PHIL 870
Narrative Approaches to Bioethics
Fall 2000

Hilde L. Nelson
516 South Kedzie Hall
Office hours: MW 2:00-4:00


Narrative approaches to ethics take a number of different forms, many of which have been advocated in the bioethics literature. Although there are important differences among bioethicists regarding not only what kind of moral work stories are supposed to do, but also what certain narrative possibilities imply about the nature of morality in general, anyone adopting a narrative approach to ethics must answer, at a minimum, four key questions. First, what is done with the story? This is a question about the narrative act. Second, with what kind of story is it done? This is a question about genre. Third, who does something with the story? This is a question about the narrative agent. And fourth, why is this done? This is a question about moral purpose.

In this seminar we will explore these four questions, attending carefully to certain general features of stories and how these might be put to moral use. We'll examine three claims for stories in particular: (1) that they can enhance one's moral perception; (2) that they can guide action; (3) that they can justify action. You will each be asked to present one of the readings for the seminar, summarizing the main arguments and offering your own critical reflection. Your presentation ought to take about twenty minutes and should be thought of as a formal talk which you will then hand in. You will also be asked to write a paper of roughly 15 pages in length on some topic related to the seminar. You'll have an opportunity to get comments on your initial draft from your colleagues (and me, of course), so that you can revise the paper effectively. And finally, you will participate in a staged reading of a play, to which we will invite the philosophy faculty and graduate students. This will require one rehearsal outside of seminar hours, and the performance will be followed by a discussion of what moral value, if any, lies in performing rather than silently reading a story.

Texts for the seminar are Michael DePaul, Balance and Refinement (London: Routledge, 1993); Martha C. Nussbaum, Love's Knowledge (New York: Oxford, 1990); Tod Chambers, The Fiction of Bioethics (New York: Routledge, 1999); Carl Elliott, A Philosophical Disease (New York: Routledge, 1999); and Hilde Lindemann Nelson, ed., Stories and Their Limits.

Seminar Schedule

W, 30 Aug.

Organizing the seminar. Overview of moral theories. Four features of stories.

W, 6 Sept.

DePaul, Balance and Refinement, Part I (chs. 1 & 2)

W, 13 Sept.

DePaul, B&R, Part II (chs. 3 & 4)

W, 20 Sept.

Brainstorming and planning your seminar paper.

W, 27 Sept.

DePaul, B&R, Part III (ch. 5)

W, 4 Oct.

Nussbaum, "Finely Aware," and "Perception and Revolution," in Love's Knowledge

W, 11 Oct.

Chambers, The Fiction of Bioethics, chs. 1-4

W, 18 Oct.

Chambers, F of B, chs. 5-8

W, 25 Oct.

Circulating and commenting on initial draft of your seminar paper.

W, 1 Nov.

Chambers, F of B, chs. 9 & 10

W, 8 Nov.

Nelson, Injured Identities, 3 & 4

W, 15 Nov.

Elliott, A Philosophical Disease, chs. 2 & 7

W, 22 Nov.

Stories & Their Limits: Tomlinson, Frank, Arras

W, 29 Nov.

HEC Forum: Charon & Montello, Brody; Medical Humanities Review: Bishop

W, 6 Dec.

SEMINAR PAPER DUE. Readers' theater.