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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 23
Mothering from the Margins: Critical Conversations

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1. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Charles Harvey, Christian Matheis Special Issue Editors’ Introduction
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The Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World maintains a commitment to pluralism in philosophical discourse by encouraging original, unconventional research with regard to contemporary concerns. Among our members, few have championed this commitment more steadfastly than the late Joe Frank Jones III who passed away in January 2015 while planning our annual meeting. Joe had spent a number of years advocating for and developing a graduate-level Bioethics Certificate at Radford University, his home institution. The certificate came to life in 2014, after which Joe and Christian Matheis (Virginia Tech and Radford University) proposed to co-host the next SPCW meeting on what would become this issue’s prototypical namesake: “America the Bioethical: Vitality, Trauma, and Questions of Bioethics in the 21st Century.” Following Joe’s death, both Christian and Charles W. Harvey (University of Central Arkansas) carried on planning the conference with Joe’s vision as a guide.
2. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Ralph D. Ellis The Biological Basis of Ethical Motivation: (It May Not Be What You’ve Heard)
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Naturalism does not necessarily imply an exclusive emphasis on the notoriously fickle empathic emotions. Contemporary neurobiological emotion research strongly suggests that the search for moral meaning, like any other everyday truth-seeking activity, is motivated not only by altruistic instincts or social conditioning, but also and more importantly it is motivated by a basic exploratory drive that makes us want to know what the truth is, independently of whether we happen to feel altruistic or nurturing in a particular instance. This innate biological drive is not socially learned or developed through reinforcement, yet it motivates us to try to find out what we really ought to do. That the love of truth is innate has survival value, yet does not lead to the naturalistic fallacy, as do the more frequently cited “moral” emotions such as sympathy and fellow-feeling. The endogenous love of truth, qua natural emotion, does not lead to the vacuous conclusion that “We ought to act morally because (and only if) we naturally feel altruistic in a given situation.”
3. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Melissa Burchard Abandoning Certainty in Favor of Moral Imagination: Shifting from Rule-Based Decision Making to Caring
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I argue that rule-based decision-making models are desired because thought to create certainty. I then raise a number of problems with this assumption. Desiring certainty, and relying on rules to obtain it, leads to inconsistency in decision-making, and atrophy of moral imagination. I draw a parallel between Dworkin’s principles-based models in legal theory and Beauchamp and Childress’ in medical ethics. These models are more successful because they can account for more moral intuitions, and do not encourage us to hide our intuitions. Still, feminist ethics challenge the possibility of certainty even more radically, moving in the direction of moral imagination and care.
4. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Janet Donohoe On a Hermeneutics of the Body
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In much of the contemporary situation for trans* persons, authority over identity has been given to, or perhaps taken by, arbiters of the medico-legal discourse. These identity “experts” have become the gatekeepers for sex reassignment and gender designation. Alternatively, many theorists argue that identity is exclusively about first-person appeals to one’s own sense of oneself. I show here that neither of these accounts does justice to our experience. Instead, drawing upon Hans Georg Gadamer’s notion of horizons, I outline a position where first-person and third-person accounts of the meaning of the body can meet somewhere in the middle. Such a position, characterized by a hermeneutics of the body, mediates between the phenomenological first-person while still recognizing the third-person view of the body as relevant. Approaching the body through a hermeneutic process allows us to find a place where we can all be open to different performances of gender and different particular bodily actions that recognize the bodies of us all as a combination of sedimented styles of action within social discourses.
5. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Jack Weir Abortion: A New Argument from Evolutionary Biology and Psychology
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Using conclusions from contemporary evolutionary biology and psychology, I defend a new argument for the moral permissibility of abortion. My analysis shows the falsity of some of the empirical and moral claims in two popular and widely anthologized anti-abortion articles, one by the judge and legal scholar John T. Noonan (1970) and the other by the moral philosopher Don Marquis (1989). My argument builds on my criticisms of Noonan and Marquis. People are contingent emergent beings, and cannot be reduced to their DNA or fetus. My analysis of four theses, two for males and two for females, shows that the absence of consent is enough to establish every woman's broad moral right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. A final section presents the conclusion and responds to two important objections.
6. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Lani Roberts The Phenomenology of Abortion Decisions
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The philosophical treatment of abortion has rarely placed actual women at the center of the discussion. This essay argues that moral decisions are made by actual persons and a woman, as a person, is more than a breeder of humans. Drawing on an analogy with the treatment of light in quantum physics, it also argues that the status of a fertilized ovum is indeterminate, often dependent on the context of the woman's life.
7. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Robert Metcalf Cormac McCarthy and the Bioethical
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This essay argues for a distinction between bioethics in the customary sense and the “bioethical”—where the latter involves exploration of disturbing literary and/or artistic material. The “bioethical” signifies an affective and imaginative sphere in which we experience the mattering-to-us-morally of other human beings and non-human animals. The essay further argues that Cormac McCarthy’s writings allow us to explore the bioethical, with certain philosophical implications of this discussed in detail.
8. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Robert Paul Churchill Armed Drone Warfare: Mythology, Mental Health, and Cultural Violence
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The United States is now relying on Reaper and Predator drone strikes as its primary strategy in the continuing “war on terrorism.” This paper argues for the rational scrutiny drone warfare has not yet received. Rather than a Just War critique, my focus is on the rhetoric used to justify drone warfare as the technologically most efficient and militarily appropriate response to terrorist threats. This rationalizing rhetoric evokes mythical claims about American exceptionalism. Myths in turn trigger linguistic frames that have the effect of subverting rational thinking about the ethical uses of technology and the best ways of defending America from terrorists. I conclude by noting the seriousness of this investigation for the present debate over armed drone warfare, for—given the reasons I present—rather than a long-term reduction in the likelihood of terrorists strikes, the U.S.’s reliance on armed drones strikes threatens to institutionalize terrorism as the status quo for the foreseeable future.
9. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Caroline Meline From Partiality to Impartiality: A Natural Expansion or Saltatory Leap?
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The aim of this paper is to help clarify the debate about whether human morality is continuous or discontinuous with nonhuman animal behavior by contrasting partiality and impartiality as moral terms. The problem for evolutionary ethicists, who derive ethics from human evolutionary history, is that only partiality, the practice of extending care and moral consideration to one’s in-group, can be accounted for by natural selection and therefore shown to be continuous with nonhuman animal behavior. Impartiality, the ideal of applying moral standards equally to all humans, on the other hand, cannot be accounted for by natural selection. A conceptual gap, or saltatory leap, thus opens up between behaviors classified morally as partial or impartial, pointing to a conclusion of discontinuity in explaining the origin of morality. Frans de Waal’s 2006 book Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved, takes up this issue, with de Waal arguing for the evolutionary position, continuity, even while upholding impartiality as the highest form of morality. His opponents are “veneer theorists,” who view morality, generally, as a uniquely human construction, required in order to overcome base and selfish desires. De Waal entertains critical responses to his discussion by several thinkers, and I consider that of Peter Singer. I also look to the neuropsychological research of Joshua Greene and Jonathan Haidt, as does de Waal, for help with the apparent evolutionary gap between partial and impartial moral beliefs but do not find a solution. Finally, I suggest other ways of rescuing the continuity thesis.
10. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 2
Charles W. Harvey Human(un)kind and the Rape of the World
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This paper sketches the history of unethical behavior of Homo sapiens to other forms of life on planet Earth. I ask, and sketch responses to, the question: How and why is it that we, the so-called “ethical animal,” have been the worst of all animals in relation to other life-forms on our planet? In response to the answers to this question, I claim that we know, and have known for a very long time, what it means to be morally good. But in light of the natural bases of our behavior, I wonder if it will ever be possible for us, as a species, to become so.
11. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Amrita Banerjee, Bonnie Mann Philosophical Articulations on “Mothering” and “Care” from the “Margins”
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PCW Editors’ Comments: In this volume we are privileged to publish a special edition on mothering from the margins. The guest editors Amrita Banerjee and Bonnie Mann have collected a range of submissions representing original and insightful perspectives on motherhood.
12. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Diana Carolina Peláez Rodríguez Stuck on This Side: Symbolic Dislocation of Motherhood due to Forced Family Separation in Mexican Women Deported to Tijuana
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This paper is about the experience of Mexican women deported to Tijuana, especially those who are mothers, and how they live the forced separation from their family. First, the phenomenon of family separation in migration is explained and then contrasted with the separation due to deportation and the moral harm produced in mothers in both cases; then there is a closer look to the meanings deported women give to the separation and finally I will posit that motherhood as they know it, suffers a fracture, a dislocation that leaves them with barely no resources to resignify it. A third discussion goes deeper in their options of family reunification; and finally a characterization of Transnational Motherhood in Deportation is given, in order to highlight an understanding of this non-normative mothering perspective. Along the way, testimonies of some of the women I encountered in my visits will support the arguments.
13. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Harrod J. Suarez Dreaming of Bad Motherhood in the Jungle
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This essay explores different versions of motherhood in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, in which the protagonist, Lina, is exposed to, influenced by, and recruited into arguably nationalist and global forms as she navigates the fictionalized filming of Apocalypse Now in the 1970s Philippines. But upon deciding to leave the film set and the nation to go to the U.S., Lina derives insight from alternative sources that enable her to reimagine a diasporic maternal position, one that negotiates her relationship to her child and the Philippines while placing nationalist and global motherhood under erasure.
14. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Shirley Glubka Claiming: thoughts of an unconventional older mother
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The author is a lesbian poet, novelist, and essayist who chose to give up the daily parenting of her three-year-old son in 1973 and who has written about the experience over the decades. She is also a woman who reads philosophy. Now, from the perspective of her older years and in the light of philosophy, she once again considers her relationship to motherhood. This is a personal essay: descriptive, meditative, and creative.
15. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Bonnie Mann Adoption, Race, and Rescue: Transracial Adoption and Lesbian/Gay Ascendency to Whiteness
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In this article, I examine transracial adoption in which the parents are white and gay or lesbian in the context of an America coming to tolerate, accept, embrace, and even celebrate gay family life, while increasingly retreating from basic aspirations to race-based equality and fairness. It is about the narratives of whiteness that accompany transracial adoption, and that claim families in ways that cause harm. It is also about patriotic nationalism in post 9/11 USA, and the story of sexual progressiveness that has infused our national imaginary in complex and paradoxical ways over the last decade. We are called on to account for the costs of allowing our commitments to justice in relation to race and sexuality to become fragmented.
16. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Shelley M. Park “When We Handed Out the Crayolas, They Just Stared at Them”: Deploying metronormativity in the war against FLDS mothers
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In 2008, over 400 children living on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a rural Texas polygamist community of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), were forcibly removed from their mothers’ care by State troopers responding to allegations of child abuse. This essay examines the role of neoliberal ideologies and, more specifically, what some queer theorists have identified as ‘metronormativity’ in solidifying a widespread caricature of FLDS mothers as ‘bad’ mothers. The intersections of these ideologies with neocolonialist discourses, I argue, positions the FLDS mother as a subaltern subject unable to effectively speak in her own defense.
17. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Amrita Banerjee, Karilemla Arju as “Caring Space, In-Between”: Philosophical Reflections on “Care” from Ao Naga, India
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Through a philosophical engagement with “Arju” (communal dormitories for children/adolescents among the Ao tribe, India), we develop a distinct conceptualization of it as “caring space, in-between”. In its various ontological, epistemological, and ethical dimensions, Arju becomes a space for mothering of Ao children and of caring for the tribe at large. It provides a basis for developing a notion of “caring space” within a philosophy of care. Finally, while theorizing its “in-between” character, we argue that Arju resists mapping onto dominant Western spatial binaries such as private/public, home/world, etc. This essay is not only an articulation of a non-dominant group’s philosophy of “mothering” and “care”, but also aims to create an alternative theoretical space from which to engage with the dominantly Western feminist philosophies of care.
18. Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Volume > 23 > Issue: 1
Biographical Notes on Authors
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