Category Archives: Morality and Ethics

A Summary of “The Righteous Mind” by J. Haidt

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In his work “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt coins the term “the rationalist delusion” to explain a tendency of a majority of scholars to overemphasize the importance of rationality in human behavior throughout history (103). Haidt claims that the “worship of reason,” particularly within the realm of morality, is essentially inappropriate and he utilizes the rest of his book to advocate for a different version of moral reasoning and decision making processes based more on emotive intuitions that are dominant (103).

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The Nature of Communication between Physician and Patient in Western Medicine

One feature of Western medicine’s social institution that serves to maintain authority/power in the hands of the physician is insulating the layperson from properly understanding what may be ailing him/her. Illich defines this process as “medical mystification” (80). It is an intellectual obscuring of sorts and stems from the physician’s special knowledge and training as it pertains to the proper functioning of the human body.

The other part of this insulation between the patient and the physician lies in the style of communication between the two. In referring to this style, or mode, of communication one must not only look at the vocabulary utilized by the physician but also at the structure of conversation between the patient and physician such as when the former enters into a hospital for medical purposes.

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Power and Authority in the Patient/Physician Relationship in Western Medicine

The largest disparity between position in the social hierarchy of Western medicine is between the patient and the physician. The patient/physician interaction is critically shaped by the rigidity of the social hierarchy. In describing the nature of the patient/physician relationship, Parsons lays out four distinct features that establish and maintain a particular form of the subordinate/superior relationship, most commonly expressed in terms of power/authority.

Before going further, an extremely important distinction must be drawn. Power and authority are, categorically, not the same things. For instance, in at least one form, the legitimization of authority allows one to exercise more power. Authority therefore enhances elements like one’s reputation or one’s social standing. Authority, also, could be viewed as an entirely different form of power. Whereas power may stipulate the explicit use of force/coercion (i.e. violence), authority may stipulate a softer version of that with similar end results but without the use of force/coercion. Instead, psychological mechanisms and tools may be utilized. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole on this, but suffice it to say they are conceptually and logically distinct and should be kept that way for current purposes.

In this case, the physician is bestowed with authority through his/her extensive knowledge of the human body, coupled with the recognition of the former by the social structure known as medical school. The authority of the physician allows him/her to suggest, recommend, and, in some cases, command the patient to complete or permit certain actions.

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A Historical Primer on Polygamous Marriage

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The history of polygamy is a rich and varied one. Dating back to 3000 BCE and continuing today, spanning the world from Asia to Europe, from Africa and the Middle East to North America. The ancient patriarchs of the Hebrews such as Abraham, Esau, and Jacob were the heads of polygamous households. Similarly, under Shari’ah Law in Islam, a man is allowed to marry up to four women so long as he treats them in an egalitarian manner. Even the father of early modern Protestantism, Martin Luther, admitted that Christianity and polygamy were not mutually exclusive ideals, noting that the practice did not contradict anything in the Holy Bible (Swisher 3-4). As a result, it is fair to say that there is a globally attested and historical tradition of polygamy and that it has been defended over time as a viable form of marriage.

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An Overview of Camus on the Absurd

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The Absurd (at least on Camus’s view) emphasizes “a fundamental disharmony” or “tragic incompatibility” in our finite existence. Camus ultimately argues that the Absurd is the product of a head-on collision between our seemingly universal human desire for objective order, meaning, and purpose in life and the bleak, indifferent, perhaps even soul-crushing “silence of the universe.” “The absurd is not in man nor in the world,” Camus writes, “but in their presence together…it is the only bond uniting them.”

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A Glance at the Social Structure of Western Medicine

     In Western medicine, just as in law, religion, and the military, there is a single group located above all others at the top of this social institution. This group is an authoritative minority endowed with certain privileges/rights/duties/obligations and, subsequently, they are required to fulfill certain roles. This group is, of course, composed of physicians.

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Moral Reasoning in the Context of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

A Statement of Values — Proponents versus Opponents

Collectively, the proponents of physician assisted suicide value personal autonomy and responsibility, the quality of life, and compassion towards others. Proponents of physician assisted suicide feel that by being allowed to choose between life and death as a personal and medical decision, patients are able to exercise personal autonomy, a freedom that they take to be fundamental to the nature of humanity. This autonomy ties directly into their perceptions about quality of life, in that some view life as undesirable or lackluster if they are not able to enjoy activities, events, and relationships that they previously did due to terminal or incurable medical conditions. They do not view life as inherently valuable and worth living, but derive life’s value from its pragmatic and functional elements. When the level and intensity of physical and mental suffering crosses a certain threshold, these proponents value the actions of those who will show compassion and act in accordance with their final wishes. Thus, proponents of physician assisted suicide feel obligated to protect the personal rights of patients as well as to ensure that they are being treated with compassion to alleviate their pain and suffering. Any events or legislation that interfere with those conditions are intolerable.

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Conscientious Objection: Some Thoughts

What I think I find most problematic about Conscientious Objection, or at least what lays the groundwork of my distaste for it, is its unique context. To put it more straightforwardly, Conscientious Objection can, but does not always, involve genuine cases of life and death.

Rather than considering one-off examples, let’s try a cluster approach.

i. A woman is in dire medical need of an abortion; if she does not receive an abortion, she will inevitably die during childbirth. If she lives, the fetus will die and vice versa.

ii. A woman is in significant medical need of an abortion; if she does not receive an abortion, she will inevitably suffer permanent physiological damage. If the fetus lives, she will live but in immense pain for the rest of her life. If she lives (i.e. has an abortion), the fetus will die.

iii. A woman is not in any medical need of an abortion; she elects to abort the fetus within the federally and state regulated timelines allowed to do so.

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2 Brief Yet Excellent Introductions to Meta-Ethics!

This first video above does a great job of presenting the basic contours of the field in an easy-to-follow manner. 

This second video below does a greater job of doing so while digging a little bit deeper on the details. 

If you get a chance, make sure to watch both!

Virtue Signaling and the ‘Moral Grandstander’

Neil Levy has written an intriguing and interdisciplinary article for Aeon recently. Jones explores the recently coined term ‘virtue-signalling’ and its development, role, and influence within contemporary moral discourse. Not only does he explore virtue-signalling on its own, but he also ties the concept back to evolutionary biology (by way of the peacock’s tail feathers) as well as the cognitive study of religion (through the distinction between costly and credibility-enhancing signals). Though his ultimate conclusions are mere echoes in an increasingly large chamber, the empirical evidence under-girding them has been undeniably growing over time and it is a topic (i.e. the multifaceted nature of human morality and the various biological influences on its development and continued existence) that is of perennial importance. However, there are certainly elements of his article, particularly his critique of the work of Tosi and Warmke, that must be taken to task. 

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