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July 22, 2006

Rawls, bioscience, Habermas

Appropriations posting

A subscriber to the largely-sleeping Rawls group at Yahoo! indicated yesterday that he has an interest in "the use of Rawlsian justice as a normative framework for the distribution of biomedical benefits (e.g. healthcare, genetics, enhancement, etc.)," then kindly sent me a message indicating that "I have an essay in progress on Rawls (temporarily on hold); at some point I will submit some material for discussion."

I replied (in a less-formatted email that was otherwise identical):

Stefan Cojocaru,

Thanks for the note! I look forward to your essay.

My interest in relating issues of distributive justice to biomedicine is wound up in philosophical problems that look forward, so far in a very undefined way, to relating issues of bioethics to public policy. I have no answer to questions that are easy to ask:

  • To what degree are important notions of distributive justice viable in a market society evolving faster than public policy can keep up? Is there some "wisdom of the crowd"—Better Than Well: American medicine meets the American Dream— that will lead social policy From Chance to Choice toward Our Posthuman Future?
  • Is Amartya Sen's critique of Rawls' sense of public goods valid, in Sen's Development and Freedom (1998) such that Sens' colleague Nussbaum's revision of Rawls (Frontiers of Justice, 2005, which I haven't read) is compellingly called for?
  • What is to be done with Habermas' critique of Rawls in Inclusion of the Other (1998)? I tend to be more impressed by Rawls' generosity toward Habermas in Political Liberalism than Habermas' attitude toward Rawls, but the context of dispute—between two philosophers with greatly overlapping senses of shared issues—indicates very important issues. Rawls, then, is for me a key orienting anchor of a history of political discourse in America, but I'm no expert on Rawls, and I have a long way to go in understanding my place in the discursive context indicated above, as I'm very enthusiastic about Sen, Nussbaum, and Habermas generally.
  • In "On the Way to Liberal Eugenics?," Habermas goes a long way toward conceptualizing a stance on contemporary bioethics (2001) for philosophy of law, much as adversary of Buchanan et al., From Chance to Choice. His discussion was modestly expanded as chapter 2 of his book The Future of Human Nature, 2004 (paperback), but the essentially identical 2001 discussion is available for download [596K].

The paragraphs there are numbered because I numbered them for my discussion of his essay at a Habermas discussion group. I started off rather coyly: "The Ethic of the Species" and "Re: The Ethic of the Species.". But I settled into a protracted discussion of the entire essay, in terms of key paragraphs, October posting #s 107, 110, 113, 114, 116; and November posting #s 1-3, 6-7, 10, 14, 23, 25-26, and 28.

I don't expect you to read all of that. But the postings express my sense of engagement with an issue, in short, of the moral basis of a philosophy of law about enhancement culture (as I call it now), as of 5 years ago.

I want to soon look at Michael Gazzaniga and others on bioethical policy, e.g., The Ethical Brain, Neuroscience and the Law, and Hard Science, Hard Choices., among many others that I want to read. But I haven't read those books yet (which I do own), though my intent to do so is very resolute.