Bioethics Blogs

Norm fever


How does one become a Platonist; a person who believes in a world of pure ideas? This blog post tries to give an answer.

If I were to use one word to sum up the character of everything that agitates people, it would be: normativity.

As soon as we are engaged by someone’s hairstyle, by a political program, or by how some researchers treated their research participants, we perform some form of normative activity.

Think of all the things we say daily, or hear others say:

  • – It looks better if you comb it like this
  • – What a beautiful coat
  • – Do you still buy and listen to CDs?
  • – That’s not a proper way of treating people
  • – To deny women abortion violates human rights

All these normative attitudes about the tiniest and the greatest matters! Then add to this normative murmuring the more ambitious attempts to speak authoritatively about these engaging issues: attempts by hair stylists, by orators, by politicians, by ethicists, by the Pope, by sect leaders, and by activist organizations to make themselves heard above the murmuring.

A person who was troubled precisely by the latter attempts to speak more authoritatively about the issues that engage people was Socrates. He asked: Are these wise guys truly wise or just cheeky types who learned to speak with an authoritative voice?

Socrates wandered around in Athens, approaching the cockerels and examining their claims to know what is right and proper, genuine and true. These examinations often ended in acknowledgement of lack of knowledge: neither the cockerel nor Socrates himself actually knew.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.