Recent events concerning the guerilla journalism group Live Action created controversy over the morality of lying for a good cause. In that controversy, I defended the absolutist view about lying, the view that lying, understood as assertion contrary to one’s belief, is always wrong. In this essay, I step back from the specifics of the Live Action case to look more closely at what St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, had to say in defense of the absolute view. Their approaches, (...) while rather different, are nevertheless, I believe, complementary, and cast light on both practical and principled reasons for thinking that lying is wrong, even for agood cause. In the final section of the paper, I discuss some of the challenges that a further defense of the absolute view would need to meet. (shrink)
The gap between Christian and secular bioethics appears to be widening, and inevitably so. In this essay, I identify four areas in which the differences between Christian and secular bioethics are significant, and in light of which secular bioethics, by its inability to attend to key concerns of Christian thought, will inevitably continue to marginalize the latter. How Christian bioethicists should view this marginalization will be the subject of the final section of this paper.
A philosophical embryology should have three concerns: first, it should describe the realities discovered by embryology and developmental biology ata higher level of generality than is achieved by those disciplines, and it should integrate this more general representation with philosophy’s other more generalconcepts. Second, it should answer philosophical questions raised by the study of embryological development if, as I believe, there are some. And third, it mustbe prepared to engage in a philosophical dialectic with those whose general representations work with (...) a different set of concepts, or who answer philosophicalquestions differently, or who dispute the boundaries between the scientific and the philosophical. In this essay, I identify a number of questions that belong to thedomain I am identifying as “philosophical embryology,” and discuss the answers I think are indicated by sound philosophy and biology. (shrink)
Is the human zygote and human embryo a human being? Such questions are biological questions (although philosophy may helpfully be drawn upon in rebutting objections and clarifying concepts). The issue of personhood is thus best kept entirely off the table when that question is being discussed. What is, or is not, possible for ontological persons, and what would, or would not, be morallywarranted for moral persons, should not play a role in the assessment of biological evidence with a view to (...) answering the biological question. Yet this is what happens in a recent essay by Bernard Prusak (ACPQ 82:3 [Summer 2008]), an essay devoted to showing why the “problem of the embryo” will always be with us. More careful attention to developmental biology, and greater care in distinguishing scientific from metaphysical and ethical questions, would go some way towards making the problem of the embryo less intractable than Prusak believes. (shrink)
Biomedical Research and Beyond: Expanding the Ethics of Inquiry investigates the ethics of biomedical and scientific inquiry, including embryonic research, animal research, genetic enhancement, and fairness in research in the developing world. Core concerns of biomedical and scientific research ethics are then shown also to be key in humanistic areas of inquiry. Biomedical Research and Beyond concludes with a discussion of the virtues that all inquirers, scientific, medical, and humanistic, should possess.
This paper critically explores the path of some of the controversies over public reason and religion through four distinct steps. The first part of this article considers the engagement of John Finnis and Robert P. George with John Rawls over the nature of public reason. The second part moves to the question of religion by looking at the engagement of Nicholas Wolterstorff with Rawls, Robert Audi, and others. Here the question turns specifically to religious reasons, and their permissible use by (...) citizens in public debate and discourse. The third part engages Jürgen Habermas's argument that while citizens must be free to make religious arguments, still, there is an obligation of translation, and a motivational constraint on lawmakers. The final section argues that even though Habermas's proposal fails, nevertheless he recognizes a key difficulty for religious citizens in contemporary liberal polities. Restoration of a full role for religiously grounded justificatory reasons in public debate is one part of an adequate solution to this problem, but a second plank must be added to the solution: recognition that religious reasons can enter into public deliberation not just as first-order justifications of particular policies, but as second-order reasons, to be considered by any polity that respects its religious citizens and, more broadly, the good of religion. (shrink)
In this essay, I defend three Simple Views concerning human beings. First, that the human embryo is, from the one-cell stage onwards, a single unitary organism. Second, that when an embryo twins, it ceases to exist and two new embryos come into existence. And third, that you and I are essentially human organisms. This cluster of views shows that it is not necessary to rely on co-location, or other obscure claims, in understanding human embryogenesis.
There are two perspectives available from which to understand an agent's intention in acting. The first is the perspective of the acting agent: what did she take to be her end, and the means necessary to achieve that end? The other is a third person perspective that is attentive to causal or conceptual relations: was some causal outcome of the agent's action sufficiently close, or so conceptually related, to what the agent did that it should be considered part of her (...) intention? Recent goods based views in ethics are divided as to whether only the first person perspective, or a mix of both perspectives, are necessary to understand intention and action. But resolution of the issue is necessary if goods based views are to be able to deploy to principle of double effect; for that principle requires an account of how to distinguish what is genuinely a matter of intention in human action from what is not. I argue that the pure first person account is better than the mixed account. (shrink)
Are there moral norms or virtues, the application or exercise of which are necessary for successful progress in enquiry? This paper considers the work of one thinker who is convinced of an affi rmative answer to this question, Alasdair MacIntyre. For MacIntyre, the possibility of progress in enquiry depends, ultimately, on the way in which the virtues, and related normative requirements such as that demanding narrative unity to a life, shape and govern the context and practice of enquiry. Correlatively, MacIntyre (...) has identified the role that moral failings can play in intellectual error and corrupted forms of enquiry. (shrink)
It can seem implausible that a merely bodily existence could be also a personal existence. Two related lines of thought can mitigate this implausibility. The first, developed in the first part of this paper, is the thought that our bodily existence is better described as an organic, animal existence. Organisms, I argue, are essentially temporal; this essential temporality makes sense of the possibility thatsome organisms are persons. The second line of thought, addressed in the second part of the paper, considers (...) the relationship between the notion of a person, and temporal existence. Persons need not exist in time, but some do. Consideration of what the temporal existence of a person must be like makes organic existence seem an appropriate way for temporal persons to exist. (shrink)
As Alan Wood has recently pointed out, there is "a long and strong philosophical traditionthat parcels out cognitive tasks to human faculties in such a way that belief is assigned to the will".1 Such an approach lends itself to addressing the ethics of belief as an extension of practical ethics. It also lends itself to a treatment of reasons for belief that is an extension of its treatment of reasons for action, for our awareness of reasons for action provides the (...) framework within which we make reasonable, and hence morally acceptable, choices. One who holds that agents can make reasonable (and unreasonable) choices in relation to our "cognitive tasks" should, then, also expect that those choices occur in a framework established by our apprehension of reasons for belief. This paper seeks to articulate what an extension of an account of reasons for actions to an account of reasons for belief would look like. I also make some suggestions as to how the ethics of belief might parallel practical ethics. (shrink)
In John McDowell's recent Woodbridge Lectures at Columbia University, he characterizes Wilfrid Sellars's master thought, in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, as drawing a line between two types of characterizations of states that occur in people's mental lives: Above the line are placings in the logical space of reasons, and below it are characterizations that do not do that (McDowell, 1998, p. 433). In this essay, I ask what would be required for ethics to be above the line. More (...) precisely, what would be necessary to characterize episodes as actions, and persons as agents, so as for them to be answerable to moral criticism in light of rationally relevant considerations. The requirements are twofold: that practical reason motivate in virtue of the content of its deliverances; and that there be a will which is sensitive to those deliverances, and which chooses freely. A widespread procedural account of practical reason is examined and found insufficient to place ethics above the line; and a suspicion is raised that McDowell himself, and Jonathan Dancy, do not have a robust enough conception of will to avoid the below the line ethics they accuse their opponents of defending. (shrink)
Recent work done at the intersection of classical American pragmatism and bioethics promises much: a clarified self-understanding for bioethics, a modus vivendi for progress, and liberation from misguided and misguiding theories and principles. The revival of pragmatism outside bioethics in the past twenty years, however, has been of a distinctly anti-realist orientation. Richard Rorty, for example, has urged that there is no objective truth or good for philosophy to be concerned with. I ask whether the work in Pragmatic Bioethics follows (...) this perilous Rortyan trend. It will move towards anti-realism if its account of the good abandons any notion of truth or objectivity, and if, in its discussion of specific problems, it divides these problems into public and the private, urging consensus as the goal of the one, and an unconstrained notion of happiness as the goal of the other. In a final section, I suggest that bioethics done in the spirit of Royce's Philosophy of Loyalty might have much to offer to those dissatisfied with anti-realism. (shrink)
In a recent article Thomas May has argued that the use of advance directives (ADs) to respect a no longer competent patient's autonomy is a failed strategy. Respect for patient autonomy is clearly one of the guiding moral principles of modern medicine, and its importance is reflected in medical emphasis on informed consent. Prima facie, at least, ADs seem likewise to respect patient autonomy by allowing patients to make decisions about treatment in advance of situations in which the patient may (...) no longer be able to specify the form of treatment desired. So a claim that ADs do not extend patient autonomy to these situations of diminished competence represents a serious criticism of our understanding not only of advance directives, but of autonomy as well. (shrink)