Madeline Ward


Below you can find some of my recent papers and research projects. My research program focuses on justice, construed in material and social terms. I'm also interested in how bodies are sites of oppression, bioethics, and social policy. I have some training as a social scientist, and have publications for AARP Research listed here and under "Public Philosophy". Please email me for a copy of work in progress.

Why We Need to Stop Labeling Behaviors Influencing a Person’s Weight Ideal or Healthy, AMA J Ethics. 2023;25(7):E472-477. doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2023.472.

Abstract: In this commentary, I argue that financial incentives for employees who meet body mass index requirements reinforce healthism, a false and oppressive ideology. Healthism is the view that personal health is the vehicle of well-being and that health is achieved by personal responsibility for habit modification. Healthist views about body shape and body weight enforce oppressive norms and can lead to pernicious harms, especially to members of vulnerable groups. Overall, this article argues that persons and organizations ought not to label behaviors that influence body shape and weight in normative terms, such as “ideal” or “healthy.”

Age-specific Views on Invasive and Non-invasive Human Enhancements for Cognitive Decline” (with G. Rainville and L. Skufca), Innovation in Aging, Volume 3, Issue Supplement1, November 2019, Pages S327–S328,

Abstract: This research examines the degree to which younger and older Americans approve of addressing cognitive decline using either a pill-based or an implant-based intervention to restore prior functioning. Half of a probability-based online sample expressed concerns over side effects and levels of approval for a pill-based intervention whereas the remainder of the sample did so for a relatively invasive implant-based enhancement (data were interviews of 2,025 American adults gathered by NORC’s AmeriSpeak panel as part of the AARP Human Enhancements study). We predicted and found that relative disapproval of the implant-based intervention was only significant among those with high concerns over side effects. However, when looking at two age groups for which cognitive decline differed in salience, relative disapproval of the implant-based enhancements were relatively stronger for those 50 and older even among those with few concerns over side effects. This age-based aversion to invasive forms of enhancements may have public health implications in that the subgroup who may most-immediately benefit from the enhancement and may be in the market for only non-invasive enhancements. It is not clear if such enhancements, however, could be delivered via a pill or other non-invasive forms.

"On Fat Oppression", Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24 (3), 2014, 219-245.

Abstract: Contemporary Western societies are obsessed with the “obesity epidemic,” dieting, and fitness. Fat people violate the Western conscience by violating a thinness norm. In virtue of violating the thinness norm, fat people suffer many varied consequences. Is their suffering morally permissible, or even obligatory? In this paper, I argue that the answer is no. I examine contemporary philosophical accounts of oppression and draw largely on the work of Sally Haslanger to generate a set of conditions sufficient for some phenomena to count as oppression, and I illustrate the account’s value using the example of gender oppression. I then apply the account to fat people, examine empirical evidence, and argue that the suffering of fat people counts as oppression.

Works in Progress

Here are some of my works in progress:

Conceptual Elite Capture and Today's Mainstream Feminism

Abstract: ​Elite capture is a phenomenon by which social, political, and financial elites hijack concepts and terminology employed by activists and critical theorists and then use those concepts and terminology to reinforce and defend existing power structures. In this article, I argue that a subtype of elite capture exists called conceptual elite capture. Conceptual elite capture refers specifically to the elite capture of concepts. Drawing from contemporary psychology research, I articulate the mechanism by which conceptual elite capture happens: concept creep. Throughout the article, I expand my analysis of conceptual elite capture by using examples from contemporary mainstream feminism; in particular, I argue that mainstream feminism has reinforced its cultural and social power through conceptual elite capture.

The Internalized Oppression Worry is Morally Injurious (with Nicole Dular)

Abstract: This paper highlights and describes a rhetorical strategy in philosophical discourse and everyday life where the existence of internalized oppression is used as the premise in an argument whose conclusion is that oppressed people are mentally, morally, or epistemically deficient in some way. We argue that this rhetorical strategy is itself harmful by reinforcing negative stereotypes about vulnerable populations and undermining the epistemic and moral autonomy of oppressed people.

Solving Fat Discrimination in Healthcare Emergencies (talk)

Abstract: In this presentation I explain the moral hazard of discrimination present in contemporary medical emergency planning. I present how this specifically endangers the lives and health of fat people and offer some solutions for preventing this kind of discrimination.