So the NRA’s long awaited “substantive contribution” to the gun debate is to reduce the 1st amendment (i.e. censor and ban violent movies and video games) while expanding their already expansive interpretation of the 2nd amendment (ie allow guns in schools). However, the banning of violent movies poses a serious problem for the maintenance of the fictive universe they inhabit. For without these movies how will they maintain their core belief that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”?
I must admit. The NRA’s response underwhelmed me with its lack of sophistication and tact. For a bunch of guys obsessed with war, strategy, stealth and tactical deployments, this document had the subtlety of an eighteenth century blunderbuss.
Both bioethics and continental philosophy are outliers of “mainstream” philosophy. However, their shared outlier status has not resulted in camaraderie but mutual suspicion, if not contempt. Brian Leiter describes bioethics as possessing a “dim reputation in academic philosophy”.[i] While bioethicists such as Daniel Callahan describe continental philosophy “as not philosophy at all”.[ii]
Perhaps the intention of these comments is to dismiss rather than challenge continental philosophy or bioethics, but I have taken them as a challenge. I am not interested in defining these disciplines or academic fields; especially as the work of philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas or Jeffrey Bishop demonstrates the artificial nature of the boundaries surrounding these classifications. However, there is a general bar or faculty room acceptance of Leiter’s characterization of bioethics and Callahan’s assessment of continental philosophy. Depending on philosophical predilections Leiter’s remark may have raised a smile or Callahan’s evaluation a smirk. As someone trying to simultaneously swim in the continental and bioethics streams I find these comments frustrating, yet acknowledge the pressing challenges issued in both.
The challenge issued to bioethics from philosophy, not just from Leiter but a host of others, can be summarized as: (i) bioethics is too close to industry (broadly construed); (ii) bioethics is philosophically limited; (iii) bioethics is philosophically monotonous.
The challenge issued to continental philosophy from bioethics, and again not just from Callahan, can be summarized as: (i) continental philosophy is too theory-laden; (ii) continental philosophy is too descriptive and lacks normative application; and (iii) continental philosophy cannot be translated into policy.
In response, I do not intend to merely defend these academic fields, but acknowledge the challenges and suggest that despite apparent opposition they can fruitfully support each other and produce important analytic insights and ethical engagements.
[ii] Daniel Callahan, The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012): 9.
Reading a newspaper is like reading a novel whose author has abandoned any thought of a coherent plot.
(Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 2006, p. 33)
Of course, if the newspaper you are reading has a coherent plot it doesn’t mean that you are reading a novel, mostly likely propaganda.