About Christopher Olaf Tollefsen

Christopher Olaf Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. He was born on January 25, 1968 in Washington D.C., where his father Olaf was a graduate student at Georgetown University. The family moved first to Emmitsburg, Maryland, then to Goffstown, New Hampshire, where Christopher grew up.

He attended St. Anselm College, in Manchester, New Hampshire, where his father taught. It was there, as a philosophy major, that Christopher was first introduced to the work of Grisez, which was a topic of much conversation in the philosophy department. In particular, faculty members were debating the question of the relationship between practical reason and theoretical reason, and even the undergraduate philosophy club became involved in these arguments. At the end of his junior year, he married Laurie MacLean, also a philosophy major, and after graduation, the two attended Emory University, both completing Ph.D.s in philosophy.

At Emory, Christopher continued to study the work of Grisez and his collaborators, often defending it in ethics and medieval philosophy classes. Both his and his wife’s dissertations relied on Grisez’s work; Christopher’s was on practical reason, Laurie’s on the nature of the contraceptive act. At Emory, they had their first child, Emma; they are currently expecting their ninth.

In 1995, Christopher spent a year as a visiting assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. He and Laurie spent the next year teaching in Ghana, West Africa, at the Spiritan Institute for Philosophy, before returning to South Carolina, where Christopher has taught since then.

Initially, Christopher’s work focused on thinkers he thought provided helpful contrasts to, or extensions of, natural law thought, such as Alasdair MacIntyre. But eventually, he began to work more explicitly on topics in natural law philosophy, especially concerning issues such as the nature of human action, the foundations of practical reason, political morality, and the application of natural law thought to applied ethical issues such as the morality of lying, beginning and end of life issues, and the ethics governing inquiry.

Since entering the profession, Christopher has been privileged to meet and work with Grisez and many of his collaborators, such as Joseph Boyle, Patrick Lee, and Robert P. George. With George, he has co-authored the book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, which pursues and defends a line of thought about the nature of the human person that Grisez was instrumental in articulating and arguing for several decades ago.

Since 2005, Christopher has also co-taught a summer seminar for the Witherspoon Institute in New Jersey. Intended for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, the seminar is on issues in natural law philosophy. In teaching it, he has helped introduce many students to the work of Grisez, John Finnis, and others carrying on the natural law tradition.

Christopher was pleased to return to St. Anselm College in the Fall of 2008, both to deliver the annual Olaf Tollefsen Lecture, in honor of his father, and to receive the Alumni Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement.

Christopher Tollefsen’s Publications


Biomedical Research and Beyond: Expanding the Ethics of Inquiry (New York: Routledge, 2008).

Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, with Robert P. George (New York: Doubleday, 2008).

Edited: Bioethics With Liberty and Justice: Themes in the Work of Joseph M. Boyle (New York: Springer, 2010).

Edited: Artificial Nutrition and Hydration: The New Catholic Debate (New York: Springer, 2008).

Edited: John Paul II’s Contribution to Catholic Bioethics (New York: Springer, 2004).

Articles and Book Chapters

“Conscience, Religion and the State,” American Journal of Jurisprudence, 54 (2009): forthcoming.

“Missing Persons: Engelhardt on Abortion,” in At the Roots of Christian Bioethics: Critical Essays on the Thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., ed. Mark Cherry and Ana Iltis (New York: Scribner, 2009), forthcoming.

“No Problem: A Response to Bernard Prusak’s ‘The Problem with the Problem of the Embryo,’” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 81 (2009): forthcoming.

“Disability and Social Justice,” in Philosophical Perspectives on Disability, ed. D. C Ralston and J. Ho (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), forthcoming.

“Ten Words: John Paul II on the Ten Commandments,” in Truth, Life, and Solidarity in the Philosophical Thought of John Paul the Great, ed. J. L. A. Garcia and Laura Garcia (New York: Crossroads, 2009), forthcoming.

“Human Nature and Its Limits,” in The Normativity of the Natural, ed. Mark Cherry (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), 17–31.

“The New Natural Law Theory,” for Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism, an on-line encyclopedia project, forthcoming.

“Intending Damage to Basic Goods?” Christian Bioethics, 14 (2008): 1–11

“Biotech Enhancement and the Natural Law,” with Ryan Anderson, The New Atlantis, 20 (2008): 79–103.

“The Ever-Conscious View: A Critique,” National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, 8 (2008): 43–48.

“Could Human Embryo Transfer be Malum In Se?” in The Ethics of Embryo Adoption and the Catholic Moral Tradition, ed. S. Brakman and D. Weaver (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 85–101.

“Ten Mistakes About End of Life Care,” in Artificial Nutrition and Hydration: the New Catholic Debate, ed. Christopher Tollefsen (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 213–36.

“Lying: The Integrity Approach,” American Journal of Jurisprudence, 52 (2007): 253–71.

“Religious Reasons and Public Bioethics,” Christian Bioethics, 13 (2007): 139–58.

“John Paul II and Children’s Education,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, 21 (2007): 159–89.

“Is A Purely First Person Account of Human Action Defensible?” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 9 (2006): 441–60.

“MacIntyre and the Moralization of Enquiry,” International Philosophical Quarterly, 46 (2006): 221–38.

“Fission, Fusion, and the Simple View,” Christian Bioethics, 12 (2006): 255–63.

“Introduction: The President’s Council on Bioethics: Overview and Assessment,” HEC Forum, 18 (2006): 99–107.

“The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy: Some Platonic Objections to U2” in U2 and Philosophy, ed. Mark Wrathall (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 2006), 195–205.

“Reasons for Action and Reasons for Belief,” Social Epistemology, 20:1 (2006): 1–11.

“Persons in Time,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 80 (2006): 107–23.

“Universalizability in Ethics,” American Journal of Jurisprudence, 50 (2005): 225–32.

“Abortion and the Human Animal,” Christian Bioethics, 10 (2005): 105–16.

“Hume and Moral Expertise,” in Moral Expertise: A Reappraisal, ed. Lisa Rasmussen (Dordrecht: Springer, 2005), 55–72.

“The Normativity of Natural Function,” in Virtu, Natura e Normativita, ed. Antonio Da Re and Gabriele De Anna (Padua: Il Poligrafo, 2004), 171–90.

“John Paul II at the Beginning of the 21st Century” in John Paul II’s Contribution to Catholic Bioethics, ed. Christopher Tollefsen (Dordrecht: Springer, 2004) 1–6.

“Basic Goods, Practical Insight, and External Reasons,” in Human Values: New Essays on Ethics and Natural Law, ed. D. S. Oderberg and T. D. J. Chappell (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2004), 32–51.

“Natural Law and Meta-ethics: A Guided Tour,” Natural Law and Global Ethics, ed. Mark Cherry (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004), 39–56.

“Roman Catholic Bioethics” with Joseph M. Boyle, in The Annals of Bioethics, ed. Joseph Pappin, Mark Cherry, and Ana Iltis (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004), 1–20.

“Introduction: At the Edges of Informed Consent,” HEC Forum, 16 (2004): 1–5.

“Sic et Non: Some Disputed Questions in Reproductive Ethics,” in, Bioethics: A Philosophical Overview, ed. George Khushf (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004), 281–413.

“Pragmatism in Bioethics: Diagnosis or Cure?” with Mark Cherry, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 28:5–6 (2003): 533–44.

“Justified Belief,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, 48 (2003): 281–96.

“Institutional Integrity” in Institutional Integrity, ed. Ana Smith Iltis (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003), 121–38.

“Experience Machines, Dreams, and What Matters,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, 37 (2003): 153–64.

“Managed Care and the Practice of the Professions,” in The Ethics of Managed Care, ed. William Bondeson (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2002), 29–40.

“Cooperative, Coordinative and Coercive Epistemologies,” in Realism and Antirealism, ed. William Alston (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 2002), 149–66.

“Practical Reason and Ethics Above the Line,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 5 (2002): 67–87.

“Embryos, Individuals, and Persons: An Argument Against Embryo Creation and Research,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, 18:1 (2001): 65–78.

“The Importance of Begging Earnestly,” Christian Bioethics, 6 (2000): 267–80.

“Direct and Indirect Action Revisited,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 74:4 (2000): 653–70.

“Journalism and the Social Good,” Public Affairs Quarterly, 14:4 (2000): 293–307.

“McDowell’s Moral Realism and the Secondary Quality Analogy,” Disputatio, 8 (May 2000): 30–42.

“What Would John Dewey Do? The Promises and Perils of Pragmatic Bioethics,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 25:1 (2000): 77–106.

“Non-Ecumenical Ecumenism,” Christian Bioethics, 5:3 (1999).

“Sidgwickian Objectivity and Ordinary Morality,” Journal of Value Inquiry, 33:1 (1999): 57–70.

“Meta Ain’t Always Betta: Conceptualizing the Generic Chaplaincy Issue,” Christian Bioethics, 4:3 (1998): 305–15.

“Advanced Directives and Voluntary Slavery” (response to Thomas May, “Reassessing the Reliability of Advance Directives”), Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 7 (Oct. 1998): 305–13.

“Self-Assessing Emotions and Platonic Fear,” International Philosophical Quarterly, 37:3 (1997): 305–18.

“Donagan, Abortion, and Civil Rebellion,” Public Affairs Quarterly, 11:3 (1997): 303–12.