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Professor of Philosophy; Director, Center for Philosophy & History of Science


Rachell Powell, PhD JD MS (formerly “Russell”) is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Boston University.

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Research Areas: philosophy of biology; philosophy of medicine; bioethics; philosophy of psychology; legal and political philosophy

Click here for a copy of her C.V.

Professional Background: Prior to her appointment at BU, Dr. Powell was an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University, and a James Martin Research Fellow at the Institute for Science and Ethics also at Oxford University. Before that she was a Greenwall Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and a Visiting Professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

Dr. Powell has held fellowships at the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, the Berlin School of Mind and Brain at Humboldt University, and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Society at North Carolina State University.

She has been a Principal Investigator on collaborative and solo grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. From 2011-2016 she was as Associate Editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics (British Medical Journal Group), and she is currently serving as an Associate Editor of Philosophy & Technology.

Education: Dr. Powell received her B.A. in philosophy (summa cum laude) from SUNY Binghamton in 1999, a Juris Doctor (with honors) from NYU Law School in 2002, and a PhD in Philosophy and MS in Biology from Duke University (2009). Before returning to philosophy, then R. Powell, Esq. worked as an attorney in the New York office of the global law firm Skadden Arps on class action and pharmaceutical liability litigation.

Research Interests: Dr. Powell’s research interests are wide-ranging and highly interdisciplinary, falling roughly along two main themes: (1) conceptual and methodological problems in evolutionary theory and (2) ethical dimensions of the new biosciences. She has made contributions to topics such as macroevolutionary theory, human evolution, the evolution of morality, the natural history of mind and value, theories of disease, animal and environmental philosophy, the ethics of human germline modification, and the biomedical enhancement of human capacities. In future work she plans to explore the psychology of trauma and its biocultural intersections with gender and sexuality.


Contingency and Convergence: Toward a Cosmic Biology of Body and Mind (MIT Press, 2020)

The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory (Oxford University Press, 2018; co-written with Allen Buchanan)

Genetic Engineering and the Future of Human Nature (Cambridge University Press, under contract, due 2022)

Alien Minds: Invertebrate Intelligence and the Evolutionary Meaning of Life (in progress; co-written with Irina Mikhalevich).

Selected Articles:

Mikhalevich, I. and Powell, R. (2020), “Minds Without Spines: Toward a More Evolutionarily Inclusive Animal Ethics,” Animal Sentience 29(1).

Powell, R. and Scarffe, E. (2019), “Rehabilitating ‘Disease’: Function, Value, and Objectivity in Medicine,” Philosophy of Science 86(5):1168-1178.

O’Malley, M. and Powell, R. (2016) “Major Problems in Evolutionary Transitions” Biology and Philosophy 31(2): 159-189.

Buchanan, A. and Powell, R. (2016), “A Naturalistic Theory of Moral Progress,” Ethics 126: 983–1014.

Buchanan, A. and Powell, R. (2015), “The Limits of Evolutionary Explanations of Morality and Their Implications for Moral Progress” Ethics 126(1): 37-67.

Powell, R. (2015), “In Genes We Trust: Genetic Engineering, Eugenics and the Future of the Human Genome,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 40(6): 669-95.

Powell, R. and Mariscal, C. (2015), “Convergent Evolution as Natural Experiment: The Tape of Life Reconsidered,” Journal of the Royal Society Interface Focus 5(6): 1-13.

Powell, R. and Shea, N. (2014), “Homology Across Inheritance Systems,” Biology and Philosophy 29(6): 781-806.

Powell, R. and Clarke, S. (2012), “Religion as an Evolutionary Byproduct: A Critique of the Standard Model,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 63(3): 457-486 (editor’s choice)

Powell, R. (2012). “The Evolutionary Biological Implications of Human Genetic Engineering,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37(3): 204-226.

Powell, R. (2012), “The Future of Human Evolution,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 63: 145-175.

Powell, R. (2012), “Convergent Evolution and the Limits of Natural Selection,” European Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2(3): 355-373.



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