Ethics in the Life Sciences (PHIL*3450) | College of Arts

Ethics in the Life Sciences (PHIL*3450)

Term: Winter 2013


This course reads our current concepts of health, medicine and disease – mental and physical -- and their respective
institutional forms in clinical medicine (physical and psychiatric) via the discourse analysis of 20th century French
critical theorist, Michel Foucault (1926-1984). We will read 3 Foucauldian texts that deal directly with the production of
the fields of modern medicine: objects to be concerned with, and subjects to be concerned with such things. Foucault
claimed not to have written his books for a philosophical audience. Rather, he desired his books “to be a kind of toolbox
others can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they wish in their own area…I write for users,
not readers.” Since we are all users of the concepts and institutions of health, mental and physical, these texts can be
tools which help us in that use, however we conceive it. Moreover, as a critical theorist, it is precisely in gaining a
profound sense of our own positionality in the production of discursive fields that ethical possibilities are
accomplished. In short: critical analysis of “the life sciences” is ethics, a form of ethical work. The course will focus on
relevant concepts Foucault developed and/or deployed – discourse, intelligibility, visibility & sayability; figures &
personae; archeology & genealogy; normalization & governmentality, panopticism, power/knowledge, biopower,
subjectivation, discipline, signification, force. It will expose us to his genealogical method, and through this exposure
we will come to understand firsthand what it is about this method that is allegedly ethical labour.
In addition to understanding students will be expected to use these capacities and conceptual tools to gain insight
into and thus to be able to critique philosophical aspects of modern health and medicine such as: hormone
replacement therapy, weight loss and self-starvation, use of animals in laboratory testing, antidepressants, yoga,
personal trainers, alleged increase in OCD in children, cosmetic surgery, reproductive/fertility technologies, fitness
regimes, teeth-whitening, stem-cell anti-aging therapies, anti-smoking lobbies, UVA therapy i.e. tanning, body
modification, & cancer surveillance.


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