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Kimberly Leighton

Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy and Religion

Kim Leighton was raised in the Boston area, and has spent much of her life in New York and Western Mass. She spent her junior year abroad studying at Oxford University. After finishing her dissertation in philosophy on understandings of self-knowledge in modern and post-modern philosophy, she was awarded a Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cornell University where she taught for the philosophy department. While at Cornell Kim explored continental and analytic philosophy approaches to questions regarding the self, identity, and ethics. In particular, she began to explore the implications of ethical debates on epistemological issues. While her main areas of research are ethics and bioethics, her work is strongly informed by social/political philosophy, continental philosophy, and feminist philosophy. As she brings bio-ethics and political philosophy together, one question Kim asks is: how might current sciences of identity such as genetics and genomics, and the ethical problems they purportedly raise, affect current political, social, and legal critique, particularly in regards to articulations of rights and freedom?


PhD, Philosophy, UMass Amherst; MA, Philosophy, UMass Amherst; BA, Liberal Arts, Sarah Lawrence College

CAS - Philosophy and Religion
Battelle Tompkins - 121
Contact Info
(202) 885-2415 (Office)
(202) 885-1094 (Fax)

Send email to Kimberly Leighton

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.
See Also
Philosophy and Religion Dept

Partnerships & Affiliations

  • International Association on Feminist Approaches to Bioethics


  • American Philosophical Association


  • Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities


  • International Association of Women Philosophers


  • Society for Women in Philosophy


  • Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy


  • Society for Feminist Ethics and Social Philosophy


  • APA Committee on the Status

    Committee Membership

  • Korean Science and Engineering Foundation

    Grant Proposal Referee

  • Korean Science and Engineering Foundation

    Grant Proposal Referee

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

Kim’s current research interrogates the intersections of epistemology and moral and political philosophy as she examines the ways self-knowledge is operative in some of the key concepts of contemporary and modern political theory (e.g., agency, identity, autonomy, and authenticity) and in debates in bioethics. She is also interested in how knowledge productions about the self, the body, the psyche, and the human, motivate and limit political theory.  A future project will investigate the relationship between ethics and law.

Work In Progress


  • Genealogical Bewilderment:  Uncertainty, Self-knowledge, and Family in the Genetic Age


  • “A Right not to Know?  An Argument Against Pre-adopted Genetic Testing” 
  • “Disclosure Ethics and the Regulation of Family”
  • “Naturalizing the ‘Desire to Know’ in Arguments Against Anonymous Gamete Donation” 
  • “Beyond Neutralizing Values:  Veatch on the Role of Scientific Expertise”

Grants and Sponsored Research

  • 09/08 “Self-knowledge as Regulatory Practice: Anonymous Gamete Donation and the “Right to Know” in the EU,” Annual Conference of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics held in conjunction with the International Association of Bioethics, Rijeka Croatia
  • 05/08 “Unnatural Law: Reproductive Technology and the Need for Origins,” Law and Society, Montreal, Canada
  • 03/08 “Unnatural Law: Reproductive Technology and the Need for Origins,” Annual Conference of the Associate for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, Berkeley, CA.
  • 10/07 “Genetic Artifacts: The Epistemology of ‘Family Background,’” Encountering Worlds of Adoption Second Annual Conference, Alliance for the Study of Adoption, Identity, and Kinship
  • 7/07 “Law’s Unnatural Progeny,” Law and Society Association Annual Conference, Berlin, Germany
  • 3/07 “Disclosure Ethics and the Regulation of Family,” Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities Conference, Washington, DC
  • 5/07 “Socialization and Normative Competence: Two Problems for Autonomy,” Feminist Philosophy Conference in honor of Ann Ferguson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • 4/07 “Sex, Drugs, and the Politics of ‘Objections’:  Putting Plan B Behind the Counter,” commentary on “Moral Prescriptions: Conscientious Objection and Emergency Contraception, ”Robert F. Card (State University of New York-Oswego), Central APA
  • 12/06 “Foucault and the Problem of Genetic Identity,” MIT Philosophy Department, Boston, Women, Gender, and Philosophy group (WOGAP)      

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Fulbright Fellowship, German Studies Seminar on Science and Policy, Berlin/Brussels, Summer 2008
  • College of Humanities and Social Science Research Award, George Mason University Summer 2008
  • Ethics and Society Project Research Fellowship, Wesleyan University, Department of Philosophy, Fall 2007
  • Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship, Cornell University, 2003-2005
  • The Pauline and Irving Tanner Dean's Scholars Recognition Award, Cornell University, Spring 2005
  • American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division Meeting Graduate Student Travel Grant Award (for selected colloquial session presentation) December 2003     

Selected Publications

  • "Addressing the Harms of Not Knowing One's Heredity: Lessons from Genealogical Bewilderment." Adoption and Culture: The Interdisciplinary Journal of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture Vol 3, 2012, pp. 63-107.   
  • “Being Adopted and Being a Philosopher:  An Exploration of the ‘Desire to Know’ Differently”, in Family Relations: Essays on Adoption, Feminism and Philosophy, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt, Cornell University Press, January 2005    
  • “Self-Transformations and the Problem of Ethical Self-Reflection,” review essay forthcoming Hypatia January 2010  

AU Expert

Area of Expertise:

Bioethics; medical ethics; health and quality of life; ethics education; ethics and values debates; feminist concerns regarding gender, sexuality, identity, and family; reproductive medicine; technology

Additional Information:

Kimberly J. Leighton is an assistant professor in the department of philosophy and religion at American University. Her expertise involves three main areas: bioethics and medical ethics, ethics education, and feminist philosophy. In the areas of bioethics and medical ethics, she can discuss issues involving egg and sperm donation, abortion, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and embryos, adoption, genetic testing, genetic medicine, health and quality of life, technologies of human enhancement, family life (who is a family member? what is a family?), identity, sciences regarding inheritance, and the ethics of science policy and public policy. An expert on ethics education, Leighton can also discuss ethics and values debates, and feminist philosophy including feminist concerns regarding gender, sexuality, identity, and family.

Media Relations
To request an interview please call AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or submit an interview request form.