Foucault and bio-ethics

Philosopundit (ole perfessor eat your heart out) proposes a paper on Foucault that makes the following surprising claim:

This paper examines the resources of Michel Foucault’s philosophy for bio-ethics.  Given the unorthodox nature of Foucault’s philosophy and ethics compared to the more traditional approaches of deontology and consequentialism it may seem that Foucault’s thought has little to do with bio-ethics, which is primarily the domain of so-called “analytic” philosophy.

Having written a little bit on ethics myself I would have hazarded a guess that it was precisely the opposite: ethics is primarily the domain of non-analytical philosophy, but this just goes to show that we need something like this paper to engage the two domains. I would be very curious to see where he goes with this, not so much as it applies to Foucault, but how he proposes to apply Foucault to bio-ethics.

I can see this is useful as far as it goes:

Given the common place fear over the authoritarian tendencies perceived to come along with such technological advances and our desires to use them when we think it might benefit us debates between consequentialists and deontologists miss the fundamental issue of bio-ethics.  From Foucault’s perspective then the central bio-ethical issue is not so much an issue of the permissibility or impermissibility of such technologies, but how they shape our lives in ways that render us complaint and docile or whether they enhance our capacities to transform our existence.

…Since neither consequentialism nor deontology seem to be adequate in the first place, but it would be interesting to see if you could get to a politics of ethics through this route.


One Response

  1. The word ‘ethics’ seems to have curiously polarised implications in a way that ‘morality’ doesn’t. ‘Ethics’ has simultaneously very analytical and technical resonances where it exists as some sort of add-on to otherwise technocratic fields (as in ‘ethics committees’, ‘we need also to consider the ethical dimensions of x’), and deeply existential resonances in the Nietzschean/Heideggerian tradition, where it virtually swallows up everything else.

    Strangely, the term ‘morality’ seems to carve a relatively uncontentious path down the middle, involving rules and norms, but nothing either heavier or lighter than that.

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