Monday, September 29, 2008

Borges' "The Aleph"

The first narrative theme of Jose Luis Borges’ The Aleph (1949) concerns the protagonist’s grief over his unrequited love and death of Beatriz Viterbo. The fact that Borges’ fictionalizes the protagonist as “Borges” speaks to the multi-layered complexity of the story that is indicative of his writing style. Also indicative of his style is the prima facie unrelatedness of themes or stories within a story. For example, within the story of unrequited love and death in The Aleph, Borges develops the story of writers and their aesthetic differences along with the later story of the aleph itself, an object in space that contains all other points in space that allows simultaneous viewing of everything within. Seemingly distinct, the three stories are connected in a meaningful way. In the following, I will briefly analyze each of the three themes or stories within The Aleph. I will then show how each theme relates to, parallels, and informs the other. Lastly, I will argue that the three themes share problems of perception and show that Borges’ is claiming that true knowledge of the sublime, like death and art, is unreachable.

The story of unrequited love and the death of Beatriz begins with a commentary on the fleeting nature of memory and ends with a horrific vision in the aleph of Beatriz’s physical decay. Borges says, “… the vast, unceasing universe was already growing away from her and … the universe may change but I shall not, thought I with melancholy vanity.” This refers to Borges’ sad attempt to hold Beatriz as near in memory as he thought she was in life. It is sad because of the lengths he goes to keep the memory of her intact viz. befriending Daneri, a writer he despises, simply to have access to the house where Beatriz lived. It is the memory of Beatriz that drives the false relationship and humiliation of Daneri until the end. This is a metaphor for the false relationship and humiliation Borges’ feels over the memory of his lost love that he cannot relinquish. It is not until Borges sees Beatriz in the aleph that he lets go of her. It is not a coincidence that it is at the same time Daneri loses his house and the aleph. It is also not a coincidence that not letting go of Beatriz, Daneri losing the aleph, and the aleph itself are too much to endure or too far to reach without the loss of something else – identity. I will show that identity is also a thread that ties the three stories or themes together.

The story of writers and their aesthetic differences points to subjective nature of art. What is beheld in Daneri’s eyes as, “A stanza interesting from every point of view” , Borges beholds as, “…the poet’s work had not lain in the poetry, but in the invention of reasons for accounting the poetry admirable.” The striking difference between the two interpretations is what is important to note because it begs the question of which one of them is prideful or delusional or if it is an all-together different question of what art is in the first place. Borges paints the picture that Daneri is pompous and unskilled so when it is revealed that Daneri takes second place in the National Prize in literature, it speaks more to the subjective or inaccessible nature of art. The reader is somewhat confused because Borges is somewhat the hero in the story. Borges discusses Daneri’s award, however, with detached resignation. It is confusion and detached resignation that links the emotional state of the writer’s story with that of the story of unrequited love and death. Loss is confusing and acceptance of a loved one’s death is that of detached resignation. The aleph is also confusing and Borges’ response is detached when he lets it go because the aleph, like art and death, is overwhelming and a reminder of our lack of significance. To protect one’s identity against insignificance, one must keep the unreachable at a distance and resign, unconsciously or not, to this fact.

The story of the aleph, although more visual and fantastic, is easier to understand than the other two stories if one accepts the idea that it is actually a metaphor for the sublime. The words Borges uses such as “…dizzying spectacles … infinite … spider-web … labyrinth … secret, hypothetical object …” clearly points to classic definitions of the sublime. It is this object “… whose name has been usurped by men but which no man has ever truly looked: the inconceivable universe.” that conceptually links the three stories together. Those same words could arguably be used to describe death or art as it can be for the sublime. The distinction between the story of the aleph and the other two is the representative necessity of the aleph but then, that is the point. We cannot truly know death. We cannot truly know art. We cannot truly know the sublime. It is only through representations that can we conceptualize the unconceptualizable. This is why, according to Borges, the three concepts and the three stories are unreachable and always will be regardless of how much we may fool ourselves that it is within our reach.

The unconceptualizable nature of death, art, and the sublime is due to the limitations of human perception. In other words, the three stories and themes of Borges’ The Aleph share epistemological problems that our senses cannot resolve. We can approximate but never truly ascertain the nature of death, which is why we grieve so much and many times hang onto the memory of love lost. We may approximate but never truly ascertain the qualitative nature of art even though many argue it is firmly within the realm of the subjective. We may approximate the nature of the sublime but we are resigned to simply represent it through language and thought that may never be significant enough to truly understand. Borges’ protagonist is, in a way, sad and pathetic in his relationship with Beatriz and Daneri. His loss in the National Literature contest points to his failure in his art as well and that is the point. The character of Borges is us and we cannot presume, without risk of hubris, that we can achieve true knowledge of the sublime, art, death or we would be just as sad, just as pathetic but this is not a gloomy prospect. There is beauty in his vision of Beatriz as there is in his interpretation of art. There is beauty in the aleph as well but not knowledge and that is the thread between the stories that ties all the other threads together. We can appreciate beauty and the inconceivable without true knowledge of why it is beautiful.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Glover's “Human Values and Genetic Design”

Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Human Values and Genetic Design” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 73-104.

Glover explores philosophical issues surrounding liberty, the harm principle, and human nature as it relates to designing children. He starts with a quote by James Watson, “Most of us are in favor of autonomy … as long as we are not hurting someone else.” (p.73). He then launches into John Stuart Mill and reminds us that according to his political philosophy, “… the only purpose for which power can rightfully exercised over any member of a civilize community, against his will, is to prevent harm to other.” (p. 74). Glover again brings up Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem, which states that different policies will shape the world in ways that will lead to different people but that does not mean that they would be worse off than an alternative set of descendents would have been. We may want to explore this idea further because I can imagine a future that is worse off than an alternative set based on bad policy. Would be actually be glad they were born if life is miserable? Maybe some would but others may not, especially if freedom and autonomy are compromised because of bad policy. Glover proposes the idea of ‘transpersonal harm’ to mean one course of action brings about a world where those people exist that are worse off than an alternative set of people, in a alternative future based on different policy so he does recognize that bad choices now can harm those in the future.

The idea of a medical boundary is a more conventional view that claims that intervention is acceptable if it seeks to eliminate disability below a medical standard of what defines disability. As genetic technology advances, this line could change providing an argument that we could have allowed enhancement now, which would be equivalent to treating disability in the future but the problem still remains of who is to decide. He comes back to the idea of human flourishing and advocates the notion that medically defined disability is morally acceptable and that in some cases, non-medical choices may be desirable to promote human flourishing. He also points out that those who advocate only to the medical boundary must specify why that boundary is so special. We should check out Robert Noziak and his idea of the ‘genetic supermarket’.

Glover argues that we should restrict liberty in making genetic choices only when something comparable important to human flourishing is at stake. He suggests that a regulated European model market may allow individual freedom with certain genetic features restricted in the name of public interest. The question then becomes, which choices should be excluded from the democratic debate. Some concerns include:
1. The dangers of uniformity.
2. Genetic inequalities.
3. The possible threat to central parts of human nature.
We recognize that sometimes the value of benefit to the minority justifies inequality. Again, Rawls comes into the picture. The problem here is that inequalities go deeper than economic concerns and are automatically replenished via future generations. The possibility of further class separation is not without merit. Then again, parental acquiensence may minimize inequalities in a reasonable free market. This might not have any effect in overall inequality because as he says, “… parents may all be standing on tiptoe without their children being able to see any better.” (p. 80). He also points out that enhancement for bad reasons may not necessarily entail a child’s harm or regret.

The next section explores definition of human nature. He does worry and argue against any type of state enhancement program as being eugenic. Francis Fukuyama comes up again with his central idea of human dignity and that consciousness, reason, feelings, and the capacity for oral choice must be preserved. Two possible starting points for the exploration of what we value in human nature:
1. The recognition that our nature includes both good and bad qualities.
2. The idea of a good life for human beings.
Glover argues that the first point acknowledging the dark side of human nature might not be subject to elimination through genetic enhancement but rather one of containment if we are to maintain autonomy. He suggests that the best account of a good life comes from an overlap between some version of human flourishing and some version of happiness. He calls this a liberalizing that tends toward convergence. The Darwinian and normal functioning account of human flourishing are too narrow. Humans do not want to do things passively but through experience so the Brave New World scenario must be avoided. The binocular analogy he makes adds depth to the genetic perspective as it relates to:
1. The fit between what you want/value and what your life is like.
2. How rich your life is human goods, what relationships you have with other people, your state of health, autonomy, and scope for creativity.
The hope for shared values then comes from resources of science and subjective experience so essentially an inner and outer view of human experience. As such, a plausible account of human flourishing is unlikely to have one blueprint.

Glover argues that there is a case for optimism in principle and caution in practice. This entails that public debate should continue about known and possible risks but that should not instill paralysis. Lastly, he appeals to the idea of open future to remind us that the future is open to us but that we must leave some of theta openness to the future as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Glover's “Parental Choice And What We Owe To Our Children”

Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Parental Choice And What We Owe To Our Children” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 37-72.

Glover starts by claiming that reproductive autonomy or whether or not to have a child is accepted throughout much of the world with exceptions as follows:
1. Religious objections to contraception.
2. Religious or moral objections to abortion.
3. Some would restrict autonomy where it requires access to techniques of assisted reproduction.
He seems to reject these reasons for infringement on parental autonomy including that for population control as in China. In this chapter, he explores the question of whether autonomy extends only to the question of having a child or if that extension should apply to what kind of child to have.

He argues in the second section of the chapter that the hope to have child without disability us unproblematic from the point of view of the child, procreative liberty, in this sense, is not in conflict with what we owe our children. As far as potential children not conceived, he claims that we do not owe them anything because they are even a potential third party viz. if I choose not to have a child because thallosemia, no rights have been infringed. Many argue that we should accept children into the world unconditionally regardless of disability. Glover does not think it is wrong to want a child without disability so he rejects the denial of prenatal intervention on those grounds.

The third sections opens up with the basic view ethics concerning positive and negative rights:
1. Sometimes we owe others not to act in certain ways.
2. Sometimes we owe others to act in certain ways.
One of the first appeals here is to Thomas Scanlon, “…we aspire to justify our decisions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject. If they can reasonably reject our decisions then we are subject to their reproach. He then makes the distinction between doing harm when it could be avoided and not acting when you could reasonably protect someone from harm. By accepting that we are responsible, somewhat to the future children in creating policies or making individual choice we are saying that different people will be born than otherwise would be the case. Morality then is more than what we owe people. Is it a question of morality to bring one child into the world with less of a chance to a flourishing life than another with a greater chance even if both are happy to be alive? One of the issues of reproductive ethics is what our decisions do to the world (non-Identity principle) in addition to the individual. Glover seems to make a deontological move at the end when deciding correct action for a deaf child being born (p. 50). Selecting for a deaf embryo is, he argues, is more justified than a potentially hearing child made deaf.

The next section explores the following two questions concerning what we owe our children:
1. What we owe our children has to do with their having good lives.
2. What we owe our children has to do with respecting their autonomy.
His first claim is that no child being born with a life worth living has been harmed by being born. Glover then explores the ‘zero-line’ approach or the line just above ‘very terrible’ to answer the question of whether or not it is justified to have a child at this level. We should check out Julian Savulescu’s Principle of Procreative Beneficence, the idea that couples should select the child of all the possible children they could have that will have the best chance to a good life or at least as good a life as other based on available information. Glover suggests that medical, social, and economic factors may be components in determining the criteria for a good life. He then argues that passive exclusive is also a form of injustice and that equality of opportunity is seen as requiring action to reduce socially caused disadvantage. Previously, inborn differences were seen as independent of what justice society provides but genetic technology makes this less so. Genetic intervention against disability can increase a child’s chance for flourishing. Therefore, parental freedom should be constrained only by limits the potential flourishing of their child whether that is limited by poverty or by disability. Does this mean that poor people should not have children? He does call for a balance between parental freedom and flourishing of the child but it seems that by including some social factors, he is setting his argument up to serious objections. It will be good to explore the ‘zero-line’ philosophy he is arguing. Is this not just one-step above ‘very terrible’?

The section of the chapter focuses on identity and autonomy. He appeals to Kant to claim that to be treated merely as a means versus and end in and of themselves, there has to be some violation of autonomy or denial of some respect owed. He does state that the fetus and newborn do not have the capacity for choice so the issue of respecting the child’s autonomy does not arise at either stage. This may be problematic if we consider that future autonomy may be affected by choices made prior to the development of that capacity to choose. He rejects the idea of true independence and self-creation because of our ties to both genes and environment thereby limiting the right to an open future. I agree that certain choices away from disability may actually increase the openness of a potential future but that genetic intervention may be problematic in controlling how others control that future. I also agree with Habermas that genetic intervention will alter our self-understanding but that does entail a significant or negative effect compared to our current capacity for self-understanding. Glover does say that too much genetic intervention may make us feel like puppets to our parent but that some loss of independence may be a worthwhile price to pay.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Glover's "Disability and Genetic Choice"

Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Disability and Genetic Choice” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 4-36.

Glover argues that, other things being equal, it is good if the incidence of disabilities is reduced by parental choices to opt for potentially more flourishing children. His argument rests upon the premise that disability impairs the capacity for human flourishing. He does acknowledge the potential cost of the expressivist argument, which claims that by limiting the birth of individuals with disability we are actually disrespecting and diminishing the value of those living with disability. He will attempt to show that perspective and intent are necessary to minimize harm in this respect.

He begins by treating the effects of the medical and components of disability. If society minimizes the stigma or functionality of disability, then this minimizes the gap between ‘normal’ and disability. Genetics and the perspective of society may blur the line between healthy and unhealthy but Glover argues that we should give up on the debate between defining disability as a functional limitation and that of social context because it is indeed both. The human flourishing model that he proposes may change the nature of disability on the individual level because of the life choices that individual makes and how that influences the notion of flourishing. I argue, however, that disability may impoverish on an unconscious level the choices one can make. Glover does address this later but it remains messy when addressing the choices of those individuals living today that refute the idea that their choices were limited. He does stick with the idea that “… disability involves a functional limitation, which (either on its own or – more usually- in combination with social disadvantage) impairs the capacity for human flourishing.” (p. 9). Refer back to p. 12 for a brief discussion of normality, which is relevant for our project. He agrees that it is a messy concept but that it is necessary to stick with a socially constructed and context dependent concept of normality that includes elements of the numerical and the normative (p. 13).

It seems a large point of Glover’s concept of flourish depends on the choices available to the individual but how does this affect a fetus or newborn, which cannot choose those attribute that define ‘flourish’. He tries to distinguish between externally and internally compensated disability. This may be relevant to our project if we incorporate some relativistic qualifiers. In other words, the idea that deafness is not a disability is only relative to those who are deaf so intervention/enhancement to a fetus or newborn is not a slight to those that are deaf because the fetus is in a different relativistic position. He appeals to Mill’s notion of higher and lower pleasures, which we want to draw out in our appeal to enhancement should we go in that direction. He argues against John Harris over the distinction between harming and wronging a child. Glover argues that it may be wrong to limit flourishing but that it does not harm the child to be born with certain disabilities. Harris argues that is harm to have a child that has disability. We will have to dive deeper into Harris’ argument. Does he mean just those disabilities that we can detect and ‘treat’?

He comments on common social misconceptions of disability as follows:
1. “… people with disabilities must have a severely reduced quality of life or even a life barely worth living.”
2. “There is a tendency to think of disability as a person’s main feature.”
3. “… there is a tendency to shy away from people with disability.”
Might this not be exacerbated if enhancement becomes commonplace? Won’t there be a social push to make biological functioning ‘perfect’? He believes that there is a positive and ugly side to the expressivist perspective but claims that we can minimize the ugly side by:
1. Focus on defeating disease/disability not because we do not respect individuals with that disease/disability but for what it does to individuals.
2. Parents should want to have a child without disability because disability reduces the chance of flourishing.
He concludes by claiming that genetic choice to eliminate disability is not a form of eugenics and even that some forms of enhancement may be justified because of the addition to chances of future flourishing. The potential objection to his argument will be defining what flourish actually means. I think we should also explore how diversity helps shape the idea of human nature, i.e., a more homogeneous population.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wachbroit's “Normality and the Significance of Difference”

Wachbroit, Robert (2006). “Normality and the Significance of Difference” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 235-53.

Wachbroit argues that current investigations into human genetics do not seem capable of identifying the essential properties of being human. Genetic discoveries will affect our conception, which is directly related to how we understand “normal”. The more we learn about the genetic causal factors of various conditions the more explanatory language will be in genetic terms. What constitutes normality of health will be reassessed medically and socially. Discoveries in the fields of medicine and psychology in relation to genetics will alter out understanding of normality and how we conceptualize others and ourselves. Normality may be defined as:

1. A mathematical concept.
2. An evaluative concept.
3. A biological concept.

Mathematical normality is understood to refer to the mean, median, or mode of a distribution. The Bell Curve, Gaussian distribution, and Normal Curve are roughly equivalent and examples of normality in mathematics. Evaluative normality refers to conventional, cultural, institutional, and ethical norms. Less precise and more subjective than mathematical normality, evaluative norms are often context specific, as one type of behavior in one cultural setting may not be considered normal in another. Biological normality refers to the language that biologists, physicians, or psychologist use to refer to a biological unit such as an organ, a physical reaction, or an environment a person experiences. For example, "You have a normal heart", "Her vital signs were normal", or "He had a normal childhood" all refer to a biological concept of normality.

The biological concept of normality is problematic because it refers to the subjective meaning of 'healthy' and may not point to the average, majority, or ideal. When a physician says that a patient has a normal heart she is not referring to the average heart because that is epistemologically impossible. Secondly, when a psychologist determines that someone had a normal childhood, it does not point to a specific home environment but rather a healthy one, which may or may not realistically reflect the majority of home environments. Lastly, when an optometrist says that a person has normal vision she is not appealing to ideal vision, which may be closer to that of a fighter pilot. Behavioral concepts of normality also suffer from subjective meaning and are contextually problematic related to definitions of average, majority, or ideal. Lastly, not always do statistical, social, and biological understandings coincide although advances in science can shorten the gap in some cases. They are three categories of meaning, not three different meanings.

Why different parts of an organism evolve the way it does (Wright) or whether function is to be understood in terms of the organism’s overall ability to survive and reproduce (Boorse) will affect one’s conception of biological normality. When applied to behavior, we may actual redefine the type of behavior under examination, which may affect the social meaning of the term normal. Like Press, Wachbroit refers to medicalization of behavior as problematic within the context of normality because of the conflation of social and biological meanings. He points to education of the public of the distinction so that conflation is minimized. He shows that Fukuyama’s defintion of human nature conflates the distinction. His definition of human nature allows for change over time in case of disease or medical advances but Wachbroit rejects a changing view of what it means to be human. He concludes by asking the question, which is relevant to our research, whether something is human nature if there is 51% or more of a genetic component versus something that is 49% genetic in nature? Does the environmental factors of causation have anything to do with human nature?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Duster's "Behavioral Genetics and Crime, Violence, and Race"

Duster, Troy (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Explanations of the Link between Crime, Violence, and Race” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 150-75.

Duster argues that scrutiny and skepticism should be employed in behavioral genetic research because of the trend to more between population differentials and the socially constructed bias of the criminal justice system. Lewontin commented on statistical problems related to comparing within group variance and between group variance related to the IQ controversy of the 1970s. The problem here lies within the idea that humans share 99.9% of identical DNA and research that tries to correlate genetic ancestry with behaviors such as violence, criminality, and impulsivity. Like Press, he appeals to the notion of social constructionism as it relates to behavior. Many researchers also argue that physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones we create, which have no constancy. “Race” can have a substantial effect on how people behave but that does entail a link to genetic causation. If, however, researchers initiate research based on certain trends such as the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated compared to the general population, then run the risk of making invalid conclusions similar to the “science” of phrenology in the late 19th century. He does argue that we should eliminate racial and ethnic classifications in the routine collection and analysis of data but rather that we need to recognize, engage, and clarify the complexity of interaction between taxonomies of race and genetic outcomes.

I agree with his idea of the Zeitgeist or spirit of the time in conducting research because we must accept that, in many ways, we are products of our environment and societies as much as we are products of our genome. Duster provides a slew of evidence to back up his claim that we may want to revisit. He also speaks to the circular nature of labeling theory in hat he terms a “looping effect”. This will be especially important related to ASPD and the MAOA connection. Then again, in the context of drug treatment, is genetic “profiling” to eliminate disability really a bad thing? He sites cystic fibrosis and beta-thallosemia as examples of ethnic or group specific diseases that may warrant research. The important difference is that of a physical disorder and that of behavior but this does not address the question of whether physicalism or genetics gives rise to behavior. He also speaks of the difference between genetic markers and explanatory causation of crime that we will have to keep in mind.

Kaebnick's “Behavioral Genetics and Moral Responsibility”

Kaebnick, Gregory E. (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Moral Responsibility” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 199-219.

Kaebnick explores three philosophical positions related to behavioral genetics, free will, and determinism:
1. Strong defenses of free will rejecting determinism.
2. Hard determinism, which rejects free will
3. Compatibilism, which accepts both.

The idea of agency is relevant to the discussion of behavioral genetics because of claims to genetic causation and questions of exculpation. It seems that few argue that genes made anybody do anything but the argument from predisposition begs a threshold question of how much is too much impulse. He raises an interesting question concerning the conviction of two individuals for violent crimes. One has a genetic marker for what is claimed to be criminality or violence and the other does not. If we are a product of genes and environment, then it is possible that they are exculpable as well. Is it right to say that neither have free will? I think not, again from cases of similar genotype or environment that so not commit crime or violence. He argues that behavioral genetics increases the sophistication of language used in the free will or determinist debate but not the framework. In other words, the timeless question is not in danger of being resolved anytime soon. Could this be, as Brock and Buchanan posit, because both rest on metaphysical claims that no empirical investigation can overturn? Ask Jim to expand on the compatibilist account because I do not see how human behavior can be fully determined by natural forces (genes) but still allow for free will except in relationship to certain types of behavior. How would we know if the social constructionist position has value? I agree with the idea of strong impulse versus overwhelming impulse as it relates to strengthening the free will position. If it is overwhelming, does this not point to lack of control or insanity as Edgar spoke to? He appealed to Kant and Wittgenstein as an alternative perspective that relied on the power of language and perspective to relay a different idea of free will. Kant believed that we must assume ourselves to be free for practical purposes even if did not fit with our scientific understanding of the world. We may not be able to ever to resolve the debate because of the metaphysical uncertainty of what genetics can reveal but as Wittgenstein claims, the language we use in this age will have to change to make for meaningful dialogue between nature and nurture, genes and environment, and responsibility and blame.

Edgar's "Impulsivity, Responsibility, and the Criminal Law"

Edgar, Harold (2006). “Impulsivity, Responsibility, and the Criminal Law” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 176-98.

Edgar argues that behavioral genetic research will not have a significant impact on the criminal justice system because the idea that most people are responsible for their actions most of the time is central to law and will not change anytime soon. He makes the distinction between the purpose of the law and the process of deciding what criteria is justified for the relatively few people who are not responsible for their actions. He claims that the current work in genetics of impulsivity is unlikely to have an impact on the responsibility doctrine of because society’s impulse to collective self-protection may be stronger than that of collective compassion. He does add that if treatment of disorders that are argued to have a strong genetic causal component, then the system already has judiciary discretion built into the system. The point here is that the science would have to be strongly conclusive that treatment would work, i.e., criminal behavior will not be repeated. The difference between violent and nonviolent behavior is socially relevant and may not change regardless of what science discovers related to causation.

He then discuses the issue of free will as it relates to the justice system. Does a social moray disappear once it is known that a label, punishment, or stigma is morally undeserved? Psychology, genetics may yield as yet unknown understanding of the why but the criminal justice system will not abandon threats and disapproval associated with certain actions. He then discusses the case of Kansas v. Hendricks to point out that predisposition alone is not enough to convict but rather specific behaviors in the past. This will be important if we stick with ASPD and the MAOA link. It recognizes that past behavior may indicate future recidivism but it provided cautionary language in the definition of “mental abnormality”. The most interesting point he makes is that once a person is proved to have done some criminal act, that person is another category outside of those who do not commit criminal acts. He concludes this section with an appeal for public discourse on the subject, which will be complicated and difficult.

The strongest point Edgar makes concerning the stability of the criminal law doctrine is that some people who do not commit crimes have the same genetic endowment (or lack thereof) and similar environments as those who do point to choice rather than determinism. He also mentions that the law should actually be tougher on those who have a stronger impulse to violate, not the other way around. In order to have significant effect on legal doctrine, science would have to provide stronger evidence of exculpability than the literature currently provides. Most states only recognize a “mental” condition as insanity. His last point is that legal doctrine only changes with majority findings, which may be difficult to show in cases of ASPD, impulsivity, and chronic recidivism. I believe teasing apart the environmental component may be even more difficult here making the case for genetic determinism as a legal defense even more difficult.

Brock's “Behavioral Genetics and Equality”

Brock, Dan W. (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Equality” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 220-34.

Brock argues that the there is not a moral objection to enhancement technologies but to selective access to them in ways that would exacerbate social, moral, and economic inequalities. The future holds the possibility that many natural differences in life and well being may become more into our control but not without the risk that moral, social, and economic inequality would increase. How much of class structure is based on heredity and wouldn’t any new medical or genetic treatment related to enhancement necessarily be outside the purview of anyone but the rich? Many may think that significant enhancement technology is science fiction but the notion of increasing inequality is not a far stretch. He discusses social justice and distinguishes between formal and fair equality appealing to Rawls to claim that fair equality of opportunity requires equal opportunities of those similarly endowed and motivated. Rawls may argue for physical enhancement behind the veil of ignorance but not for enhancement available to a select group of individuals in the society giving them unfair advantage over the rest. Ask Jim why he claims that diversity and idiosyncrasy would diminish in such a state when he argues for the potentiality of an increased gap. I thought he made a rather poignant analogy to the dismal quality of public education in the U.S and opportunity for individuals in that lower income group. He comments on the difference between brute luck and option luck to claim that our current system accepts bad brute luck but not bad option luck. The point is that bad brute luck may only be available to a few further inequitizing society thereby being an issue of injustice.

Brock argues that the value of traits change over time due to the social, political, economic, and I argue technological framework of society. How do we decide what traits will be of value in an unknowable future? Take height. There seems to be cultural value to being thin and tall but that could change. History shows us that women with more curves were more sought after than thin women. The idea of equalizing is not feasible because that means that we would have to de-enhance those with extraordinary ability but enhancing based on cultural values that may change is not in the long run equalizing natural assets. It may be fine motor skills that are of value today ad brute strength tomorrow. I find it interesting that he withholds speculation on the potential for inequality simply within the context of preventing genetic disease. He agrees that limiting the use of genetic technology will be difficult because of the complexity of positional and intrinsic value to cases of benefit to the individual and society. What if we could make firefighters stronger with more stamina? It still comes down to where do we draw the line. He concludes with a discussion of human nature, dignity, and evolution arguing that it would be problematic to sustain a moral community or democratic institution that respected the human rights of all. He speaks of a natural aristocracy that might develop. Would we not look at this as an instance if speciation, which still begs the question of what is it that makes us human.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Press' "Social Constructionism and Medicalization"

Press, Nancy (2006). “Social Construction and Medicalization” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 131-49.

Press argues that behavioral genetics depends on traits, concepts, and phenotypes that may not be the product of nature but socially constructed and therefore inconstant phenomena. This does not allow for the construct validity needed for natural inquiry and could lead the field astray with negative social consequences. Social constructionism is the idea that the traits under question have a social or environmental basis. Medicalization helps construct and reify the behaviors under which behavior geneticists engage. It can also refer to the increasing number of aspects of life that are being brought under the purview of medicine thereby making medicine more of a social force in social constructionism. Geneticization describes the extension of medicalization to the genetic realm. She attempts to get to the heart if universal versus localized traits and it’s link to genetic research. Do traits have to be universal to have a valid genetic component or is this more of the “gloomy prospect” applied to group? Her claim that it is possible to undertake a biographical investigation of a social construct speaks to the Husserlean idea of presuppositionlessness but that is also problematic. Can behavior ever be reduced away from the micro or macrocosm of the environment? My thoughts are that it might be possible in some cases. She may be onto something concerning universals but what about reexamining a “universal” within a cultural context? That would address her concern that culture dictates what we research but it does raise the issues of “What is believed to be true about behavior affects the very behavior which it purports to explain”. (Eisenberg, 1988, 145)

Press speaks to the way science should work against a holistic view that local interactions lend support. Ask Jim about the trend to be interdisciplinary with academic research. Would this not speak to a more holistic view of causation? The problem is that we cannot extract ourselves from within the social construct we are living and this is a difficulty with the scientific method we employ, the conclusions we make, and the very questions, as Press points out, we ask about human behavior. We have to remember to take a look at the possible difficulties with the DSM-IV and its susceptibility to social constructionism. It seems that Press thinks that psychiatry is more grounded in physicalism than psychology but the distinction and difficulties will be important when we start drawing the line based on APA criteria. We will also have to reference the idea of health as a status symbol in addition to normative language. I agree that medicalization and social constructionism surrounding traits in question may lead researchers astray but the question is how much is this a factor or does it depend on the trait in question as we seems to be heading for our project. I more strongly agree that the conclusions of genetic study have a impact on perception of behavior in society and that we are working along a continuum where we draw the line viz. “no bright line” is drawn”.

The last part of the essay speak to research with low rates of probability of success because of the aforementioned difficulties but what if the genetics drove the cultural norm in the first place. The debate for the evolutionary basis of altruism continues and it is here that we may or may not be able to tease apart nature versus nurture. She references Turkheimer and her slightly more positive take on the gloomy hypothesis. Last thought: she makes the distinction between smoking behavior and lung cancer as a focus for research as an example of medicalization but didn’t the research on the disease of lung cancer lead to a social construct that smoking is harmful and undesirable thereby pointing a reciprocal relationship between physical inquiry and social constructs? Hasn’t that been a good thing that we socially frown on smoking than we did 20 years ago or is that just my own perspective on the matter due to my own relationship to and within my society?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ethical Issues Concerning Genetic Screening for Complex Behavioral Traits

In addition to Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics (Parens, 2006), the following books are next on the list to read and work through fro my UROP project with Jim. After we rough up an idea for a thesis today, I need to spend some time in the library researching the most current journal articles n the subject. Are we pointing in the direction of causation and behavior or will we more or less accept the tenants of genetic links to behavior and argue for drawing a line somewhere between treatment and enhancement? Will we focus on ASPD that probably has the most social relevance and potential for arguments in the realm of policy or more in the medical arena for traits such as depression that may have more medical implications?

Enhancing Evolution – Harris argues that we are morally obligated to enhance but how does factor into intervention on the behalf of others, i.e., children. He appeals to political and moral philosophers such as Bentham, Rousseau, Locke, and Russell. He seems to argue against the model for health and disease proposed by Boorse and Daniels. He speaks to arguments of sufficient seriousness, sufficient probability, and proximity to justify human freedom.

Choosing Children – Glover argues that in order to make the claim that enhancement will minimize or eliminate disability, we must first understand and define disability. Also, how are we to ethically argue for the elimination of certain disabilities such as deafness? This is especially relevant when many in the deaf community do not view deafness as a disability. I think the disability component will be good to explore since the question of normality and possible dichotomous relationship between disability and enhancement. It also appears that he tries to distinguish between the rights of parents and the right of children in addition to arguing that there should be constraints on parental choice. He seems to tackle the idea of a modern eugenics with an emphasis on what enhancement means to notions of justice and genetic competitiveness. Based on the introduction and skimming, he seems to argue for intervention and the redrawing of the line to push the envelope of “normal” while arguing against enhancement that leads to societal inequities.

From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice – Buchanan et al. offer a systematic analysis of issues surrounding genetic technology, ethics, and social policy. Published in 2000, it may start to date itself except for the arguments on more timeless philosophical issues of justice and human nature. While the history of eugenics leading up to Nazi Germany is important, it seems that there was a case to be made for the existence of a form of modern eugenics before completion of the human genome project so if we move in a positive direction, maybe we should not shy away from the past but embrace a redefinition that incorporates ethics, social theory, and learning from the past. Just an idea … not quite sure if it’s a good one. It seems that the Buchanan essays are more relevant to our research but we should selectively read arguments by the other authors including those concerning:
1. Distributive justice
2. Human nature and bases of inequality
3. Normality
4. Tailoring environments
5. Moral boundaries
6. Treatment versus enhancement
7. Egalitarianism
8. Normal function model
9. The idea of “best”
10. The right to an open future
11. Reproductive freedom

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Schaffner's "Behavior: Its Nature and Nurture Pt. 1"

Schaffner, Kenneth F (2006). “Behavior: Its Nature and Nurture, Part 1” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 3-39.

Schaffner attempts to provide an overview of various concepts of behavioral causation with an emphasis on explaining the genetic component. The following are thoughts and questions that may help piece together the puzzle to ultimately form a thesis concerning ethical issues of genetic screening for complex behavioral traits. This is more like free association but its purpose is to get thoughts out. How does moral relativism play into our discussion? Schaffner speaks to genetic and environmental causation but how do psychological factors play into the equation? What about behavior as a phenomenological factor rather than a trait? By calling behavior a trait, are we not presupposing a form of reductionism to genetics? In more touchy-feely language, am I not more than what my genetics, environment, and a G x E interaction dictate? We need to check out Rawls? He is used as an argument for genetic enhancement and intervention. Hat is the effect of environment on evolution? What about environmental heritability? How will w divide up quantitative versus molecular approaches to behavioral genetics? Schizophrenia too genetic to study? Depression too environmental? We may want to stick with ASPD due to the link to criminality. We may also want to explore thresholds of risk to help draw the line if we are not going to reject any intervention or enhancement?

In the first dialogue, Schaffner appeals to Lewontin on red blood cell phosphatase activity to explain environmental and genetic variation. He mentions on pp. 13 a study in which all phenotypic variation is due to environmental factors. What about Stotz’s claim that the gene also acts as an environment, i.e., what is the effect of the rest of the genome on the trait? Have Jim show you the math concerning the heritability of having a brain being zero (pp. 16). We need to explore problems with the equal environment assumption if we are to argue against the benefit of genetic testing o n ASPD. What is the best argument for behavior being genetically linked (broad)? The problem with the fearful mice experiment is that what if a mouse ate some bad cheese and had diarrhea? Would it be classified as fearful? How to distinguish?

Rowe and Jacobson (1999) developed criteria for factors deemed shared environmental effect
1. Near universals in culture do not count.
2. Environmental exposure must be common to all siblings.
3. The environmental exposure must have directional effect on the trait in question.
4. The environmental exposure must change the trait in a constant direction in order for it to be shared.

Problem with (1) if environment does have an effect on gene frequency. Problem with (2) is that how do you define common experience? Problem with (3, 4) is how do you tease out other effects (both genetic and environmental)? Even Schaffner realizes this difficulty since he places this idea as a “term of art”. He seems to agree with the “gloomy prospect” of possibly never being able to tease out environmental effects in the narrow, non-shared sense. Has anyone looked at DNA from 100 years ago compared to now? If there is a significant difference (problems with qualifying significance) would that not point to environmental inheritance or would it be argued as genetic? Problems with models. What the simplest and most complex model for behavioral genetics?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chris Marker's La Jetee´

This is the first of many posts related to my Comparative Literature class, The Sublime & The Sci-Fi Film. There is a difference in watching a film in an analytic mode versus sprawled out on the couch with a bag of Cheetos. I have already noticed that I am looking with a more critical and appreciative eye. If you love film, I would recommend taking a similar film class, which emphasizes the visual image as much as the narrative. The following and future posts on this subject will be more stream-of-consciousness so I apologize if it is hard to follow.

La Jetee´ (1963) directed by Chris Marker is the first film we viewed. It is only 27 minutes long but is dense with powerful images so it did not feel like a short film. It is interesting that one theme of the film concerns time and the unique style plays with the viewer’s perception of time. The film was shot in black and white and is not a motion picture per se but rather like looking a series of photographs. Instead of 20 or 30 frames per second, it is closer to one frame every 10-20 seconds. It was odd at first but it become less noticeable as the story unfolded. The film opens with an overhead shot of a Paris airport (Orly to be precise) frozen in time but with the scream of jet engines in the background. Oh, I’m pretty sure La Jetee´ means “jet” but I also think it is a play on the term “jetty”, which refers to a structure extended in to the sea. This is relevant to the paradoxical nature of time travel the film touches upon. The sounds transition from the screaming of jets to beautiful opera/choir music, which makes the disconnect between sight and sound even more distinct. The narrative (in French, English subtitles) tells the story of little boy on the observation deck of the airport who has the image of a woman frozen in his memory just as the images of the film are frozen to the viewer. It is interesting that the narrative mentions that it is a Sunday. Maybe a commentary on the religiosity of technology? At the same time the image is frozen in the boys memory, a man dies nearby … the viewer does not know how or why. The narrative then says that WWIII starts shortly after that. The frozen images show Paris before and after nuclear devastation. It mentions that there are victors and prisoners but also that all are driven underground due to radiation. Victory without salvation. Victory but life like a rat.

The narrative speaks of experiments that drive the subjects to madness or death. The boy on the observation deck is now a man, the next subject of mysterious tests. It is subtly implied that the victors are German and whispers in German are heard softly in the background. Feel of Nazi camps and human experimentation. There is even a camp director. The man expects Dr. Frankenstein or a mad scientist but finds a “reasonable man” who explains that the human race is doomed, that space is out of the question, and the only hope is through time. Past and future must come to the aid of the present if they are to survive. Living in the moment theme throughout? What’s up the glasses with multiple-lenses? Questioning of memory? Technology destroyed but the technology will save them? The experiments do not seem to be of a mechanical nature but rather of mental/pharmacological nature. Shots and masks over the eyes that make me think if insane asylums. The first time he “goes under” or “travels back” he comes upon a past in a park with children. The narrative repeats the word “real” many times. Real park, real children, etc. Traveling through time to a timeless world. Am I dreaming or sleeping? If mental, then definitely some Cartesian dualism going on here. Mind body problem. Living in the moment.

This is the end of Part I. I’ll add the rest as a comment later. Now I’m off to read Plato.

Best wishes,