy at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He is also a fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, an organization whose intent is to promote the understanding and application of the political, moral, and philosophical principles of democracy.

Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, which Tollefsen wrote with Robert P. George, imagines a world in which embryos are mass produced for the purpose of research. The authors' primary theme is that each embryo has the moral right to be treated with respect as an individual human being. Although this is a familiar religious argument, Embryo tries to apply this argument to a scientific forum. The book begins with a biological description of fertilization and the creation of a single-celled zygote, the conception of an embryo. Tollefsen and George dispute the idea that the embryo has no consciousness and is not fully human, claiming that since it contains all the genetics characteristics of a human being, it is therefore a complete organism with the capability of developing into a rational human being. They conclude that the embryo is, therefore, alive.

According to the authors, however, establishing that an embryo is alive does not answer the moral question of how it should be treated, a subject they acknowledge as more a matter for moralists and philosophers than for scientists, and devote a large portion of the book to a discussion of moral and philosophical issues. Tollefsen and George explain in detail the concept of "duality," the separation of the physical from the moral or spiritual. They discuss various examples, such as Plato's soul-body dualism and Descartes's mind-body dualism. Rejecting these philosophical ideas, Tollefsen and George claim that one cannot separate the moral entity that makes a body human from the biological organism. Both are valuable, they insist, and cannot be separated from each other, either physically or morally. They reject as "moral dualism" the idea that an embryo is not fully human, asserting instead that it is already a person, not a "pre-person," and as such holds claim to the right to live.

The authors' line of reasoning is: since life begins at conception, the living embryo should be considered fully human, and the state has a mandate to protect human life, the state has an obligation to protect embryos. They further suggest that the solution to the disposal of excess embryos created during in vitro fertilization is embryo adoption.

Although many reviewers criticized Embryo for faulty science, and remarked that the authors exhibited a slanted perspective and personal philosophical bias, several critics received the book positively. A contributor to the SciTech Book News wrote that the book was "all about politics and power," and William Saletan, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, called it an "essential and timely message." John F. Ka- vanaugh, a contributor to America, declared it "particularly valuable for its critique of ‘body-person’ dualism." In a review for the National Review, Wesley J. Smith praised the authors, and stated that they, "demonstrate convincingly that human life matters morally at every stage of existence, simply because it is human." He also remarked that the book is "highly readable and [Tollefsen and George's] argument [is] readily accessible to the average reader." In a review of Embryo, a contributor to Issues in Law & Medicine concluded, "This book is a timely consideration of the nature and rights of human embryos."



America, December 24, 2007, John F. Kavanaugh, "In Defense of Human Life 2," review of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, p. 8.

American Spectator, March 1, 2008, "Wise Counsel," review of Embryo, p. 76.

Commonweal, May 23, 2008, "In the Beginning," review of Embryo, p. 26.

Issues in Law & Medicine, March 22, 2008, review of Embryo, p. 311.

National Review, January 28, 2008, Wesley J. Smith, "Rock-solid Logic," review of Embryo, p. 48.

New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2008, William Saletan, review of Embryo, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, October 8, 2007, review of Embryo, p. 47.

SciTech Book News, March 1, 2008, review of Embryo.


New Atlantis Online, (July 31, 2008), short author profile.

Random House Web site, (July 31, 2008), review of Embryo and short author profile.

University of South Carolina Philosophy Department Web site, (July 31, 2008), short author profile.

Witherspoon Institute Web site, (February 20, 2008), author profile.


National Review Online Radio, January 10, 2008, "Robert P. George on Embryo," audio file.

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Tollefsen, Christopher 1968-

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