Wittgenstein and the foundations of bioethics: reflections on scientific and religious thinking in modernity

Vest, Matthew (2018) Wittgenstein and the foundations of bioethics: reflections on scientific and religious thinking in modernity. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis argues that bioethics emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s not as a novel way to engage new technological or social ethical questions of life (bios), but rather as a late, post-Enlightenment secular phenomenon. In particular, bioethics seeks to adopt a methodology of theorizing on morality that is prominent in modern science, and this is a strategy that I contest by following Wittgenstein’s critique of scientific theorizing. Wittgenstein’s later exercises with language present a critical and clarifying way to identify the immanent and self-referential schema of principlism in bioethics. Additionally, I show how Wittgenstein’s approach to philosophy as a skillful and therapeutic activity rather than a cognitive content is informative for bioethics. Hence, I suggest that in pre-modern, traditional eras—or even in many contemporary non-Western global sectors—bioethics largely would be indistinct from religious and theological dogma and practices. I argue that the modern mind prioritizes material causality, leading to a moral techne that divides spirit from matter, vios from bios. Within such a schema, nature—and especially the medicalized human body—is managed, produced, and constructed. Furthermore, I argue that Wittgenstein gestures towards an ancient transcendent way beyond the modern division of vios and bios, and that a full vision of seeing life may be glimpsed through an apophatic epistemology that guides one towards an understanding of ethics itself as a form of apophatic and embodied knowledge.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Milbank, John
Keywords: bioethics, religion, science, wittgenstein
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Q Science > QH Natural history. Biology > QH301 Biology (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 50902
Depositing User: Vest, Matthew
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2018 04:40
Last Modified: 08 May 2020 08:03
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/50902

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