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Session and Workshop Abstracts

Session 2D (S2D) - Abstracts

Philosophy beyond the armchair: Morality and ethics across disciplines

Paper 1: Queer Theology: An Ethical Trilemma

Speaker(s): Jack Slater

Keywords: Religion, Theology, Sexuality, Queer


Abstract: Queer theology, as part of the wider project of Christian theology, is a subdiscipline inherently tied to complex ethical questions surrounding sexualities, religious traditions, emancipatory politics and the properly ethical relationship academic research should have to these questions. In recognition of the interdisciplinary nature of this conference, I intend to begin this paper by briefly sketching the scope of queer theology and introducing the central ethical questions with which the field grapples. I then contend that there is a central ethical trilemma that complicates any queer theological project. I conclude by sketching how my own research has approach this trilemma by drawing on decolonial epistemologies. 

The central contention of this paper is that there are three fundamental ethical demands that run through any queer theological project. The first is that any queer theological project ought to be in some way affirming, emancipatory or in some other way broadly positive for the lived experiences of LGBT+ people. The second is that queer theology needs to engage with intellectual honesty and fidelity with the reality of the Christian tradition in both historical and contemporary contexts. The third is that queer theology should avoid engaging with problematic and reactionary theologies of sexuality in such a way as to legitimize and propagate them (Tonstad, 2015). These three demands form a trilemma in that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to adequately satisfy all three simultaneously. 

This would suggest that ethical research in a queer theological context may be hard to achieve even if the formal conditions for ethical research as set out by official guidelines are satisfied. Rather than suggesting a way in which this trilemma can be navigated, I conclude this paper by suggesting that this trilemma indicates an irresolvable ethical problem for queer theological research. Drawing on decolonial epistemologies (Mignolo, 2011) and with reference to my own research, I argue that a properly ethical approach to queer theological research will require new theoretical and theological frameworks that move beyond those provided by contemporary Christian theology. 



Paper 2: The role of common morality for principlism in biomedical ethics.

Speaker(s): Andrew Jones

Keywords:  Biomedical Ethics; medical practice; principlism; Kant; morality; normativity


Abstract: One field of medical practice that has been strongly influenced by philosophy is biomedical ethics. Principlism has been a dominant position within this field for last 40 years in no small part due to Beauchamp and Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics (PBE) currently at its eighth edition. Their account offers a generally pluralistic that combines aspects of utilitarian and deontological ethical perspectives. This paper critically examines the justifications for their deontological principles. They argue that medical ethical principles can be divided into four general categories: respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. These principles extend far beyond medical ethics as they regarded as prima facie truths that persist at all levels of society; ‘[b]ecause our principles are universally applicable, we defend a global bioethics and not merely customary, regional, or cultural rules. Our principles correlate with basic human rights and establish what is ethically acceptable for all societies’ (Beauchamp and Childress, 2019).


I argue that it is not necessary for PBE to justify these four principles as based on a ‘common morality’ that is ethically acceptable for all societies. Rhodes argues that there is a discordance between what is morally permissible for medical professionals and for everyday situations. She also argues that the four principles of PBE are too vague to offer concrete guidance for medical professionals (Rhodes, 2019). In response to these criticisms, I argue that this vagueness is indicative of more general problems inherent to Kantian deontological ethics. In order to avoid this vagueness, PBE should argue that, instead of a common morality, the foundations for principlism emerge from the training that medical practitioners must undertake in order to qualify. I argue this would avoid the criticisms directed toward their unnecessary claims regarding common morality, whilst simultaneously maintaining the principles outlined by PBE are necessary as ideals that should guide medical practice. 


Paper 3: Ethics and Documentary Research

Speaker(s): Jonathan Doney

Keywords: Ethics, Historian, Documentary Analysis, Policy


Abstract: There is a potential for researchers who depend on archival and other documentary sources to overlook ethical issues altogether, on the grounds that they are at a distance from those being researched. This attitude is often intensified by institutional ethics committees and their policies; they often see such work as being outside the normal ethical frameworks. Yet, there is a growing recognition that the researcher engaging in this sort of work does have ethical responsibilities. There is unquestionably an ethical responsibility to protect fragile historical materials in order to conserve them for the use of those who come after us. In addition, there is, as Foucault highlights, a need to avoid the danger of ‘projecting modern notions back into cultures where they had no role or “reality”’. There is also an implicit ethical responsibility to ‘those whose activities and relations’ are described. In recent years the ethical responsibilities associated with historical enquiry have been more openly discussed. Brian Fay raised the question, ‘Do historians have an ethical responsibility, and if so, to whom?’. 

This paper will discuss some of the key responses to Fay’s question in relation to documentary studies more widely, considering particularly the issues of Voluntary Informed Consent and anonymity. It will conclude with a call for ethics policies to de-marginalize documentary and historical research from their purview, and put in place appropriately robust ethical procedures for historical and other document-based research studies.

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