This essay explores some concerns about the quality of informed consent in patients whose autonomy is diminished by fatal illness. It argues that patients with diminished autonomy cannot give free and voluntary consent, and that recruitment of such patients as subjects in human experimentation exploits their vulnerability in a morally objectionable way. Two options are given to overcome this objection: (i) recruit only those patients who desire to contribute to medical knowledge, rather than gain access to experimental treatment, or (ii) (...) provide prospective subjects the choice to participate in standard doubleblind study or receive the experimental treatment. Either option would guarantee that patients in desperate conditions are given a more meaningful choice and a richer freedom, and thus a higher quality of informed consent, than under standard randomized trials. (shrink)
Do our lives have meaning? Should we create more people? Is death bad? Should we commit suicide? Would it be better to be immortal? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Since Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions first appeared, David Benatar's distinctive anthology designed to introduce students to the key existential questions of philosophy has won a devoted following among users in a variety of upper-level and even introductory courses.
In Against Moral Responsibility, Bruce Waller launches a spirited attack on a system that is profoundly entrenched in our society and its institutions, deeply rooted in our emotions, and vigorously defended by philosophers from ancient times to the present. Waller argues that, despite the creative defenses of it by contemporary thinkers, moral responsibility cannot survive in our naturalistic-scientific system. The scientific understanding of human behavior and the causes that shape human character, he contends, leaves no room for moral (...) responsibility. Waller argues that moral responsibility in all its forms--including criminal justice, distributive justice, and all claims of just deserts--is fundamentally unfair and harmful and that its abolition will be liberating and beneficial. What we really want--natural human free will, moral judgments, meaningful human relationships, creative abilities--would survive and flourish without moral responsibility. In the course of his argument, Waller examines the origins of the basic belief in moral responsibility, proposes a naturalistic understanding of free will, offers a detailed argument against moral responsibility and critiques arguments in favor of it, gives a general account of what a world without moral responsibility would look like, and examines the social and psychological aspects of abolishing moral responsibility. Waller not only mounts a vigorous, and philosophically rigorous, attack on the moral responsibility system, but also celebrates the benefits that would result from its total abolition. (shrink)
The social, educational and political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau have become enormously influential in the 200 years since his death. But the breadth as well as the depth of Rousseau's achievement - he was amongst other things a creative writer and musical composer as well as a philosopher - is not always appreciated. In around 100 articles, alphabetically arranged and fully cross-referenced, N. J. H. Dent explores all facets of Rousseau's work and thoughts, while his subject's remarkable life is summarized (...) in a biographical introduction. Details of works by and about Rousseau are listed in an extensive bibliography. For students or general readers seeking an introduction to Rousseau's work, and for those already familiar with the material who require a convenient reference source, this dictionary is essential reading. (shrink)
We have synthesized a 582,970-base pair Mycoplasma genitalium genome. This synthetic genome, named M. genitalium JCVI-1.0, contains all the genes of wild-type M. genitalium G37 except MG408, which was disrupted by an antibiotic marker to block pathogenicity and to allow for selection. To identify the genome as synthetic, we inserted "watermarks" at intergenic sites known to tolerate transposon insertions. Overlapping "cassettes" of 5 to 7 kilobases (kb), assembled from chemically synthesized oligonucleotides, were joined by in vitro recombination to produce intermediate (...) assemblies of approximately 24 kb, 72 kb ("1/8 genome"), and 144 kb ("1/4 genome"), which were all cloned as bacterial artificial chromosomes in Escherichia coli. Most of these intermediate clones were sequenced, and clones of all four 1/4 genomes with the correct sequence were identified. The complete synthetic genome was assembled by transformation-associated recombination cloning in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, then isolated and sequenced. A clone with the correct sequence was identified. The methods described here will be generally useful for constructing large DNA molecules from chemically synthesized pieces and also from combinations of natural and synthetic DNA segments. 10.1126/science.1151721. (shrink)
Autonomy is good for you. A strong sense of competent self-control and effective choice-making promotes both physical and psychological well-being. Loss of autonomous control—and a sense of helplessness—causes depression, increased sensitivity to pain, greater vulnerability to disease, and death. Well established by a wide range of psychological and physiological studies, the positive effects of patient autonomy are well known to competent physicians, nurses, and therapists. Conscientious caregivers are thus moving beyond grudging acceptance of informed consent toward clinical respect for patient (...) autonomy. (shrink)
Two essential elements of free will—internal locus of control and confident self-efficacy—have been studied extensively by psychologists but neglected by philosophers. As a result of this neglect, philosophers have worked with a distorted view of free will. Existentialists exaggerate internal locus of control while undercutting self-efficacy; most contemporary philosophers have taken both internal locus of control and self-efficacy for granted, ignoring their importance and the problems generated by their absence. By taking advantage of psychological research on internal locus of control (...) and self-efficacy, this paper develops a richer and more realistic account of the value of free choice and the real threats to free will. (shrink)
Philosophical tradition demands rational reflection as a condition for genuine moral acts. But the grounds for that requirement are untenable, and when the requirement is dropped morality comes into clearer view as a naturally developing phenomenon that is not confined to human beings and does not require higher-level rational reflective processes. Rational consideration of rules and duties can enhance and extend moral behavior, but rationality is not necessary for morality and (contrary to the Kantian tradition represented by Thomas Nagel) morality (...) cannot transcend its biological roots. Recognizing this helps forge a complementary rather than competitive relation between feminist care-based ethics and rationalistic duty-based ethics. (shrink)
Peter Woolcock, in Ruse's Darwinian Meta-Ethics: A Critique, argues that the subjectivist (nonobjectivist) Darwinian metaethics proposed by Michael Ruse (in Taking Darwin Seriously) cannot work, because the illusion of objectivity that Ruse claims is essential to morality breaks down when it is recognized as illusion, and there then remain no good reasons for acknowledging or following moral obligations. Woolcock, however, is mistaken in supposing that moral behaviour requires rational motivation. Ruse's Darwinian metaethical analysis shows why such objective support for morality (...) is neither plausible nor necessary; and when that is recognized, it can also be seen that Ruse's proposed illusion of moral objectivity is superfluous. (shrink)
The debate over free will has pittedlibertarian insistence on open alternativesagainst the compatibilist view that authenticcommitments can preserve free will in adetermined world. A second schism in the freewill debate sets rationalist belief in thecentrality of reason against nonrationalistswho regard reason as inessential or even animpediment to free will. By looking deeperinto what motivates each of these perspectivesit is possible to find common ground thataccommodates insights from all those competingviews. The resulting metacompatibilist view offree will bridges some of the differencesbetween (...) compatibilists and incompatibilists aswell as between rationalists andnonrationalists, and results in a free willtheory that is both more philosophicallyinclusive and more firmly connected tocontemporary research in psychology andbiology. (shrink)
The patient's right to informed consent is grudgingly acknowledged by medical professionals, firmly established in law, and brandished as a shibboleth by most bioethicists. But questions remain concerning genuine patient autonomy, and the doctrine of informed consent offers inadequate answers. In addition to the continuing controversy over what counts as “informed,” the passive acquiescence implied by “consent” seems a pale shadow of genuine autonomy.
Pragmatists recommend optimism as a successful strategy, and recent psychological research has confirmed its value. But optimism comes at a price: optimists are less accurate in their assessments and expectations than are pessimists. Thus optimism ‘proves itself to be good in the way of belief’, and by pragmatic standards should count as true; but that makes the accuracy costs of optimism invisible . The problem prevents pragmatists from offering a Darwinian explanation of why pessimism survives, and also blocks any pragmatist (...) account of the well‐documented and highly successful exploratory behavior of many animal species. (shrink)