Beyond Philosophical Bioethics: A Reading List

[The below was ported from a previous blog/ website. It was written in early 2011 and contains some minor edits made in early 2012)

I recently organised a postgraduate conference on social scientific approaches to bioethics. As perhaps I do too much I offered a number of people my views on what they should be reading. As someone who has spent too long reading academic books across a range of disciplines I kid myself that I might have read something they would not otherwise have come across, or, if they came across it today rather than tomorrow, it might have an immediate and positive impact. Whether or not it was merely politeness a couple of people asked me to email them my recommendations and one for my ‘social scientific’ reading list. Having myself traversed the current bioethical trajectory from philosophy and law to social and human sciences I guess that many people would appreciate a quick guide to doing so. Of course there is no substitute to getting down and doing your own research and finding your own material but if I had to tell you what to read, I guess this would be it.

1: Something completely different:

I would recommend anyone and everyone read Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust. It gives certain reasons to be sceptical about the whole projects of systematised certainty, particularly morality, and is one of the few sociologically analytic investigations of the biggest event of the 20th century. It bridges Bauman’s two careers from Leeds based academic to internationally respected emeritus academic and public intellectual. Read it.

Bauman’s oeuvre also contains the difficult Postmodern Ethics, which is not to every ones taste. However, if you are starting out in Bioethics it is well worth reading the introduction and the numbered points 1-7 which conclude this section for a different view of morality than the one given in (analytic or mainstream) moral philosophy. .

Finally, Smith’s Being Human is a Foucaldian history that demonstrates the changing nature of the human as a cultural being. As a philosopher bioethicist you probably think that history describes a number of mistaken conceptions of the human being. You must look past this and realise that what we think we are is fundamentally related to what we actually are at any given point. So much for the objectivity of personhood…

2: Back on topic:

One could point to any number of works in bioethics that tackle the ‘empirical turn’. Here I highlight those I consider to be the best or at least those that spring to mind…

You cannot go wrong with pretty much anything Adam Hedgecoe has written. But the best two for the purposes of this reading list are:

Hedgecoe, A. M. “Critical Bioethics: Beyond the Social Science Critique of Applied Ethics.” Bioethics 18, no. 2 (2004): 120-143.

Hedgecoe, A. “Medical sociology and the redundancy of empirical ethics.” In Principles of health care ethics.

Other articles in this line of thought are:

Kleinman, A. “Moral Experience and Ethical Reflection: Can Ethnography Reconcile Them? A Quandary for” The New Bioethics.” Daedalus 128, no. 4 (1999).

Turner, L. “Anthropological and Sociological Critiques of Bioethics.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 6, no. 1 (2009): 83–98.

Turner, L. “Bioethics and Social Studies of Medicine: Overlapping Concerns.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 18, no. 01 (2009): 36-42.

Marshall, Patricia A. “Anthropology and Bioethics.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 6, no. 1. New Series (March 1992): 49-73.

Muller, J. H. “Anthropology, Bioethics, and Medicine: A Provocative Trilogy.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 8, no. 4 (1994): 448-467.

(Isn’t it interesting to note the non-division between anthropology and sociology in empirical study of ethics: culture or society?)

There are a proliferating number of histories in medical and bio- ethics. If you do medical ethics I urge you to become at least minimally acquainted with the relevant historical work. Of modern bioethics there is the Birth of Bioethics by Jonsen but I think it more fruitful to read his book with Stephen Toulmin ‘The Abuse of Casuistry’. It is a better book, but also because it is necessary for you to read:

Fox, Renee C., and Judith P. Swazey. Observing Bioethics. Oxford University Press Inc, USA, 2008.

Which will tell you most of what you need to know about Jonsen’s account. Indeed it is well worth reading anything written by Renee Fox. At all, ever.

In a similar vein one can speak of the work of Charles Bosk. If you read one thing read:

Bosk, C. L. What Would You Do?: Juggling Bioethics and Ethnography. Chicago University Press, 2009. (You can read my review of it here [.pdf]).

It collects a number of his important articles and chapters from various of his monographs (and their second editions). But most, if not all, of his stuff is worth reading.

There is also the recent Cambridge World History of Medical Ethics which will contain at least one relevant essay to whatever it is you are doing in bioethics. My review is here [pdf] but more amusement can be derived from Roger Cooter’s essay review:

Cooter, R. “Inside the Whale: Bioethics in History and Discourse.” Social History of Medicine 23, no. 3 (10, 2010): 662-672.

He has a few other articles on medical and bio- ethics which are worth a look if you like his style.

There are a number of edited collections which have been influential in the social and empirical turn in bioethics. They are becoming increasingly hard to find and expensive. If you ever get stuck most are in the Wellcome’s library, which is free to join. Anyway, some are:

De Vries, R., L. Turner, K. Orfali, and C. Bosk. The View from Here: Bioethics and the Social Sciences. 1st ed. WileyBlackwell, 2007.  (This is in fact a book production of an issue of Sociology, Health and Illness (2006: 26(6) 665-881). This is something they do every year, so watch out medical sociology peeps! (Edit: this call for papers indicates there is another of these in the pipeline at the moment).

De Vries, R. G., and J. Subedi. Bioethics and society: constructing the ethical enterprise. Prentice Hall, 1998.

Gastmans, C., K. Dierickx, H. Nys, and P. Schotsmans. New Pathways for European Bioethics. Intersentia Uitgevers N V, 2007.

Hoffmaster, Barry. Bioethics in Social Context. Temple University Press, U.S., 2001.

Weisz, G. Social Science Perspectives on Medical Ethics. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990.

(Check out if Rodopi have anything to offer you too. The various Hayry, Takala, Holm, Arnason and Herrisone-Kelly  books are worth reading but too philosophical to make it onto this reading list.)

Finally, two seemingly strange books which have fundamentally impacted on my thinking are:

Andre, J. Bioethics as Practice. University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Chambers, Tod. The Fiction of Bioethics. 1st ed. Routledge, 1999.

Both have had a *deep* effect on my own perspective and both are ‘easy’ reads. But both will get under your skin and challenge any (analytic) philosophical bioethics pretentions you might have left. You might also look at the (rightly) famed Illness by Havi Carel

This is a good thing.

3. Back to the strangeness

Other things I find myself compelled to recommend are:

Canguilhem, Georges. The Normal and the Pathological. New Edition. Zone Books, 1991.

A book Foucault cited as having a major influence on the development of his thought (indeed Canguilhem was involved with Foucault’s doctoral supervision) this is a work of continental philosophy that is appealing to the more Anglo-American analytic style, especially if you have had some exposure to the philosophy of science. If your work in anyway concerns the definition or diagnosis of disease and illness you need to read this.

I will say that again, as I have met a number of people who obviously should have read this and haven’t. If you think it might be relevant you need to read this. It is a good way into Foucault which is usefully followed up, particularly for those interested in history (genealogy) with:

May, Todd. The Philosophy of Foucault. Acumen Publishing Ltd, 2006.

It is also well worth reading some of the summery or mission statement articles in what has been called the ‘new synthesis in moral psychology. This work has, like bioethics need to, begun to look for empirically led or constructed definitions for morality and moral or ethical concepts. How they do this is instructive. My own feeling is that it is too (methodologically) individualist to be of much use to bioethics over and above a bioethics in the X-Phi mode. Nevertheless, I would strongly suggest reading:

Haidt, J. “The new synthesis in moral psychology.” Science 316, no. 5827 (2007): 998.

Haidt, J, and S Kesebir. “Morality.” In Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition, Volume Two.

Both, and much more, are available via:

Bioethics: The Challenge

As Dunn, Gurtin-Broadbent, Wheeler, and Ives have pointed out contemporary interdisciplinary bioethics presents a fundamental challenge to the researcher: to master a number of disciplines. The only answer to this challenge is to accept it. Whatever your area of bioethical research it is highly likely you will have to learn another discipline. You are not going to be able to do this by reading things that are ostensibly ‘bioethics’. You’re going to have to go outside. For my own part this has involved nexus of reading around ‘praxeology’ which has included sociology (Bourdieu) education (Communities of practice and new theories of apprenticeship) and some insight into social or sociological cognitive science. You will have to discern your own fields, possibly somewhat blind. There will be blind alleys but also there will be alley full of fulfilled promise.

And if you’re really lucky, there will be an Acumen Key Concepts, or similar, available!

Regardless, get Zotero, and follow rabbits down holes! (Really, get Zotero, right now).

So, what do you think? Have I missed out your favourite book or article? Let me know in the comments!