Outgoing Postdoc Spotlight: Kal Kalewood

Although Kal Kalewold, General Ethics Fellow at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, double majored in biology and philosophy at SUNY Plattsburgh and spent one semester working full time as a researcher in a biology lab, he eventually “came to a fork in the road where I had to decide to become a practical wet lab scientist or a philosopher, and I chose philosophy. Science is fun, but it's a lot of waiting for things to happen.” 

Despite choosing philosophy, Kalewold hasn’t foregone his interest in science; rather, he is now a philosopher of science — particularly life sciences, such as biology — and of race. For his dissertation and for his first publication, "Race and Medicine in Light of the New Mechanistic Philosophy of Science," Kalewold interrogates the explanatory power of race for understanding epidemiological racial disparities. He asks, for instance: “Does the concept of race make explanations better or worse in medicine? Is the race concept, compared with the dozens of other extant explanations, helpful in researching, diagnosing and treating complex diseases and disorders?” Applying key "explanatory goodness" concepts such as proportionality, stability and robustness, Kal argues that, ultimately, population or ecology or environmental history each provide “finer grained” explanations for social determinants of health than does race.

While continuing to write papers drawn from his dissertation, Kalewold has found his fellowship a very generative way to spend this year. The weekly lunch meetings, where fellows present, discuss and revise the paper they have written for that quarter, create “a really fantastic atmosphere to do political theory and philosophy.” In his first Ethics in Society paper, “Lockdowns and the Ethics of Intergenerational Compensation,” Kalewold contends that the harms caused by lockdowns during the pandemic, although necessary, “disproportionately fell upon the young, while the benefits disproportionately accrued to the elderly. This sort of intergenerational distributed injustice,” he argues, requires intergenerational compensation similar to the GI Bill.” Not only would such a plan help young people succeed long term, but the moral necessity of the compensation might make us more likely to pursue necessary education and climate change policies that would  benefit the young and society more broadly. 

Because Kalewold tries to follow where his mind likes to “jump,” and the fellowship provides an effective structure, his second paper explores a very different topic. In "Every Day is Election Day: Registral Voting and the Promise of Digital Democracy," Kalewold proposes a new voting system using digital technologies that would essentially allow voters to log on and vote for their favorite candidate, policy or party every day, but also change their minds over time. Privileging a “theory of democracy that values voters’ ability to hold their government accountable,” winners would be decided by averaging out the votes over the entire electoral term, countering incumbent governments efforts to maximize their appeal around elections.

When Kalewold leaves Stanford this summer, he will become a lecturer (US equivalent: assistant professor) at the University of Leeds in their Philosophy Department and at the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science. Kal was  attracted to this position because the large, interdisciplinary department — including a Centre for Aesthetics, Moral, and Political Philosophy; and a Centre for Metaphysics and Mind — encourages his wide-ranging research, making it possible for him to continue thinking about ethics, political and social philosophy and race.

Reflecting on his work as a scholar, Kalewold said: “To have a job where I get to think, to engage in scholarship, to engage with students and colleagues — it’s a charmed life.” 


Donna Hunter is a freelance writer, editor, and tutor living in San Francisco. She has a Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley and was an Advanced Lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric.