Bioethics, a profession plagued by doubts

With two Italian/Australian bioethicists under attack in the media around the globe over the moral permissibility of infanticide, there are signs of the collywobbles in the profession as a whole. Over at the Journal of Medical Ethics blog, Iain Brassington, presents as evidence an interview with a leading feminist bioethicist, Hilde Lindemann.

“A few years ago I was at a metaethics workshop, and over breakfast a male colleague and I made a game of ranking the different specialties in philosophy according to how prestigious they were - a ranking with a precise inverse correlation to gender. Here’s the list we came up with:

“* Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language, and Metaphysics: The alpha-dominant philosophy, done by Real Men 
* Epistemology and Philosophy of Science: Done by manly enough men 
* Metaethics: Done by men who aren’t entirely secure in their masculinity 
* Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy: Done by girls 
* Bioethics: Done by stupid girls [italics added]
* Feminist philosophy, of course, is not philosophy at all.”

Dr Brassington agrees that “not enormously highly regarded as a discipline by philosophers”. But why? He advances five hypotheses: bioethicists get their hands dirty with the real world; conventional philosophers are jealous of the high media profile of some bioethicists; sub-standard philosophizing; bioethics is “just too weighed-down with all kinds of other stuff”; and anyone can call himself a bioethicist.

Unfortunately, he admits ruefully, “every so often, there is some utter dreck that surfaces” in academic conferences. Apparently there will be a robust discussion of the issue at the 2012 International Association of Bioethics in Rotterdam. 

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