Philosophical scholarship defuses new ways of thinking

July 28, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogWhat is called “philosophy” is pursued today mostly by scholars who study philosophical authors and texts, and who learn to produce certain types of comments on philosophical ideas and concepts. Such study is interesting and important, and can be compared with literary scholarship.

A problem that I highlighted in my latest post, however, is a tendency to conflate the scholarly study of philosophy with… philosophy. Today, I want to exemplify three consequences of such conflation.

A first consequence is a taboo against thinking for oneself, like the canonized philosophers of the past, who legitimize the study of philosophy, once did. Only “great” philosophers, whose names can be found as entries in philosophical encyclopedias, can be excused for having philosophized for themselves, and without proper citation methods.

A related consequence is a sense of scandalous arrogance when philosophy is carried out as once upon a time. Since only great and already canonized philosophers are allowed to think for themselves, people who tenaciously pursue thinking will appear like pretentious bastards who believe they already have a name in the history of philosophy and, worst of all, claim to be studied!

A third and more serious consequence is that philosophical scholarship, if it is conflated with philosophy, defuses new ways of thinking. New ways of thinking are primarily meant to be adopted, or to provoke people to think better. Learned commentaries on new and original ways of thinking are interesting and important. However, if the scholarly comments are developed as if they brought out the real philosophical content of the proposed thoughts, the new thinking will be reduced to just another occasion to develop the study of philosophy… as if one did the thoughts a favor by bringing them safely home to “the history of philosophy.”

You don’t have to be great, canonized or dead to think. That is fortunate, since thinking is needed right now, in the midst of life. It just appears essentially homeless, or at home wherever it is.

Pär Segerdahl

We transgress disciplinary borders - the Ethics Blog


Doing philosophy and studying philosophy

July 14, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogLiterary scholars don’t claim that they became novelists or poets because they studied such authors and such literature. They know what they became: they became scholars who learned to produce certain kinds of commentaries on literary works. The distinction between the works they produce and the works they study is salient and most often impossible to overlook.

Things are not that obvious in what is called philosophy. Typically, people who study philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts and who receive a doctor’s degree in philosophy will call themselves philosophers.

They could also, and in most cases more appropriately, be called philosophical scholars who learned to produce certain types of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Has philosophy been eaten up by the study of it? There seems to be a belief that philosophy exists in the scholarly format of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts, and that philosophy thrives and develops through the development of such comments.

A problem with this learned “façade conception” of philosophy is that the great canonized thinkers, who legitimize the study of philosophy, never produced that kind of scholarly literature when they philosophized.

An even greater problem is that if you try to philosophize and think for yourself today, as they did, the work you produce will be deemed “unphilosophical” or “lacking philosophically interesting thoughts,” because it isn’t written in the scholarly format of a commentary on canonized authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Thank God literature isn’t that easily eaten up by the study of it. No one would call a novel “unliterary” because it wasn’t produced according to the canons of literary scholarship.

Pär Segerdahl

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking


Nurses’ experiences of do not resuscitate orders

June 18, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogWhen a critically ill patient has such a poor prognosis that resuscitation would be of no use, doctors can write a so-called do not resuscitate order. The decision means that if the heart stops beating, the medical team should not, as otherwise, perform coronary pulmonary rescue.

The decision is made by the physician on the basis of a medical assessment. But the decision affects the patient, the relatives, and the nurses who care for the patient and family.

Mona Pettersson at CRB is writing her thesis on the decision not to resuscitate. In a study recently published in Nursing Ethics, she interviewed 15 nurses about their experiences of do not resuscitate orders at Swedish hematology and oncology departments.

The nurses describe problems that may arise. The nurses have daily close contact with patients and notice when they are no longer responding to treatment. The nurses can then expect a do not resuscitate order, which may not always come. The decision may be taken by the doctor on the spot, when a resuscitation attempt already started. Sometimes decisions are unclear or contradictory: decisions are taken while continuing to give the patient full treatment. And if the patient and family are not informed about the decision, or the nurse is not present when the information is given, it becomes difficult for the nurse to care for the patient and family – for example, to answer questions afterwards.

Mona Pettersson concludes that nurses need clear, well-documented orders. Patients and families need to be informed and involved in the decisions, and nurses should be present when the information is provided. Finally, regular ethical discussions between nurses and doctors are needed, to understand each other and the different perspectives on do not resuscitate orders. Here you find a link to the article:

Co-authors are Mariann Hedström and Anna Höglund.

Before I finish this post, I want to mention a recently made compilation of our research on nursing ethics:

There you will find our publications with abstracts and links to the publications that are available online.

Pär Segerdahl

We have a clinical perspective : www.ethicsblog.crb.uu.se


Our publications on biobanks and registries

June 11, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogBiomedical research does not always require research subjects who are prepared to experimentally try new treatments or diets. Increasingly, research on health and disease is carried out on stored biological samples and personal data in different registries.

Handling human biological material and personal data raises unique ethical issues. People who volunteer as participants in such research are unlikely to be harmed by experimental treatments, but their samples and data are stored for a long time. Samples and data can also be shared by several groups, and be used in different research projects.

One can therefore speak of unique ethical challenges in biobank and registry research. At the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics, we have long been working to clarify these challenges and discuss ways to deal with them responsibly. Our work has resulted in numerous publications, often together with biomedical researchers and in international collaborations.

In May 2014, we published an updated compilation of these publications:

The above link will take you to the online version, which also contains further links to the articles that are available online. A printed report can be ordered from crb@crb.uu.se.

The report contains abstracts of all the publications. What is new is that we now arranged the publications thematically:

  1. Ethical frameworks and policy
  2. Regulatory aspects
  3. Informed consent
  4. Ethical review
  5. Integrity concerns
  6. Trust
  7. Genetic testing
  8. Incidental findings
  9. Commercialization
  10. Public and patient perceptions
  11. Rare diseases
  12. Children & biobanks & genetics

We hope you take a look at the report and find something that interests you!

Pär Segerdahl

Part of international collaborations - the Ethics Blog


Intellectualizing morality

June 4, 2014

There is a prevalent idea that moral considerations presuppose ethical principles. But how does it arise? It makes our ways of talking about difficult issues resemble consultations between states at the negotiating table, invoking various solemn declarations:

  1. “Under the principle of happy consequences, you should lie here; otherwise, many will be hurt.”
  2. “According to the principle of always telling the truth, it is right to tell; even if many will be hurt.”

This is not how we talk, but maybe:

  1. “I don’t like to lie, but I have to, otherwise many will be hurt.”
  2. “It’s terrible that many will suffer, but the truth must be told.”

As we actually talk, without invoking principles, we ourselves take responsibility for how we decide to act. Lying, or telling the truth, is a burden even when we see it as the right thing to do. But if moral considerations presuppose ethical principles of moral rightness, there is no responsibility to carry. We refer to the principles!

The principles give us the right to lie, or to speak the truth, and we can live on with a self-righteous smile. But how does the idea of moral principles arise?

My answer: Through the need to intellectually control how we debate and reach conclusions about important societal issues in the public sphere.

Just as Indian grammarians made rules for the correct pronunciation of holy words, ethicists make principles of correct moral reasoning. According to the first principle, the first person reasons correctly; the other one incorrectly. According to the second principle, it’s the other way round.

But no one would even dream of formulating these principles, if we didn’t already talk as we do about important matters. The principles are second-rate goods, reconstructions, scaffolding on life, which subsequently can have a certain social and intellectual control function.

Moral principles may thus play a significant role in the public sphere, like grammatical rules codifying how to write and speak correctly. We agree on the principles that should govern public negotiations; the kind of concerns that should be considered in good arguments.

The problem is that the principles are ingeniously expounded as the essence and foundation of morality more generally, in treatises that are revered as intellectual bibles.

The truth must be told: it’s the other way round. The principles are auxiliary constructions that codify how we already bear the words and the responsibility. Don’t let the principles’ function in the public sphere distort this fact.

Pär Segerdahl

We challenge habits of thought : the Ethics Blog


Building European infrastructures for research

May 28, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogThe European Union is traditionally about creating an internal market, where goods, services, labor and capital can move freely between member states.

Lately there have been efforts to create also European infrastructures for research, where researchers in the different member states can collaborate more efficiently, and compete on a global “research market.” A new tool for such European governance of research is the European Research Infrastructure Consortium, abbreviated ERIC.

If at least three member states hand in a joint application, the Commission can establish an ERIC – an international organization where the involved member states jointly fund and manage a European infrastructure for research in some area. In November 2013, an ERIC was established for biobank research: BBMRI-ERIC, placed in Graz, Austria.

Understanding what an ERIC is and whether BBMRI-ERIC has tools to make the diverse regulations for biobanking in different EU member states more uniform, is not easy. However, a “Letter” in the European Journal of Human Genetics addresses both issues:

The letter is written by Jane Reichel, Anna-Sara Lind, Mats G. Hansson, and Jan-Eric Litton who is the Director General of BBMRI-ERIC.

The authors write that although the ERIC lacks substantial tools to make the regulative framework for biobanking more uniform, it provides a platform where researchers and member states can collaborate developing better ways of navigating the complex legal and ethical landscape. The ERIC also facilitates administration, owning and running of equipment and employment of staff on a long-term basis, thus enabling a time perspective proper to research infrastructures (rather than individual research projects). It also provides opportunities to develop common standards for biobanking activities (e.g., handling of samples) that make biobanks function better together.

Finally, because of the required regular contacts with the Commission and representatives of all EU member states, channels are opened up through which the interests of research can be communicated and influence policy areas like data protection.

Read the letter if you are interested to know more about this new way of building European infrastructures for research.

Pär Segerdahl

Part of international collaborations - the Ethics Blog


Open biobank landscapes

May 14, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogLast week I wrote about the transition from organizing science as a tree of knowledge that once in a while drops its fruits onto society, to organizing research as part of knowledge landscapes, where the perspective of harvesting, managing and using the fruits is there from the beginning.

That the proud tree is gone might seem sad, but here we are – in the knowledge landscape, and I believe the development is logical. As a comment to the previous post made clear, many fruits fell from the old tree without coming into use.

The notion of knowledge landscapes sheds light on the attempt by BBMRI.se to build infrastructure for biobank research. The initiative can be viewed as an attempt to integrate research in broader knowledge landscapes. Supporting research with an eye to the interests of patients is a new way of managing research, more oriented towards the fruits and their potential value for people than in the era of the tree of knowledge.

The novelty of the infrastructural approach to biobanking isn’t always noticed. In Sweden, for example, the biobank initiative LifeGene was met with suspicion from some quarters. In the debate, some critics portrayed LifeGene as being initiated more or less in the interest of a closed group of researchers. Researchers wanted to collect samples from the population and then climb the tree and study the samples for god knows which purposes.

Those suspicions were based on the old conception of science as a high tree, inaccessible to most of us, in which researchers pursue “their own” interests. The aim with LifeGene, I believe, is rather to integrate research in a knowledge landscape, in which research is governed more by the interests of patients.

We mustn’t underestimate the challenges such a reorganization of research has to deal with, the forces that come into play. I merely want to suggest a new way of surveying and thinking about the transition – as a change from approaching science as a high tree of knowledge to integrating research in open knowledge landscapes.

If you want to read more about research in knowledge landscapes, you find Anna Lydia Svalastog’s article here, and the network where these ideas originated here.

In September 2014, the third conference, HandsOn: Biobanks, is organized, now in Helsinki. Academics, industry, doctors, patient groups, policy makers, public representatives and legislators are invited to share knowledge and experiences. As in previous conferences in the series, there is an interactive part, The Route, in which biobanking processes can be followed from start to finish, with ample opportunities for discussion.

View the conference as part of maintaining open biobank landscapes, with research as one of several integrated components.

Registration is open.

Pär Segerdahl

We like broad perspectives : www.ethicsblog.crb.uu.se


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