Michael Da Silva

Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Law/Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University

Bachelor of Arts (Hons), Philosophy and Contemporary Studies, 2009

I’m a teacher and a writer.

Ask Michael Da Silva what he does, and he will say, “I’m a teacher and a writer.”

Ask him about what and you get a snapshot of a man who has embraced academia.

“I am a lawyer by training, but I have done graduate work in philosophy and I continue to work in philosophy. I am interested in basic legal and philosophical questions in a variety of areas mostly in public law and ethics and political philosophy.”

But Michael hasn’t barricaded himself inside the ivory towers.

“I want to be able to contribute to public policy discussions… I try to do work that has practical consequence.”

Michael’s doctoral thesis, defended in the spring of 2018, is a good example of doing work that has “practical consequence”. He took on the thorny question of health care as a right. He notes that many countries have enshrined a constitutional right to health care. But a constitutional right may differ from a moral right. He says, “I’ve come to think that a constitutional right to health care isn’t the best method of achieving what we would want of a moral right to health care.”

It is both a legal and philosophical puzzle that has profound implications for people and their health.

“It’s hard to make a right to health care fit the traditional model of rights. If you have a right, you should be able to clearly specify someone who has a duty to provide it and clearly specify what they need to do to fulfill that duty. It’s very hard to do that in the case of a right to health care.”

It’s as if Michael were born to tackle such complex issues. But he had help along the way.

“I always thought I’d be in academia. I just always loved reading and King’s confirmed that I can do it … King’s provides an ethic of understanding and an ethic of good faith argumentation, trying to understand others’ positions.”

King’s was the first of four degrees Michael has earned. He has been the recipient of prestigious scholarships such as the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and most recently the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. But Michael is clear that academia is only one part of him. He says, “I don’t want my work to be purely esoteric … I try to do fun stuff.” That he does.

Michael and a colleague wrote a chapter for a book tackling the philosophical question—should we treat the dead with respect? Now that doesn’t sound like “fun” but the book is titled, The Walking Dead and Philosophy.

“We used zombies as an introduction to this question,” says Michael “and we used plots in The Walking Dead as an introduction to this problem and gave some of the classical solutions to it.”

The undead are a long way from the ivory towers.