Sunday, 12 August 2018

Human Dignity: Recent Developments

by James Beauregard
Human Dignity continues to be a topic of debate, and there are a range of opinions about it, from the need to defend it to arguments that there is no such thing. As personalists are typically concerned with the issue of human dignity – see, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on personalism – this is worth pausing to consider. 
Recently, the Catholic Church at the direction of Pope Francis, made an official change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty, and human dignity loomed large in the official change in church teaching.  The Catechism has in the past acknowledged that the state has the right, in principle to utilize in capital punishment for the protection of public order.  This is acknowledged in the new nitration of article 2267 of the Catechism: “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.”[1]
This same article acknowledges that, “the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” In light of the dignity of persons, the Church has changed its official teaching on the death penalty to state:
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
In a letter to the bishops of the Catholic church in February[2], the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes frequent reference to one of the twentieth century’s most widely known personalists, Karol Wojtyła/Pope John Paul II, who, during his papacy commented multiple times on the death penalty, most notably in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae, where he wrote, “a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate defence’ on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.”[3]
The new teaching on the death penalty immediately has two broad implications.  First, it can no longer be argued that the church supports capital punishment, if only in the most limited circumstances.  Second, it commits the church to working worldwide for the abolition of the death penalty. 
Newspaper accounts in the United States have been reporting on this daily for the past week, as the United States is one of the few western democracies that still allows the death penalty for capital crimes. The reporting has focused in particular on Republican politicians, who as a group tend to favour the death penalty as part of their law and order position.  Democrats, on the other hand, are traditionally opposed to capital punishment.  It will be interesting to see how this new debate plays out, because it will place in the public consciousness once again the issue of Republican Catholic politicians having to take a stand for or against the church’s teaching.  One American governor, himself a Catholic, has already publicly stated that an execution scheduled in his state will be carried out as planned.  To date, criticism of Catholic politicians taking positions contrary to church teaching has fallen mostly on Democratic politicians favouring abortion. 
The thread of dignity runs throughout these conversations.  Dignity is fairly straightforward to assert from a religious perspective in terms of the Imago Dei.  We are created in the image of God, and herein lies the source and guarantor of human dignity.  It has a source beyond this world and cannot be either given or retracted by any institution.  When one approaches the question of dignity from the perspective of philosophy, grounded as it is in the resources of reason rather than faith, the task becomes more difficulty.  This can be seen historically in the human rights documents that emerged subsequent to the Second World War such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which acknowledge human dignity as foundational for human rights, but did not seek to define what specifically dignity is.[4]  This was left to subsequent generations, and no satisfactory or universally acceptable understanding of human rights has yet emerged. 
What might a personalist understanding of human dignity need to consider? In conclusion I would pose some questions for personalist philosophers and any other interested parties on what might need to be considered in order to develop an adequate understanding of and foundation for human dignity.
What do we mean when we say the word “dignity” (some working definition or description)
What understanding/description of persons ought to be operative in considering the question of dignity?
How closed or open-ended should an understanding of dignity be, given the open-ended nature of persons? (Neither too narrow as to rule out some persons, nor too broad so as to be meaningless).
Is there a transcendental basis for human dignity, and if so, what might it be? (on the grounds of reason, can an argument for aspects of the human person that are transcendent be made, and if so how?).
What might be the proper relationship between an understanding of human dignity and the various political structures of our world? (Can the state grant or deprive one of dignity, or does the state have an essential role in pro90moting and protecting human dignity?)

[1] Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5. Both this document and the letter to the bishops cited below are available on the Vatican website,
[2] Letter to the Bishops regarding the new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 02.08.2018. 
[4] Of note in this regard, personalist philosopher Jacques Maritain, who served for several years as the French ambassador to the Vatican, had a role in crafting this document. 

Friday, 10 August 2018

Speaking of Liberal Values....

by Simon Smith

By and large, I try to avoid using this space to vent spleen on current events. There are good reasons for this. For one, it perpetuates the media-myth that those events over which we are all encouraged to lose our fruit are of fundamental importance or interest instead of being a sideshow designed largely to distract. For another, there are more than enough idiots spouting off about such matters and I have little desire to join them. Perhaps more importantly, once one starts down this road, where does it end? There’s so much to choose from in this tired old world, after all. Should we discuss the latest doings of the Commander of Cheese himself, his numerous efforts to denigrate and utterly undermine our humanity? But what an embarras de richesses we face if we do. Shall we talk about the caging of Mexican children – surely an attempt at battery-farming – or perhaps return to the heady days of his campaign when he voiced his support for sexual assault? It’s quite the de-humanizing menu.
For these reasons, among others, I prefer to avoid the detritus which floats atop the eternal sea, poisoning all the little fishies therein, and stick to philosophy, which is at least sufficiently abstract to enable one to avoid thinking about the end of the world. But then, once in a while, someone says a thing utterly stupid that it gets right up my Personalist pipe. And since those about me no longer wish to listen to me thumping on, I felt now would be a good time to share. 
As I write this, the news is filled with chatter about the latest demonstration of just what our species is capable of when it puts half a mind – if that’s not too much of an overstatement – to it. I speak, of course, of comments on the subject of Islamic dress made by a leading political figure in the UK. I shall not name him, since he does not deserve the oxygen of publicity, which was, quite obviously, his prime motivation in making these comments. Indeed, if I may borrow from the late and truly great Linda Smith, we may even wish to consider depriving him of the oxygen of oxygen. It would not, I think, be unjust.
I do not, as it happens, count myself among the fans of the burka or any other kind of full-body shroud designed to completely conceal a person thereby, not only silencing them, but effectively erasing them from society altogether, making them unseeable and therefore unseen. Apart, that is, from a general feeling that people ought to be able to wear more or less whatever they like. I discount both cargo pants and sandals from that, obviously. My principle reason for not being a fan is that, as far as I can see, this sartorial disappearing trick is a disturbing manifestation of misogyny masquerading as religious and cultural practice. But here’s the thing: I’ve managed to discuss this issue and my perspective on it perfectly calmly with people who disagree. Indeed, those conversations were frequently both interesting and informative. Some of those people are themselves Muslim: my students, for example, when I taught in Oman. They would cheerfully discuss Islamic dress-codes, often comparing them with Western fashions to devastating effect. When someone cites the example of a T-shirt marketed at young women, which has the words “Porn star in training” emblazoned across the front, it’s difficult not to feel the moral high ground slipping just a bit. And yet, curiously enough, the conversation never actually descended into infantile name-calling or mockery. Odd that. It’s almost as though people who disagree with us and do things differently to us are capable of having a sensible conversation without everyone being abusive or acting like sleep-deprived four-year old.
So, here’s my first problem with this whole sad affair: if you want to insult people because of the way they dress, if you want, in other words, to demonstrate your ignorance and appalling lack of manners, fine, go ahead. But at least have the balls to be honest about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Do not try to dress it up as part of a supposedly “serious conversation” about multiculturalism or security or what have you. Be honest, say, “I am going to insult these people and their culture because I want to draw attention to myself and mummy and daddy don’t react when I swear anymore. Oh, and I’m clearly a bit of a ****.” At least then we’ll all know where we stand.
More importantly, perhaps, and in spite of not being much of a burka kind of chap myself, I object even more to the comments about burkas because it amounts to bullying, and a very nasty kind of bullying at that. Let us be clear, the burka and other forms of traditional Islamic dress are not like a crucifix worn around the neck and frequently tucked in where no one can see it. They are not like that because a) a burka is not something you can wear under your ordinary clothes; and b) because it is not at all clear that the decision to wear a burka is the simple, frequently causal, often even meaninglessly self-decorative, decision that wearing a piece of jewellery is. Yes, I am well aware that many Muslim women choose to wear traditional Islamic dress in its various forms; and I would, under no circumstances, deny their right to do so. I merely note that social and cultural conditioning are subtle and powerful forces, and we are none of us entirely free from their influence; nor, for that matter, are we always aware of the hold such forces may have over us. And I do mean “we” here. In western cultures, boys are frequently conditioned to supress their emotions – except anger, of course – and to sexually objectify women; equally, I do not know how many women wearing high-heels have given much thought to the ways in which their footwear is specifically designed to emphasise their secondary sexual characteristics and so participate in that objectification; I’m sure it’s all of them.
The point is that none of us are entirely free to choose: not me, not you, and not Muslim women. Given this, it rather looks as though, in making jokes about women who wear the burka, we’re basically making fun of the very people over whom this particular form of misogyny is manifesting itself. That’s nice. And, I’m sure, a very valid thing to do in any serious conversation about multiculturalism, or nationalism, or whatever it is.
Actually, this is fine, if you also like jokes about, say, rape and sexual assault, the appalling conviction rates for rape and sexual assault, and other forms of institutionalised violence directed towards women. Or perhaps jokes about slaves, whether formerly here or in the US, or perhaps the ones who built places like Dubai. Yes, burkas are funny, but so are those crazy chains which African slaves used to wear: I mean, what were they thinking? They looked like – well, slaves. Cue hi-hat.
This may be why I was never able to secure a position as joke writer for the Chuckle Brothers (God rest Barry Chuckle, he will be missed). As it happens, I don’t generally find such things as sexual violence and slavery all that funny. But I suppose as long we’re making fun of them and their victims in the name of Allegedly Defending Liberal Values and Free Speech (a.k.a, being a self-aggrandising, publicity-seeking, bullying little **** hiding behind so-called liberal values in order push an agenda which is anything but liberal) it’s probably fine.
Although, if it is fine and we do want to laugh at those subject to oppression in its many and various forms, we might want to get better jokes. A burka does not make someone look like a letter box; it just doesn’t. To get the effect, you would have to stick one of those mad North Korea General hats on top and paint the poor woman red. I may not be an expert in comedy, but I’m quite sure that:
Hey, have you noticed how women who wear the burka look like letter boxes – if you make them wear a big North Korean General hat and paint them red? What’s up with that?
needs more time in the workshop.
                                                    Cue hi-hat

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Anchoring the Corpus: A Formal Introduction

by Denis Larrivee

Karol Wojtyla approached ethics through an enduring interest in man’s fundamentally personalist nature.[1] Following this path, his ethical study had two objectives: to characterize the personalist subject as an agent of ethical activity and as an end for the pursuit of the good, that is, as a value contingent locus. His interest in validating ethical praxis thus fell outside the pragmatic question of the manner of its practice; meaning that it fell within a sphere more properly characterized as metaethical.
Although Wojtyla distinguished both objectives conceptually, he recognized that this distinction did not imply their mutual independence. Linking these two, he argued, was the experience of morality that manifested itself in action. Understood as the ground for value contingency in the person, the capacity for the performance of the ‘good’ thereby established the personal agent as a value locus.
[T]he reality of the person inheres in morality, that morality is a thoroughly specific and connatural reality with respect to the person – with respect precisely to the person and only to the person… man as a man, becomes good or evil through the act.[2]
As a metaethical object for the evolution of ethical praxis, thus, the capacity for morality validated the wholly referential status of the person.
It was in view of this referential status, that is, as a meta domain that defined and determined ethical praxis in inquiry and practice, that the objective reality of the person could be normatively qualified. Holub[3] points out that in Wojtyla’s specific exploration this reality was constituted in the phenomenal subject, that is, in the specific sphere of reality that defined the unique interiority and operativity of the individual. Wojtyla’s emphasis on the phenomenal subject, accordingly, is reminiscent of distinctively modern elements such as consciousness and self-awareness and a performative dimension that originates from within a personal ‘someone’, hence belonging to no other. However, by invoking a Thomistic metaphysical deduction, he goes beyond this exterior and phenomenal expression to forge a link to an inner and integral unity, a ‘humanum suppositum,’ for which the expressed dimension is only one manifestation. By this integral unity he meant a metaphysical subjectivity that grounded the objective, epistemological reality of the personalist subject. Karol Wojtyla’s personalism thus drew, as he claimed, from a philosophy of ‘genuinely metaphysical range’[4] where the person ‘constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical inquiry’. 
For ethical praxis this conception is significant in linking the subject’s dynamical operativity not solely, or merely, to a collection of phenomenal events, but to an integral and unique subject. Hence, it is fundamentally constitutive for ethics. What Wojtyla offers, therefore, is a metaphysical justification for ethical praxis, and an exploration of those modalities that would be normatively qualified through this metaphysical link. Burgos has specifically identified the object of Wojtyla’s exploration with personal subjectivity:
...what Wojtyla is searching for is a reelaboration of Thomistic gnoseology that considers the advances of modernity and mostly the possibility offered by the phenomenology of directly accessing the subjectivity of the person.[5]
Such a characterization, indeed, reflects the phenomenal emphasis of Wojtyla’s personalist exploration; however, it nonetheless fails to consider other manifestations that are metaphysically anchored, since his metaphysical subject is neither purely phenomenological nor wholly structured by the phenomenal dimension. In fact, the humanum suppositum both extends and confirms the possibility for exploring a multiplicity of other modalities that may constitute its predicates, and that do not rely on such a unimodal manifestation. This extension allows Wojtyla to move beyond the purely phenomenological to other dimensions of the subject. 
Crucially, as Holub points out, the humanum suppositum bridges and integrates alternative, manifestations that are constitutively present, thereby subordinating these also within the ethical sphere.
[T]he subject is not a sequence or stream of psycho-physical events taking place in the human individual. Rather it must be characterized by a metaphysical structure, which precedes all acts and happenings.[6]
The metaphysical structure therefore also anchors physical attributes of the person, especially of the nervous system, which is widely invoked as the physical substrate for the phenomenal subject, and where questions of praxis have been classed in the domain of neuroethics.[7] By identifying the subject as a metaethical principle, that is, as a value contingent object, he thus extends, by virtue of the metaphysical unity of the person, value to all those attributes that constitute the subject. Indeed, this metaphysical inference enables Wojtyla to caution in Veritatis Splendor[8]against a manipulation of corporeity which would alter its human meaning...’ on grounds that the ‘...nature of the human person is in the unity of body and soul ...that stand and fall together...’ a clear indication that he regarded the corporal manifestation to be subsumed within the metaphysical concept of the suppositum, which thus acts to validate an ethical praxis within the corporal sphere. Indeed, Wojtyla’s recognition of the fundamental participation of the corpus in the integral unity of the human is also evident in his opus Man and Woman: He Created Them: A Theology of the Body,[9] a position expressed in more nascent form in Montini’s Humanae Vitae[10] that is probative for technological interventions circumventing the generation of biological life. In the logic of the metaphysical argument the suppositum can be expected, therefore, to anchor neuroethical praxis concerned with the impact of neural intervention on the specifically human meaning of life.
The utility of the metaphysical dimension to neuroethics thus emerges from its link to the specifically corporal contribution made to the unity of the person, that is, as a physical structure that is enabling to a human ontological, subjective and integrative order. As such its utility to neuroethical praxis devolves from the fundamental participation of the corporal manifestation in structuring the ontological unity of the individual. By extension, this corporal contribution may be used to assess the validity of metaphysical presuppositions of other, modern neuroethical variants.

[1] Cf. K. Wojtyla, Man in the Field of Responsibility, Vatican City 1991, passim.
[2] Ibid., p. 17. 
[3] Cf. G. Holub, The Human Subject and its Interiority: Karol Wojtyla and the Crisis in Philosophical Anthropology, “Quien”, vol. 4 (2016) p. 47-66.
[4] Cf. G. Holub, The Human Subject and its Interiority: Karol Wojtyla and the Crisis in Philosophical Anthropology, “Quien”, vol. 4 (2016), p. 47-66.
[5] Cf. J.M. Burgos, The Method of Karol Wojtyla: A Way Between Phenomenology, Personalism and Metaphysics, in "Analecta Husserliana", vol. 104(2009), p. 110.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Cf. P. Reiner, The Rise in Neuroessentialism in (eds) J. Iles, B. Sahakian, "The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics", Oxford 2011; Cf. N. Levy, Neuroethics and the Extended Mind, in (eds) J. Iles, B. Sahakian, "The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics", Oxford 2011; Cf. A. Roskies
[8] Cf. John Paul II, Pope. The Splendor of Truth = Veritatis Splendor: Encyclical Letter. Boston, Mass 1993.
[9] Cf. John Paul II, Pope. Man and Woman: He Created Them. A Theology of the Body, (trans. M. Waldstein) Boston 2006.
[10] Cf. Paul VI, Pope. Humanae Vitae.Encyclical Letter. Vatican City 1968.

[1] Cf. K. Wojtyla, Man in the Field of Responsibility, Vatican City 1991, passim.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Hell yeah, bell hooks – ‘This Ain’t No Pussy Shit’: What it’s Like to be a ‘Feminist Philosopher’

by Abigail Klassen

I am a feminist. No, I am a person with feminist tendencies. If I don’t say I’m a feminist, am I spitting in the faces of my foremothers who suffered, fought…? Am I a feminist? What is a feminist? I will not try to settle this latter question. So much ink – well, lately, so many pixels - from far wiser heads have attempted to answer that question, a real feat, with no success. This lack of consensus, is, I suspect, a success in itself. What I will settle, here and now, is that I am not a feminist philosopher. Or, perhaps I am indeed a feminist philosopher – that is, if it is largely others who determine my identity. I choose to self-identify (ah yes, the language of self-identification; born in 1985, I just make the grade to qualify as a millennial) as a ‘philosopher of feminism(s)’. I imagine one might ask, “What the hell difference does it make?’” I’ll save that question for a paper. This, this is a rant.
Students and professors, for a variety of reasons, do not take me too seriously. I don’t look my age. I’m an eccentric. And, here’s the big one, I’m not taken seriously because I am (taken to be) a ‘feminist philosopher’. I have taken many graduate courses in feminist philosophy. Many of my philosophical heroes are women, and moreover, women who write about women, about Otherness. Thus, many surmise, I have a political (read: not philosophical) agenda. The truth is that I am more so ‘a specialist’ (heh) in metaphysics and the history of skepticism. I don’t read feminist blogs, books, or listen to feminist podcasts. I can usually be found reading about the philosophy of mathematics, and lately, environmental philosophy. Being the ‘girl teacher’ in the university in which I last taught, I was tasked with instructing a class on feminist philosophy. It was titled ‘Philosophy and Women’ (it nauseates me to see that bifurcation on a screen). I became typecast. Suddenly, it became clearer to me that no one believed I could handle any field of inquiry other than ‘feminist stuff’. I can talk your ear off about mathematical Platonism, mathematical realism, the philosophy of social sciences… I don’t shut up. In so doing, I’m just like ‘fat, ugly, lesbian feminists’.
Fine. I’ll accept the label (because, obviously, all ‘real’ feminists are fat, ugly, and lesbians… the rest are just like the women who make out with other women at bars to get free drinks) What’s up with all the pretend lesbian fantasies? I suggest creating another Island of Lesbos and encouraging male voyeurism into lesbian acts (I half joke). Since I can’t shake the label I apparently have tattooed on my forehead, I hereby decree, “I am a feminist philosopher.” Let me explain why you should then take me pretty damn seriously.
For many, Socrates remains a hero of philosophy. A gadfly, Socrates was an annoyance and according to some Athenians of his day, a corruptor of the youth. He was, as we know, considered a danger to the status quo – so much so that he was condemned to death. Socrates is also well-known for conceiving of philosophy, not as just some academic endeavour, but as a way of life. It’s useful to situate today’s contemporary feminist, queer, anti-racist, and anti-classist philosophies in relation to other sub-disciplines of philosophy and in relation to Plato’s Socrates. Socrates’ character and power have survived others’ failed attempts to erase and silence him once and for all. The Athenian Court succeeded in turning the living Socrates into a corpse, but his ideas and his spirit, as Socrates himself predicted, remain alive and well, but, I contend, not in the ivory tower.
Professionalization, dogmatism, arrogance, and competition follow from philosophy understood as an academic discipline. Professionalization, and specifically, analytic philosophy’s emphasis on the unsituating of the subject, work to silence voices and to curb attitudes of wonder and critique, attitudes that served the Socratic project of keeping all of us just a bit less certain, a bit less dogmatic, a bit more attuned to our own and to others’ blindspots. Feminist philosophy, like postmodern philosophy, asks us to queer aspects of the status quo, whether in the everyday lived world or in the ivory tower. Many of us ‘feminists’ come as ‘teachers’, equipped not with positive dogma, but with questions. I, and many others, see much contemporary feminist philosophy as attempting to understand complex issues such as personal identity, justice, and metaphysics (the list goes on) as always already situated and relational. This stance is not one that affects women only. Each of us is Other to another.
‘Feminist philosopher’ – a pejorative, non-honorific title in most philosophy departments (in most of the university, too), a label that suggests that one knows nothing other than feminist philosophy, a label that brings with it constraints and mockery. To undertake the task of engaging in feminist philosophy in academia is no small feat. It brings marginalization, prejudice, attack, and violence. It brings anger, frustration, and tears. I have lost it publicly – yelled, cried. Later, I trained my tears to hold on until I got to the closest bathroom. Now, I am numbed by how ridiculous I am in the eyes of so many students and colleagues. “Did I get hired to fill the quota?” I’ve heard it so often that even I’m starting to believe it’s true. If it’s true, the joke’s on you guys. I know how to make shit awkward and I sure as hell now how to shake things up. This, noble as it may be, has obvious consequences for me personally. Thank goodness that I have forgiving parents with an open door and that I’m ok with sleeping on park benches.
To quote from Ms. Albert, the loveable drag queen from The Bird Cage (1996), “I am quite aware of how ridiculous I am.” I also am quite aware that I am not loveable like Ms. Albert. A flamboyant gay man is likeable – he’s the face of the company nowadays. He is the symbol of upwardly mobile, progressive Spirit in a cesspool of capitalism and mandatory Liberalism that borders on fascism. What fat, ugly lesbian is the face of any company? Though, by now I find some solace, to once again borrow a quote, this time from a source I can’t recall, in thinking that “Although I was never loved, I realize I am not as unloveable as I once thought.”
Like Socrates, ridiculed in his own time and cast as this or that by his opponents, I aim in my professional capacities and in living to recast, at least in the manner I see it, feminist philosophy as a necessary component to any philosophy department worthy of the name. To not even give feminist philosophy a chance to be on trial, to dismiss it a priori as ‘merely political’ is antithetical to many of the goals that many of us first strove towards in our early years of studying philosophy – the goals that many of us saw as representative of fighting the good fight. If we really believe in Socrates’ mission, we should not only tolerate feminist philosophy, but actually encourage our students to engage with its subject matters. Dylan/Zimmerman: “Lest I become my enemy in the instant that I preach…” Well, if this whole rant is actually a performative contradiction in itself, meh! Socrates’ dialogues ended in aporia and we still read him or at least force our first-year students to do so.
I will likely regret writing every sentence I’ve written. Like David Foster Wallace, I grimace after most things I say. More to come.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

To Walk a Narrow Path: Notes on a Metaphysic of the Social Self

by Simon Smith

Conceived as a social reality, the self is a powerful philosophical tool. Understand the relation between self and other and we understand the nature of personhood. Understand that, and we have the antidote to many of the debilitating dualisms from which western thought has constructed itself. Antiquated oppositions – mind and body, subject and object, transcendence and immanence – may be realigned within a framework in which self and other are intimately reconnected. In order to deliver this antidote, however, the social self must walk a narrow path, one bordered on either side by those very oppositions and the ever-present threat of reduction to one or the other.
On one side, it seems, lies the lure of sociality itself. Too far in that direction and the self is lost amid the flux and flow of interpersonalities. That was Levinas’ famous challenge to Buber’s primal connection, succinctly expressed in the primary word I-Thou. The sheer ‘inclusivity’ of this, Levinas argued, fatally undermines the ontological security of both self and other, so defeats the possibility of real relation: without relata, there can be no relation; and without relation, the essence of personhood itself, morality, must be abandoned. The net result is liable to be some kind of behaviourism, or functionalism as it has become. We are, as Sartre saw, what we do, no more. Concede as much, however, and empirical thinkers will not be long in pressing home their advantage: materialist reduction awaits. With morality gone and nothing to account for but flux and flow, why speak of persons at all? Why speak in fact, of anything but the colliding forces that make up the physical universe?
So much for sociality. Of course, the other side of the path offers no better prospect. Step that way and we are on the road to retreat, back to ontological priority and Cartesian ego-isolationism. One might suppose that, since the laying of Descartes’ machine-dwelling ghost last century, there would be little threat from that quarter. The spirit of radical subjectivity is a restless one, however. Not only does it haunt every kind of realism, as the likes of Peter Byrne and William Alston have unwittingly made clear, it also finds new votaries among trans- and posthumanists – Oxford’s Nick Bostrom, for example – and neuroethicists. Even the most dedicated scholars of personhood, such as the noted Personalist, Juan Manuel Burgos, cannot escape its influence. Burgos’ Modern Ontological Personalism seeks to explicate the self in all its richness and complexity; but still it remains in thrall to the self-in-itself.
Evidently, what is needed here, if we are to keep our concept of persons on the straight and narrow, is a radical re-think of the terms in which philosophical anthropology may be conducted. For this, we turn to two thinkers not commonly associated: Austin Farrer and Ludwig Feuerbach. Serving the more facile needs of empiricists and realists, popular opinion of Farrer and Feuerbach has tended towards misconstruction and the rationalist’s propensity for all-too-easy pigeonholing. Thus, the former is usually designated a merely traditional thinker, an orthodox Anglican apologist; the latter meanwhile is a merely transitional figure, frequently sidelined in favour of more familiar purveyors of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Popular opinion is, of course, entirely wrong.
In fact, Farrer and Feuerbach had more in common than many commentators realise. Crucially, for our purposes, what they had in common was a visionary concept of the self, one that remains in the vanguard of philosophy and theology.
The key to this visionary concept is action; action in the full and proper sense, that is: action as essentially personal; acts owned and authored; acts intended, deliberately executed; acts that body forth those intentions and deliberations, that embody meaning.  Such acts are, indeed, the primary manifestation of personhood. For action is ontologically basic; in Farrer’s Latin phrase, esse est operari: to be is to act, better still, to interact. Further, that locates the self in a world of objects and, most importantly, others; for action is inherently correlative: it requires at least two interagents.
Therein lies the vital clue, not only to what it means to be a person, but to how I become one. Personal action co-opts both self and other in the process of mutual self-construction. In short, personhood is interconstitutive, fully participative: personhood is creative participation in the becoming of another.
Just as it reconnects us, one to another, so personal action also supplies a much-coveted identity criterion. It preserves the self from dissolution, not by capitulating to demands for the prefabricated priority of a self in se, but simply by commissioning each of us as the agent of our own acts. Nota bene, the inference from intended act back to intending agent cannot be made logically ‘watertight’. Rather, it is presuppositional, supplies, that is, not necessary but adequate conditions for making sense of acts as intended, as meaningful.
Fully qualified (in every sense) by the logic of intending, personal action also carries the first condition of knowledge: concrete connection. Reconnecting knowing subjects with objects known overcomes the substantival disjunct at the heart of rationalist thought.  In so doing, it converts empiricist demands for evidence into a pragmatic principle: reality known by the experiencable difference it makes to those who know it. Deny this and every act of explanation, including the one in which we are here engaged, is logically forfeit.
Ultimately, as both Farrer and Feuerbach show, realigning philosophy’s founding dualisms – subject/object, self/other – within a framework of personal action and explanation destabilises the classical metaphysics of the self. In its place, we find a new kind of metaphysics, an anti-metaphysical metaphysics which establishes persons and person-concepts as the logical, ontological, and epistemological bottom line, the key to measuring reality.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Normal service will be resumed in: 5 – 4 – 3 – 2…

by Simon Smith
Salutations, dear reader. Salutations and sincerest apologies for the lengthy break in service here at the British Personalist Forum blog. I can only imagine how empty your lives must have seemed without us; how dismal, how gloomy, how very like the cold embrace of eternity.
There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and recovered hope.[1]
Such is life without us, I know.

Just in case anyone, anyone at all, was wondering, the reason for “radio silence” was an affliction common to those of my accursed race. I’ve been doing it non-stop for the last month. Marking exam scripts, I mean. Let joy be unconfined! Very nearly. It was a long and difficult road, but I, along with my fellow examiners, I trod it and finally reached our destination: the pay cheque at the end.

Believe it or not, marking philosophy exams is not the most exciting way to spend a month, but it is not without its interest. This year, for example, one of my examiners demonstrated a deal of self-knowledge. It’s a surprisingly rare commodity among the honourable fraternity of philosophers, especially given its supposedly foundational place in all our thought and work. There is one, however, one thinker out there who took the Delphic Oracle to heart: Gnothi Seauton, oh yes indeed.
Further interest was aroused, for me at least, by the simple act of spending time with some of the classic in philosophy, or at least the SparkNotes inspired versions of them best known to the poor creatures being examined. The warm afternoons drag on interminably and my eyes inevitably begin to burn and blur from roaming the indecipherable hieroglyphs which pass for handwriting, so my thoughts turn to the authors whose ideas are being mangled.
I am reminded of what a tremendously boring old bugger John Stuart Mill is and how dismal his attempts to reconcile individualism with utilitarianism really are. It occurs to me also that these discussions of free speech and such like, scratched out by panic-stricken students desperately honking down everything they can possibly remember about On Liberty, are as sophisticated as any I’ve heard in the media for ages. This is slightly depressing. And then I come across a student which observes – I’m paraphrasing here – that dear old J.S. may well have been entirely correct in his assertion of the inviolability of free speech; but he failed to notice that this right does not entail an obligation in others to listen to what is being said.
Naked bigotry is far and away preferably to bigotry which garbs itself in moral and political populism; but I don’t know if any of us want to actually see the Nick Griffins of this world in the nude.
I feel a little bit sick now.
With that, rather revolting, thought in mind, it is no surprise that we come next upon Plato and his pals sitting around with their ancient Greek junk hanging out: that’s how philosophy is meant to be done.
Should philosophers be kings? Not unless they put some underwear on, no. And should they do so, not the philosophers I know. Even those who aren’t dipsomaniacs and predatory sex-pests are decidedly not the kind of people you would want in charge of your polis.
Then, of course, there’s the critique of various political systems including, most pertinently, the democratic model. Plato feared that democracy would end up being a competition among interests so vested that, they would spend all their time in the back garden, drinking lager, and throwing shrimp on the barbie, if I may quote the great Australian philosopher, Paul Hogan. Cobber. That’s to say, in a democracy, the power-hungry will say and do whatever they have to in order to get what they want and then, once they’re elected, they can say and do whatever they please. The end result, Plato argued, would be tyranny.
Of course, nothing like that could ever really happen. Silly old Plato.
My favourite scripts – in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way – are the ones which have opted to answer the questions on Nietzsche. The set text is On the Genealogy of Morality, a difficult work at the best of time. Given how difficult, I’m always a little bit tempted to award the students extra marks just for having a go. Not that I do, obviously and in case anyone is actually reading this. Nevertheless, Nietzsche is hard work and can be very confusing, especially for young minds which are coming up against him for the first time. The students struggle, naturally, but many of them do their best to explain ideas which, in essence, run counter to just about everything they’ve been told by parents, teachers, and any other authority figure whose paths they may have crossed. Every now and then, however, I’ll come across one who, whether by accident or design, has manage to hit on the point, more or less, and that’s always reassuring. 
For me, though, it’s a chance to remember how much I basically agree with our pal Freddy. Wilfully oversimplifying the whole thing, I should say there are basically four key ideas in the Genealogy.
1. Human beings, which is to say persons, are fundamentally social creatures.
We are who we are in relation to others and who we are is dependent upon them. Sometimes these relationships are constructive and creative, sometimes they are hostile and destructive. We all know where Nietzsche put the emphasis, but in either case those relations are the essence of our humanity or lack thereof.
2. Who and what we are depends to a considerable degree on our mythologies, on the stories we tell about who we are.
Myths about good and bad, myths about where we come from and where we’re going, myths about what it all means and, perhaps most importantly, the wellspring of our humanity; all vital things these.
3. Morality is the essence our humanity or “personhood”. We only become human when moral thinking sets foot on the stage. I would add religion in here too, but morality will suffice for the time being.
Morality (and religion) is the internalising of the other: their appropriation of us and ours of them; it’s inception of the inner life of persons (which I think was Feuerbach’s phrase, more or less) and so the birth of our humanity.
4. Humanity, “personhood”, is essentially aspirational, upwardly oriented, self-transcending and whatnot.
Up we go, towards a higher archetype, an analogy for our better selves, the mirror of our hearts: messiah, superman, or post-human, AI-enhanced, super-cyborg, it all comes to the same thing.

That’s an awful lot of essences, I know, but in reality they all come together into one because myth, morality, and self-transcendence are all functions or extensions of an essentially social self. 

Obviously, Nietzsche took a rather dim view of all this and I can’t really blame him, given the state our species has got itself into. And things seem to have got considerably worse since the Genealogy was published in 1887. It is, perhaps, not a great surprise to find Nietzsche railing against the emergence of the human conscience. Given everything that conscience has achieved during the 20th Century and is still achieving now, it’s difficult not to be just the tiniest bit pessimistic about our species. Yes, it’s no wonder really that Nietzsche was
5. Not, as the saying goes, a happy bunny.

Still, at least the marking is finished for another year. 

[1] George Eliot, Adam Bede. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1997.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

An open invitation to contribute to a new book

Dear Professor,
As editor, I am excited to announce the recently commissioned undertaking by InTech Publishing, London, of a new neuro(bio)ethics text themed to a holistic and human perspective, one that promises to be pragmatically useful for the engineering and medical arts.
Neuroethics, clearly, has assumed considerable significance in light of the great strides made in the neurosciences, now reflected in major continental investments in neuroscience made in Europe (The Human Brain Project), America (The BRAIN Initiative) and Asia. With this increasing knowledge there is a growing capacity for intervention in the nervous system, which is evidenced in the many neurotechnologies that can be applied medically or for neuromodulatory purposes; hence, the need for ethical deliberation. 
Much of the current debate has centered on the possibility of harming or modulating human faculties, like autonomous behavior and personal identity; however, determining their physical correlates, that is, how the brain is affected, has been complicated by its great complexity and an empirical approach that has deemphasized a more integrative philosophy of science understanding of its operation. Accordingly, the physical and integrative dimension of intervention has been inferenced only in passing, with current medical and neurotechnological interventions left to arbitrary judgment on their normative outcomes.
On the other hand, there is a growing awareness that organismal and integral, global properties of the brain and body are central contributors in shaping the neural architecture. Psychiatric and degenerative diseases like schizophrenia and alzheimers dementia, for example, appear to be linked to impairments of these global attributes. For this reason I believe that a new approach to configuring the intellectual discourse on neuroethics is both needed and possible, one that will frame it through a synthesis of philosophy of organismal biology, neuroscience, and the respective medical and neurotechnological disciplines. This is reflected in the book's title: Neurobioethics: Bridging Biological Philosophy, Neurotechnology, and Medical Ethics. This theme offers not only a fresh and novel perspective, but one that can also assist in unifying debate anthropologically, while having pragmatic implications medically and technologically.
The book's theme is developed in topical sections that consider such principal organismal attributes with counterparts in human behavior as identity and cognition, organismal unity, autonomy, awareness and responsivity, and social and communicative dimensions. An additional section considers the brain's dynamic systemic (global) operation, that may be impacted during intervention, as appears to happen in epilepsy.
Invitations are broadly solicited from neuro(bio)ethics, neuroscience and global state interactions, neurology and psychiatric diseases, philosophy of biology and mind, and medical and neurotechnologies, with an emphasis on synthetic considerations of one or more topical themes. Registration can be made online at: 
via proposal submission. Kindly distribute to interested scholars.
Book timelines are intended for scheduling purposes.

Denis Larrivee, PhD
Academic Editor
Editorial Board, Neurology and Neurological Sciences Online (USA)
Editorial Board, EC Neurology, London
International Association Catholic Bioethicists
International Neuroethics Society
Loyola University Chicago
Mind and Brain Institute, University of Navarra, Spain

Sunday, 3 June 2018

CFP: Invitation to Contributors for New Book on Neurobioethics

Neurobioethics - Bridging Biological Philosophy, Neurotechnology, and Medical Ethics

Academic Editor
Denis Larrivee

Advances in the neurosciences, following on the Decade of the Brain and the recently ended Decade of the Mind, reflect not merely the pace and evolution of neuroscientific understanding, but, critically, an ascending mastery over neural intervention, with its twin prospects for therapy or neuromodulation. Neurotechnologies, for example, from nanofabrication to interfacial communication, continue to rapidly evolve; yet, medical insights from mental and degenerative diseases illustrate the brain's susceptibility to intrusion revealing the crucial need for ethical evaluation. Normative conclusions attendant on this potential traditionally spring from the value attributed to human anthropology, which then privileges the neural form. The complexity of the nervous system, however, continues to cloud the search for neural correlates of human behavior. Fortunately, synergies among biological philosophy, neuroscience, and medical etiology increasingly reveal that global and organismal properties are crucial to eliciting neural form, like the assimilation of topographical mapping to satisfy the organismal need for self identity; hence, the significant question for neuroethics is not how anthropology is shaped by biology, but how organismal requirements mold the biology that is expressed through human behavior. The book aims a fruitful, and heretofore unexplored, approach to framing the physical parameters needed to ethically evaluate neurotechnological and medical intervention in human cognition. 

Book Topics
Topic 1: Identity and Cognition
Keywords: Deep brain stimulation, Machine-human prostheses, Embedded diagnostics, Schizophrenia, Personal identity, 3-dimensional body image, Anthropomorphism, Robotics

Topic 2: Organismal Unity and Cognition
Keywords: Brain computer interfacing, Motor planning, Motor image, Parkinson’s disease, Embodied, Perception action coupling

Topic 3: Autonomy and Protagonist Representation
Keywords: Closed loop feedback, Neuroaddictive technology, Executive circuits, Comparator model

Topic 4: Awareness and Responsivity
Keywords: Memory therapeutics, Mental decoding, Sensory enhancement, Machine human intelligence, Alzheimer’s, Consciousness diseases, Global workspace model, Classification technology

Topic 5: Social and Communicative
Keywords: Virtual reality, Social networks, Autism, 2 body neuroscience, Mirror neurons, Neuroscience of morality

Topic 6: System and Global State Interactions
Keywords: Electrotherapy, Animal modeling, Epilepsy, Criticality, Global brain dynamics, Distributed cognition

Please follow this link to find all needed information about this book project: 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Power of Fiction

by Teresita Pumará

I am bewitched by stories. But aren’t we all? I should certainly like to begin this piece with a universal statement like: “Since its birth, humanity has been fascinated by stories”. But I have neither the courage nor the ability to ignore with peace of mind all those tiny differences of graduation that separate us, the human individuals, sometimes stretching such distances between us that we can no longer understand each other. For instance, I cannot share the passion some people have for cars, but I can well recognize in their passion some of the obsessive traces I myself show when it comes to stories. I do dare say that stories have been with us for a long time. They have taken different shapes. And, like food, cars, or Sauron’s ring, they have the power to bind us.
I can follow this fascination with stories to the farthest corners of my memory. And I love them in all their modus. I can equally fall for a book, for a film or for a series. The better the story is told, the deeper my involvement with it. But I have noticed that this is not enough. I don’t fall easily for a newspaper story, no matter how well written they are. I like to watch documentary films, but to me they are just interesting. I don’t fall in love with them. I have come to realize this fact for a short time. Maybe because I started to seriously ask myself where does the power of stories lie. How does their spell work?

A couple of years ago, Amazon released a series based on a book, both called The Man in the High Castle. The book was written by Philip K. Dick and published in 1962. It depicts a world where the Nazis and the Japanese have won the Second World War. The net that connects the different characters of the story is woven through a fictional novel that depicts a world where the Allies actually won the war, written by a man who supposedly guards himself in a well-protected fortress.
After watching the first season of the series I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the story had lost its power. The series is well done, it achieves its purpose of hooking you up and making you want to see more, to know what happens next. It develops the characters and events in a different way than the book does. But that is not what bothered me. On the contrary, I believe everyone has the right to variate a story, to tell it again in another way, this is how stories survive. But I felt that this version of the story had washed away the rusty, pointy, unclear and dangerous elements of the book and achieve a more digestible version of it. Nothing new under the sun, one may say, the typical Hollywood problem.

One of my favourite answers to the problem of art in general and literature in particular is the idea of ‘defamiliarisation’ of perception which Russian Formalists brought forward at the beginning of the 20th century. Either by using language in unexpected ways, or by arranging the narrative elements in an unexpected order, or by including the absurd as a matter of fact, a literary work would achieve, in the first place, to disturb the usual mechanism of our perception and in the second place to turn us to those mechanisms and question them, in other words, to discuss what we feel as natural. Across the past century this idea has, in one way or another, drawn the blurring line between art and entertainment. But, then again, some products of the entertainment industry have achieved a powerful and uneasy combination between these two “poles” (which perhaps are no longer such). The differentiation between what is a work of art and what is entertainment is losing its effectiveness. Besides, this industry is also changing, taking other shapes and producing works that deserve to be thought of. Not only because of the number of people who consume them and how they change the world of those people, but also because of their own qualities as cultural products.

I am mainly thinking of this new series-wave. The fascination some of us now experience with series is how I imagine the fascination people in the nineteenth century experienced with the novels published and delivered in chapters by the newspapersBut the spell this series cast is, at least on me, only sometimes effective. Many of them, like The Man in the High Castle, have the charm of a teenage party supervised by parents and teachers. It is probably a silly comparison, but this is how they seem to me: controlled, contained and wanting to make sure that the message is sent, and does not give place to misunderstanding. And then, while reading some articles of Carl Gustav Jung, I came upon this statement:
Concrete values cannot take the place of the symbol; only new and more efficient symbols can be substituted for those that are more antiquated and outworn, such as have lost their efficacy through the progress of intellectual analysis and understanding. (Jung, C. G, “Author’s Preface to the First Edition” of Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology)
A preliminary and very general answer to the question above, then, could be: stories work as symbols, when their spell works well. This symbols, says Jung later, are produced by the individual unconscious and represent something “whose intellectual meaning cannot yet be grasped entirely”. The encounter with this quote helped me think of stories under a different light, no longer constraint by the mainly rational approach of formalism, but neither falling in a purely emotional, romantic point of view. The concept of symbol, its ability to linger in our souls and work in many directions, appeals to me as an unexplored territory.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A Festschrift for Thomas O. Buford

Vernon Press Presents

Persons, Institutions, and Trust
Essays in Honour of Thomas O. Buford

Eds: James M. McLachlan
James Beauregard
Richard Prust

The papers presented in this volume honor Thomas O. Buford. Buford is Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at Furman University where he taught for more than forty years. Several of the papers in this volume are from former students. But Professor Buford is also a pre-eminent voice of fourth generation Personalism, and Boston Personalism in particular. Personalism is a school of philosophical and theological thought which holds that the ideas of “person” and “personality” are indispensable to an adequate understanding of all metaphysical and epistemological problems, as well as are keys to an adequate theory of ethical and political human interaction. Most personalists assert that personality is an irreducible fact found in all existence, as well as in all interpretation of the meaning of existence and the truth about experience. Anything that seems to exist impersonally, such as inanimate matter, nevertheless can exist and have meaning only as related to some personal being. The Boston Personalist tradition was inaugurated by Borden Parker Bowne and continued by Edgar S. Brightman, Peter Bertocci, John Lavely, Carol Robb, and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Thomas O. Buford, Emeritus, Furman University

Are Institutions Persons? Buford and the Primacy of Social Order
Randy Auxier, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Institutions Supported, Institutions Subverted: Thomas O Buford on the Parables of Jesus
James Beauregard Ph.D, Riviere University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Why Should I Trust?
Richard Prust, Emeritus, St. Andrews College
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Christianity and Intellectual Seriousness
Mason Marshall, Pepperdine University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Trusting to Dance Within the Nexus
Nathan Riley, Independent Scholar
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Prayer, Magic, and the Devil
Christopher Williams, University of Nevada-Reno
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Buford, Kohak, and a Renewed Understanding of the Personal Nature of Time
John Scott Grey, Ferris State University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Death and Self-Importance
John Lachs, Vanderbilt University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Danish Personalism On Democracy and the Engaged Human Freedom for the Common Good
Jonas Norgaard Mortensen
Response by Thomas O. Buford

On Behalf of Poetasters
Charles Conti, University of Sussex
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Persons, Community and Human Diversity
Eugene Long, Emeritus, University of South Carolina
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Buford as Teacher, Mentor, Person
J. Aaron Simmons, Furman University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

The Personalist Response to the Problem of Evil in Brightman, Bertocci, and Buford
James McLachlan, Western Carolina University
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Fourth Generation Boston University Personalism: The Philosophy of Thomas O. Buford
Randall E. Auxier, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Response by Thomas O. Buford

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Engaged Disciplines: Invocations from History

by Denis Larrivee

The publication of Elio Sgreccia’s weight 4rth edition of Personalist Bioethics testifies not simply to the urgency of bioethics as the discipline for a technological age, but also to the discipline’s enduring effort to come to terms with its modus operandi; that is, to respond to bioethics’ twin queries: what value is being claimed for an ethical praxis that needs evolving, and what existential reality is this value applied to. The text has received the endorsement of the USA’s National Catholic Bioethics Center for its principled approach to and consistency with intellectual tradition. Covering some 830 pages in its paper bound version it serves as more than a primer on the evolution of the discipline, entailing a substantive intellectual effort aimed at linking the discipline’s epistemic development to an objective grounding in the nature of reality. In this vein the text considers not only the rationale for arguments that underpin value and contingency, that is, the twin queries - the text specifically invokes the personalist normative conclusions of the Christian tradition and the Aristotelian-Thomistic insights on what is being sited - but conducts a dialogical praxis with leading contemporary models that have evolved widely outside this framework. Given the ongoing stream of epistemological findings that continue to emerge from the sciences, this is a praxis with considerable potential for variation in trajectory, which Sgreccia considers vis a vis the science of genetics.
A la Sgreccia, bioethics emerged as a distinct discipline no more than a few decades ago with the publication of Van Rensselaer Potter’s seminal article on Bioethics, the Science of Survival. Proposing the unification of the knowledge taken from biology with that rooted in a study of human values, the article reflected Potters perception that the vast panorama of life was placed at risk by the sterile a-value approach of the sciences to life. Coming on the heels of the genetic triumphs of the 1960’s, like the deciphering of the genetic code, Potter conceived of bioethics as a route to preserving the natural world, mediated through the appropriation of value. The claim to invoke human values to this broad dominion, however, the addressing of the second of the two queries, had the normative consequence of flattening an anthropomorphic hierarchy. Indeed, the consequences are now seen in such varied communities and theories as the ecoethicists and actor network theory, where every river and fish is now an end, a revelation in normative outcome, of the otherwise hidden, intrinsic mutual and reciprocal influence of answers to the two queries that were exerted on one another. Faced with this horizontalizing Andre Helleger later proposed to narrow the contingency range by restoring the privileged normative character of the human being in medical intervention and research experimentation. Helleger, thereby, established a disciplinary pattern that has since marked the field’s evolution, clarifying the twin queries and logically deducing their mutual influence.
Sgreccia’s text adheres to this pattern. Grounding is crucial to the text’s conclusions, which thus premises the existential reality of the person as both source and locus of value, revealed through its physical manifestation. This has also meant that in the absence of the physical manifestation there would be no reality for which normative privileging could be accorded. While here reaffirming the generality of the twin query approach to an ethics of biology, like Van Rensselaer Potter and Hellegers, Sgreccia, significantly, substantially reaffirms the centrality of the logical necessity of the physical reality of the human form. Hence, while he underscores the human personalist anthropology as the basis for normative privileging, as a matter of metaphysics, and especially as a pragmatic art, the normative science of bioethics cannot be divorced from the siting of its contingency - implicit in Helleger’s stance. The physical manifestation, in effect, reveals how the physical reality structures the form that can then be normatively privileged. Actions are thereby probative, if and only if they are administered to the physical form, either contravening its nature or its unity.
This is a position similarly advanced by Karol Wojtyla, whose investiture of normative weight specifically inheres in the corporality of the human form (Veritatis Splendor)
…against a manipulation of corporeity which would alter its human meaning...on the grounds that the ...nature of the human person is in the unity of the body and soul ...that stand and fall together...
In other words, like Sgreccia, Wojtyla ascribes to the physicality of the normative terrain the capacity to determine value specifically in view of its human siting. Significantly, in charting this terrain Wojtyla is claiming that the corporal reality specifically assists in the acquisition of its normative valuation. This is a broader claim that stems from the unity of the individual who is epistemically manifest, and has bearing for the current state of bioethics as a normative science, which, once again, is attempting to address the twin queries of normative investiture and value contingency.
In what promises to be a quantitative leap in the new bioethics, that is, from the traditional question of how and why the human anthropology is normatively privileged, the current questioning concerns what a human anthropology inheres in. This is a logical prior for the normative science of bioethics generally, but is peculiarly suited to its most recent evolution in praxis, which is concerned with the biological substrate most intimately linked to human ontology, neuroethics. Wojtyla’s claim is significant for neuroethics for specifically linking the human and personalist meaning to its emergence from the corpus, a point taken up in a lengthy series of lectures given in the early years of his chief office.
Though he originally elaborated this meaning in terms of a reflection on its phenomenal character, he understood it through its intrinsic unity, that is, linked to its physical manifestation. By extension, it seems fair to say that predicated on the unity from which predicable human properties flow, the nervous system of the corpus specifically assists in structuring the personalist reality.
Unsurprisingly, Wojtyla’s presupposition - of an a priori metaphysic structure from which the corporal reality predicates - distinguishes itself from much of current neuroethics, Cartesian inspired, and with a posteriori presuppositions that segregate privileged properties from their ‘source’. Lockean descendants, like Extended Mind Theory, for example, segregate the subject from a defined corporal structure. The rupture, that is also a rupture of the twin queries, significantly, wholly modifies actionable standards that can be applied to intervention. Bad thinking and bad action, so to speak, hand in hand, and a caution on the consequences of the reciprocal character of the twin queries.
Recent efforts to imbue neuroethics with a personalist normative privileging, like that of a recently appearing article in the personalist journal Quien, on the other hand, begin with a welcome premise. Like Wojtyla and Sgreccia they propose to the question of normative privileging the ascription of ‘personalist’ and so, thus, they address the first of the twin queries. Yet in the effort - and perhaps daunted by the complexity of the physical nature at hand, there is the sense of a more ethereal and unbound contingency, that is a phantom of what the 2nd query is beholden to. This question of status, conversely, is unlike Wojtyla and Sgreccia, introducing, perhaps, an unintended plasticity to contingency, which likely will ignore the reciprocity the twin queries seek. Hence, there seems an invocation in trending personalism, intellectually applied more broadly, of a caution embedded in the historicity of the ethical discipline, that what once was may not forever be.