From Reason to Practice in Bioethics: An Anthology Dedicated to the Works of John Harris brings together original contributions from some of the world’s leading scholars in the field of bioethics. With a particular focus on, and critical engagement with, the influential work of Professor John Harris, the book provides a detailed exploration of some of the most interesting and challenging philosophical and practical questions raised in bioethics. The book’s broad range of chapters make it a useful resource for students, scholars, and practitioners interested in the field of bioethics, and the relationship between philosophical and practical ethics. The range of contributors and topics afford the book a wide international interest.
This chapter focuses on the Christian tradition of practical ethics in Europe of the High Middle Ages, here in relation to lay practice. Its particular focus is vows, voluntary commitments to God to undertake a good action, which were a popular feature of popular piety in this period. This was an ethical domain rich in complex rules. Typically, pious laypeople took vows of pilgrimage, prayer, fasting and chastity, either for a fixed period or in perpetuity, as a penitential act or as a spontaneous act of piety. Especially from the thirteenth century, the church established detailed rules intended to moderate such vows, given the ways in which they could conflict with other, ordinary obligations. The chapter takes as an example the pastoral rules relating to vows in four texts from thirteenth-century France and England, Thomas of Chobham, Peter the Chanter, Raymond of Penafort and John of Freiburg. These books of penitential advice shows that detailed rules about vows were devised by the clergy with the concerns of ordinary people in mind. In this light, casuistry – which would later become notorious as the archetype of ethical legalism – is revealed not so much as an invasion of private conscience, but an attempt to facilitate personal devotional projects.
become the archetype of an (overly) legalistic approach to ethics in Western thought. I must also acknowledge the inspiration of Talal Asad’s passing remark cited as an epigraph to this chapter. Asad’s juxtaposition of Islamic practical ethics, Catholic casuistry and the prejudices of modernity, as represented by Kant, comes in the course of a genealogical investigation of secularism and its conception of the proper relation between law and ethics (see the Introduction ). For Asad ( 2003 : 16), genealogy is ‘a way of
addressed in the international and global sphere are primarily framed in terms of finding and applying appropriate ethical principles, codes and rules in trying to resolve ‘real moral problems’ (Coombs and Winkler 1993 : 2). Such a perspective is of limited scope for the complexities of a plural international domain and inevitably produces a tension that privileges practical concerns for ethics. Yet, far from being settled, the general sub-field of applied, or practical, ethics
experienced. But there is another way to describe what’s happening to them, if we allow ourselves a peek under the proverbial hood. They are suffering a breakdown of their pair bond, part of the attachment system we have discussed. Making sense of this breakdown is important for our project. It can help us see what’s at the root of so much marital discord, going beyond the specific feelings of any one couple. We’ve said that practical ethics is about context and details, and it is. But the context of a problem can range from the local and particular to the vast and general
perplexity surrounding the status of international law, Sidgwick was clear that law was secondary to international morality. Disliking conflict, whether domestic or international, his proposed solution to each was often the same: moral education. Moral transformation was a necessary first step before the creation of institutions could further embed a new international order. An examination of Sidgwick’s writings on international politics in the 1890s – that includes his essays in practical ethics, most importantly ‘Public morality’ (1897) and ‘The morality of strife’ (1890
them once we are confronted with the kind of moral philosophy pursued so successfully by John Harris – but they are problems for another day.7 Notes 1 J.C. Harsanyi, Essays on Ethics, Social Behavior, and Scientific Explanation (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1976). Hare, R.M. Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). P. Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979; 2nd edn, 1993; 3rd en, 2011). T. Scanlon What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1998). 2 J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice
beliefs to be true, and coherentism is based on a search for truth. Nevertheless, and in a way that we might contrast with earlier chapters that have looked to deductive, logical reasoning, Tännsjö emphasises the role for inductive reasoning in practical ethics, and the strong role for ‘considered intuitions’ on which we can rely. He also notes the importance of thought experiments in tests of our moral understanding, and demonstrates his point through a discussion of his use of a modified version of John Harris’s celebrated idea of the survival lottery. This is one of
provided a bridge between the religious divides of the age, as well as the divisions of class. This case thus speaks to a key theme of this introduction, the need to think of law and morality, as well as self and society, in combination rather than apart. Finally in this section, Emily Corran shifts our focus to the Christian tradition of practical ethics in the Europe of the High Middle Ages, here in its relation to ordinary, lay practice. Her case study is vows, voluntary commitments to God to undertake a good action
if ‘application’ is generally understood to involve forms of intervention in the everyday understanding of cultural matters at large, then this application risks limiting itself to the realm of ‘theory’. Nancy’s reminder that all thinking ultimately lives in the everyday reminds us also that life’s ordinary concerns are not put on hold whilst such theorisation attends to thinking them otherwise. Thinking otherwise needs also to be committed to re-creation in the widest possible sense: we need an ‘ethics of decision’, but we need for this to be practical ethics also