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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral 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EthicsCloningClose toYouCoercion as CureCoercive Treatment in PsychiatryCognition of Value in Aristotle's EthicsCognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy Comfortably NumbCommonsense RebellionCommunicative Action and Rational ChoiceCompetence, Condemnation, and CommitmentComprehending CareConducting Insanity EvaluationsConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConflict of Interest in the ProfessionsConsuming KidsContemporary Debates In Applied EthicsContemporary Debates in Moral TheoryContemporary Debates in Social PhilosophyContentious IssuesContesting PsychiatryCrazy in AmericaCreating CapabilitiesCreatures Like Us?Crime and CulpabilityCrime, Punishment, and Mental IllnessCritical Perspectives in Public HealthCritical PsychiatryCrueltyCultural Assessment in Clinical PsychiatryCurrent Controversies in BioethicsCurrent Controversies in Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Double Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First CenturyEarly WarningEconomics and Youth ViolenceEmbodied 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UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenocide's AftermathGetting 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ProsthesisNatural Ethical FactsNatural-Born CybogsNaturalized BioethicsNeither Bad nor MadNeoconservatismNeonatal BioethicsNeurobiology and the Development of Human MoralityNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNew Takes in Film-PhilosophyNew Waves in EthicsNew Waves in MetaethicsNietzsche on Ethics and PoliticsNo Child Left DifferentNo Impact ManNormative EthicsNormativityNothing about us, without us!Oath BetrayedOf War and LawOn ApologyOn Being AuthenticOn EvilOn Human RightsOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOn the TakeOn Virtue EthicsOn What MattersOn What We Owe to Each OtherOne ChildOne Nation Under TherapyOne World NowOne World NowOur Bodies, Whose Property?Our Bodies, Whose Property?Our Daily MedsOur Faithfulness to the PastOur Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the BodyProzac As a Way of LifeProzac on the CouchPsychiatric Aspects of Justification, Excuse and Mitigation in Anglo-American Criminal Law Psychiatric EthicsPsychiatry and EmpirePsychological Concepts and Biological PsychiatryPsychology and Consumer CulturePsychology and LawPsychotropic Drug Prescriber's Survival GuidePublic Health LawPublic Health Law and EthicsPublic PhilosophyPunishing the Mentally IllPunishmentPursuits of WisdomPutting Morality Back Into PoliticsPutting on VirtueQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRaceRadical HopeRadical VirtuesRape Is RapeRe-creating MedicineRe-Engineering Philosophy for Limited BeingsReason's GriefReasonably ViciousReckoning With HomelessnessReconceiving Medical EthicsRecovery from SchizophreniaRedefining RapeRedesigning HumansReducing the Stigma of Mental IllnessReflections on Ethics and ResponsibilityReflections On How We LiveReframing Disease ContextuallyRefusing CareRefuting Peter Singer's Ethical TheoryRelative JusticeRelativism and Human RightsReligion ExplainedReprogeneticsRescuing JeffreyRespecting AnimalsResponsibilityResponsibility and PsychopathyResponsibility and PunishmentResponsibility and PunishmentResponsibility from the MarginsResponsible GeneticsRethinking CommodificationRethinking Informed Consent in BioethicsRethinking Mental Health and DisorderRethinking RapeReturn to ReasonRevolution in PsychologyRightsRights, Democracy, and Fulfillment in the Era of Identity PoliticsRisk and Luck in Medical EthicsRobert NozickRousseau and the Dilemmas of Modernity Rule of Law, Misrule of MenRun, Spot, RunRunning on RitalinSatisficing and MaximizingSchizophrenia, Culture, and SubjectivityScience and EthicsScience in the Private InterestScience, Policy, and the Value-Free IdealScience, Seeds and CyborgsScratching the Surface of BioethicsSecular Philosophy and the Religious TemperamentSeeing the LightSelf-ConstitutionSelf-Made MadnessSelf-Trust and Reproductive AutonomySentimental RulesSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex OffendersSex, Family, and the Culture WarsSexual 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CloningUnderstanding EmotionsUnderstanding EvilUnderstanding Kant's EthicsUnderstanding Moral ObligationUnderstanding Physician-Pharmaceutical Industry InteractionsUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the GenomeUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnhingedUnprincipled VirtueUnsanctifying Human Life: Essays on EthicsUnspeakable Acts, Ordinary PeopleUp in FlamesUpheavals of ThoughtUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryValue-Free Science?Values and Psychiatric DiagnosisValues in ConflictVegetarianismViolence and Mental DisorderVirtue EthicsVirtue, Rules, and JusticeVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVirtues and Their VicesVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsVulnerability, Autonomy, and Applied EthicsWar Against the WeakWar, Torture and TerrorismWarrior's DishonourWeaknessWelfare and Rational CareWhat are you staring at?What Genes Can't DoWhat Have We DoneWhat Is a Human?What Is Good and WhyWhat Is Good and WhyWhat Is the Good Life?What Price Better 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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
This book consists of an introduction, ten sections each containing two chapters, and an index. Each chapter is new, at least in its present form. In sections one, two, four and five, the second chapter responds to the first. In the third section, the first chapter is the response. In sections six, seven and eight, neither chapter is a response. The introduction, which contains some bad writing and makes rather artificial links between the sections, makes none of that easily apparent (nor, incidentally, does the book number the sections). Moreover, the introduction says little on the nature of social philosophy, a notion which, according to Philip Pettit in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, lacks 'a fixed meaning in current philosophical circles.' In fact, Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy consists almost entirely of political philosophy and/or practical ethics. While the work's intended audience is not specified, it would consists of those, working in ('Analytical') political theory and practical ethics, who are either 'advanced' undergraduates, or postgraduates, or professionals. I comment upon each section of the book in turn. I embolden section titles.
The opening section on equality begins with a chapter by G. A. Cohen, a prominent political philosopher. Cohen's stylistically difficult piece argues for a simple thesis. To wit: if one holds that freedom is compromised by interference and liability to interference, one must accept that poverty reduces freedom. Cohen's wider aim is to contest an argument he calls 'right-wing'. That argument summarizes as follows. (1) The promotion of freedom is a primary governmental task. (2) Freedom is as construed by the interference view. Therefore (3) poverty does not reduce freedom. Hence (4) alleviating poverty is not a primary governmental task. Cohen's novel business is to show that, even if one grants 1 and 2, 3 and 4 do not follow. In his chapter responding to Cohen, Leif Wenar charges that, by identifying lack of interference as (Cohen's expression) 'freedom itself', Cohen grossly simplifies the idea of freedom. This is triply disingenuous. Cohen's piece is concerned, not with the truth of premise 2, but with its failure to support 3 and 4. Two-thirds of the way through his chapter (p. 48), Wenar unreservedly accepts the first point. And Cohen uses 'freedom itself' only in this sense: if one accepts the interference view, one must accept that poverty reduces, not just the ability to use freedom so construed, but that freedom itself. But Wenar has another, and better, objection. To wit: on the political right, 'there is a strong tendency to use what Cohen calls the "rights-definition" of freedom' -- 'to speak of freedom as having the opportunity to do what one has the right to do' such as vote, or speak freely, or practice one's religion (all p. 49). That may be correct; but Wenar goes further. '[I]t will be uncommon to find a significant right-wing figure making a statement about freedom that is not interpretable in such a moralized sense (idem). Wenar himself at least somewhat exempts Friedrich Hayek -- but what of Hobbes? What too of much of the normal discourse of right-wing political parties? While Wenar might deem much of that discourse insufficiently insignificant, it is unclear that it is helpful to do so. One may worry, too, that some ostensible rightist commitment to the 'rights-definition' is sham -- especially given how Wenar opens his article. He does so by relating President Bush writing, 'Let Freedom Reign!' upon a note that told him Iraq had become an independent democracy. This 'contrived' response, Wenar admits, tried 'to frame American perceptions of [. . .] events' (p. 43). Others, albeit controversially, allege more: that Bush's Republicans care little for democracy.
Rosalind Hursthouse, a well known 'virtue ethicist', opens the section on the family. She proposes a minimal conception of the good family, according to which, roughly, a good family is one whose members love and support one another (and especially any children). More: philosophers should use the conception develop 'practicable proposals' (p. 67) about how to support families that meet the minimal criterion and about how to help families that do not ('dysfunctional families'). Such proposals, Hursthouse thinks, would not involve much politics (or ethics). Thus she believes that here one has a task for a philosophy that is properly social as against political (or moral). The response to Hursthouse by Elizabeth Cohen reveals the minimal conception and the accompanying proposals to be less neutral than Hursthouse realizes.
The sexual rights section is largely about homosexuality. While the first chapter responds to the second, each author also attacks the other's previous publications. Some of John Corvino's arguments tell against Christopher Wolfe's opposition to homosexuality. Yet the chapters talk past one another considerably.
The chapters on abortion and the limits of freedom are lamentable. The first, which invokes Schopenhauer to no discernible effect, is confusing and confused. Witness the following. 'Now, even if one accepts the notion that that which is human is, both individually and collectively, more precious than all the rest, it does not thereby follow that all that is human is precious' (p. 113; sic). The second chapter, by the editor, at best simply repeats the idea, drawn from J. J. Thomson's much better paper on abortion, that permissibility is compatible with blameworthiness.
The chapters on privacy are reasonable. The strangely overlapping chapters on religious tolerance amount to one decent piece.
The chapters on diversity are by Lawrence Blum and David Benatar. Blum's chapter surveys proposals about how states and institutions should treat group identities claimed by women and by members of races/ethnicities and cultures. Benatar does two things. First, he denies that benefits of (mainly sexual and racial) diversity justify affirmative action in universities. Second, he argues that some elements of non-dominant cultures are valuable and to be celebrated, whereas others, at best and for the sake of avoiding greater evils, are merely to be tolerated. Worryingly, one gets the sense that Benatar would place a very great deal on the toleration side of the line.
Racial integration. Elizabeth Anderson argues that various kinds of racial segregation do various serious harms, and that the resulting obligation to promote integration should issue in various policies including affirmative action in schools and workplaces. Carl Cohen's (independent) chapter is an attack on the idea that past injustice justifies affirmative action. Both chapters are good.
F. M. Kamm's chapter on scarce resources is a careful and largely neutral analysis of moral issues of rationing. A chapter by B. R. Boxill reaches two conclusions via a close reading of Locke. (1) The rich should support the education of members of those groups that, the law be as it may, will be discriminated against. (2) Apropos 'scarce resources of places in colleges and universities as well as in professional schools', Lockean principles 'may require preferential treatment for such groups, both to prevent their justified and destabilizing resentment and to put the wasted and potentially useful talents they possess in the service of preserving mankind' (p. 295).
The final section is entitled 'Violence'. The title is curious (as is that of the 'sexual rights' section). For the section's principal subject is failure to act against 'subtle forms of racism in institutional settings' (p. 303). Such racism may involve something describable as psychological violence. Yet this section little considers even that particular form of violence. I do not find those chapters particularly illuminating.
So: some chapters are good, some mediocre, and some bad. The book houses some starkly opposing views, but wastes opportunities by putting its contributors into debate only sporadically. The volume combines practical ethics and political philosophy in a somewhat unusual way; and it has quite a lot of reasonable material on race and affirmative action. On other topics, especially abortion, other collections do better.
© 2008 Nicholas Joll
Nicholas Joll, Ph.D., Junior Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Essex, Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire