There’s nowt so queer as folk

Here, bioethicist Richard Ashcroft argues that bioethics needs to broaden its scope by considering questions about character as well as the rightness and wrongness of deeds and the goodness and badness of outcomes.  He suggests that one way to get some of the dense texture of lived experience into ethics–and thereby give questions of character more of their proper ground and interest–is to philosophise by reading fiction.  In the course of a full-length novel, the making of choices seems more like stuff that people do and less like occasions for serene rational deliberation.  This idea is not new to philosophy, though it may be new to bioethics.  What is different in Ashcroft’s develoment of these ideas is his choice of novel.  Instead of Henry James, we have M. John Harrison’s Signs of Life, which belongs on a shelf marked ‘the new weird’.  In Ashcroft’s hands, the weirdness is philosophically important, and the weirdest elements are the people.

This poses a challenge to the more naively Aristotelian or eudaimonic versions of virtue ethics.  Even Nietzsche doesn’t really get at the oddness of root human desires, good as he is on their violence, contingency, lewdness, fleshy unreasonableness, etc..  It is certainly something for aspiring educators of character to think about.


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