Bioethics today is about the ways our vision of issues and outcomes may be occluded, blurred, or otherwise compromised by our respective points of view or perspectives. Of course this is not unique to bioethics, all human comprehension is subject to bias by the attenuation of culture, gender, religion, ideology, experience, the absence of experience, greed, egoism, and on our list could go. It is in our nature to see what we’ve seen, to see what we want to see, to see through a glass darkly. Without corrected vision the people perish.
We’ve not yet reached Proverbs in our Humanist Bible, in A&P, but we’ve definitely already encountered plenty that speaks to our native tendency to frame experience incorrectly. Bioethical philosophers across the perspectival spectrum presume to prescribe corrective frames.
We should play with this metaphor. As a lifetime wearer of framed corrective lenses, I can attest to the temporary excitement of a new prescription, or even just a stylish new frame to house the old set of lenses. The trick is always to find frames that hold up through every season of wear, that don’t grow tiresome, and that justify the expense of change. (My wife returned from Costco yesterday reporting that the same frames she’d found at the Eye Doc’s were $100s cheaper.) Sometimes new lenses in the old frame suffice, sometimes you just need a new look.
So, some of the perspectives we’ll try to focus and reframe today: attitudes and assumptions around HIV/AIDS, especially as occluded by miseducation; violence as a public health issue; “feminist critiques” of contingently-drawn, historically-conditioned categories of masculinity and femininity, locked into patriarchal institutions and practices that discriminate against women; misogyny; marginalization; advocacy; embodiment; empowerment; relational autonomy; metaphysical dualism; care; furor therapeuticus; female genital mutilation; “Asian bioethics”; Plato’s Euthyphro; Abraham & Isaac; Buddhism; and more.
In A&P we’re framing Owen Flanagan’s search for meaning in nature with Parables and Concord (from A.C. Grayling’s anonymous compilation of Humanist scripture).
Flanagan disputes the conventional philosophic wisdom, usually set at David Hume’s feet, that “normative questions cannot be addressed empirically.” No ought from is. Those of us who’ve wrestled with Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape won’t be surprised to learn or recall that Flanagan was Harris’s teacher. Both are attuned to the normative implications of facts about human nature and flourishing, cast hypothetically. If you want to be happy, for instance, it seems to be a relevant fact about your species that you’ll be more likely to succeed if you can avoid ill health. Thus, you ought to take care of yourself, have regular checkups, eat sensibly and exercise. Fact. No?
Flanagan’s out to naturalize everything and everyone, from Buddhism to Plato. He loves superscripted nouns (Space of Meaning/Early 21st century), lower-case adjectives (“platonic” is natural, “Platonic” is supernatural), and change as the only constant, with our aspirations pegged to our variable circumstances and povs. The pursuit of good, true, and beautiful attainments is natural for beings like ourselves, up from the sea, living out on terra firma our natural darwinian lives. (He forgot to lower-case that last one, or maybe his editor rebelled insistently on stylistic grounds.) Hence, our meaningful inquiries here and now.
Commenting on a recent student collaborator’s post, I asked what Harry Frankfurt would say about Biz Schools that instruct their charges always to speak with greater conviction than they feel or can support evidentiarily. (He’d call Bullshit on ’em, of course.) Here Flanagan asks what Harry would say about meaning. He’d say it rightly reflects what we care about. If we care about anything at all, we’re tracking meaning. Naturally. That’s the truth.
Thrasymachus, Hobbes, Nietzsche and other notorious deflators of human nature discredit our capacity to feel one another’s pleasure, pain, and aspiration. David Hume, again, would offer correction in the form of “fellow-feeling” and the “fitness” of our confreres to seek lives of meaning and value. “Humans are designed [by nature’s blind watchmaker] to care about more than individual fitness.” If we can’t all be Overman, Fred, just forget it. Thus spake the atheist-humanist Saint David of Edinburgh.
Also on the discussion agenda today: Dan Dennett’s skyhooks and cranes, the eudaimonic virtues, and the natural “afterlife.”
And more, including whatever Good Book verses anyone cares to meditate on. Myself, I’m still fixated on some earlier Parables: Ch.13, verse 3 notes that “the [Peripatetic] philosophers thought out their best ideas walking up and down.” Verse 14 “like(s) to think of the philosophers walking in their groves,” for “the body must be active as the mind learns.” Verse 18 implores us to “let the door to the library of the world open from the library of one’s books.” Amen.
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