Profession of Conscience

Profession of Conscience: The Making and Meaning of Life-Sciences Liberalism

Robert Hunt Sprinkle
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7shkw
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  • Book Info
    Profession of Conscience
    Book Description:

    What happens to a profession that loses the memory of its moral independence? And what happens then to those reliant on its honor, its advocacy, its initiative? In an era of biotechnological adventure, medical audacity, ecological disruption, fiscal strain, and financial temptation, these are urgent questions for all life scientists and for all they serve.

    Profession of Conscienceis an exposition, analysis, and application of a political-ethical tradition in, of, and for the life sciences, from molecular genetics to clinical medicine to environmental biology. The goal is avoidance of the fate of physics--the previous "super science"--whose technological transformations several generations ago so enhanced its political and economic value to governments, societies, and corporations that it lost control of its own conduct.Profession of Consciencediscovers within the life sciences a long-evolving profession-specific standard for political action and activism, tracing it from conception in Hellenic and Roman imperial times, through birth and baptism in the Scientific Revolution, then through a naïvely optimistic adolescence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and finally into a self-conscious maturity, solemnized at the Nuremberg Trials but tested ever more subtly since, even down to the present day. The protagonist is a set of ideas. The product is "life-sciences liberalism."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2158-7
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
    R. H. S.
  4. I A HISTORY OF CONVICTIONS
    (pp. 3-13)

    Here was an odd beginning for a paper featured in a scholarly journal. The speaker was about to describe his own arrest. Not on an unspecified charge, as in Franz Kafka’sTrial, or on an unfounded charge, as in Joseph Stalin’s Terror. The speaker knew what the accusation against him would be, and he knew he was guilty:

    The officer handed me something that looked like a warrant and said I was under arrest as a war criminal on the basis of my activities during the Second World War in connection with the atomic bomb. There was a car waiting outside and they told me that they were going to...

  5. II FROM FIRST PROBLEMS TO THE EDGE OF MODERNITY
    (pp. 14-19)

    LACKING a widely accepted orderly method, save rhetoric, for the settling of its arguments, premodern Western science was ineluctably controversial and epistemologically divergent. At its best, it was ambitiously descriptive, erratically empirical, and cautiously interpretive. At its second best, it was speculative, tendentious, teleological, and declaratory—even when experimental.¹ At its third best, it was consciously dogmatic and elaborately scholastic.

    Within the “life sciences” (natural philosophy, botany, zoology, medicine, surgery), the most instructive chronic controversy involved two inconstant “groups” of physicians: those hoping to understand the living world chiefly through the fashioning of postulates, and those willing to accept whatever...

  6. III FROM THE SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE TO THE UNIVERSALIST SENTIMENT
    (pp. 20-28)

    SIR FRANCIS BACON, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Lord High Chancellor of England, progenitor of the Royal Society, reputed back-stabber, convicted bribe-taker, was no ethicist. Neither was he a life scientist. And he was certainly not a physician. He failed even to note William Harvey’s revolutionary work on the circulation of blood, though Harvey attended him personally.

    That said, there was no scientific revolutionary after Bacon, not in England anyway, who did not owe to this insistent yet elusive man the honor of antecedence. The debt was not technological; Bacon imagined and suggested and proposed and tinkered but did...

  7. IV FROM THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION TO THE LIBERAL EXPECTATION
    (pp. 29-69)

    EASILY A MATCH for Bacon and altogether more formidable than Browne was John Locke, a “man of parts” so excellent and various that even his finest biographers have failed to describe him whole. Locke the political philosopher, Locke the epistemologist, Locke the scientist, Locke the physician—all these might as well have been different men, judging from the scholarly record. But they were not different men.

    John Locke was the great synthesizing figure of the Enlightenment, recapitulating and then stimulating the intellectual development of his age. He cannot properly be understood as anything else. Yet his surviving twin reputations as...

  8. V FROM NONLIBERAL ALTERNATIVES TO THE LIBERAL REESTABLISHMENT
    (pp. 70-100)

    IF A POLITICAL ethics of the life sciences had been writtenin Englishin the first years of the twentieth century, Lockean liberalism, adapted to bear “the white man’s burden,” would have dominated many arguments. But not all. Moreover, if a contemporaneous political ethics had been writtenin German, Lockean liberalism might have been missing altogether. To an uncomfortable degree, the reaffirmation of Lockean liberalism that took place within the next half century was a spoil of war. But it was also a triumph of good science over bad, of objectivity over prejudice.

    Let us take Osler as a liberal...

  9. VI FROM ALTRUISM TO ACTIVISM
    (pp. 101-113)

    IN 1905, an Alsatian university professor, having decided to devote himself “to scholarship and the arts” till the age of thirty and to the service of humanity thereafter,¹ put aside overlapping international reputations as pipe-organ virtuoso, musicologist, philosopher, and revisionist Christian theologian to become a medical student. In 1913, fully qualified as a physician and surgeon and specially trained in tropical medicine, he with his bride took ship to French Equatorial Africa, steamed up the Ogowe River to a mission station at Lambaréné, and made in the wilderness a hospital.

    In 1899, Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) had publishedThe Religious...

  10. VII LIFE-SCIENCES LIBERALISM IN ABSTRACT AND COMPETITION
    (pp. 114-121)

    AS EARLY AS 1923, the year Schweitzer published the first two parts of his never-perfected masterpiece,The Philosophy of Civilization, what we have been anticipating as “life-sciences liberalism” was fully formed. It still lacked the political authority provided in 1947 by the handing down of the Nuremberg Code, and it still lacked the intellectual authority provided in 1948 by the opening of the Lovelace Collection and in 1960 and 1963 by the addition of the Mellon Donations. Even taking the last of these dates, life-sciences liberalism could by now have been described and redescribed many times. Had it ever been...

  11. VIII PROTECTING THE STATE
    (pp. 122-145)

    THE TWO WORLD WARS were followed by partial reconceptions of national-security ethics. World War II particularly affected the national-security role of life scientists; as we have seen, the Nuremberg Code and other postwar instruments circumscribed that role within certain “liberal” principles. But the world wars had less formal effects as well.

    From World War I, the battlefield use of poison gas both by the Central Powers and by the Allies has been most remembered. But the introduction of tactics even less discriminating has proved even more troublesome. The German Imperial Navy waged unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking merchantmen and passenger ships....

  12. IX PURSUING THE NATIONAL POLITICAL ADVANTAGE
    (pp. 146-155)

    DIFFERENTIATING between national security interests and national political interests is not always possible, as Clausewitz would have argued. The former might be considered an extreme form of the latter, or both might be identified on the same spectrum but at its opposite ends, the spectral parameter being some function of physical risk.

    At the national-security-interests end of the spectrum would be cases of violent struggle—potential, impending, or immediate, and sometimes desperate. At the other end of the spectrum, the national-political-interests end, would be cases in which strategic problems are never immediate or desperate, cases in which humanitarian problems may...

  13. X AGGRANDIZING THE CORPORATION
    (pp. 156-175)

    ECONOMIC corporations act in beneficial ways. They concentrate capital and labor. They underwrite product research and product development, and they bring useful goods efficiently to market. They create jobs and wealth, and they sometimes redistribute small amounts of the latter philanthropically. Representing the common interest, leaders of capitalist economies encourage corporate formation, corporate vitality, and corporate growth.

    Appreciations offered where deserved, we now turn to finer points of conduct.

    We have noted Hobbes’s comment on the statelike nature of corporations: “lesser Common-wealths in the bowels of a greater.” His was a feudal analogy presumably intended to suit the great trading...

  14. XI PRIVATIZING THE COMMON INHERITANCE OF HUMANKIND
    (pp. 176-193)

    AMBITIOUS national governments have characteristically tried to advance the prosperity of domestically based corporations active in international trade. The establishment, protection, or extension of trading rights and marketing opportunities has played a role in many violent conflicts—the Seven Years War, the Opium Wars, the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection, World War I, the Pacific War—as well as in countless nonviolent conflicts. As we have just seen, resistance to the international regulation of corporate activity underlay American opposition to restrictions on the marketing of artificial infant feedings in the developing world; it mattered little that American firms were only...

  15. XII ADVANCING THE PUBLIC HEALTH
    (pp. 194-212)

    THE MOST CURIOUS FEATURE of the market for human life is volatility in the terms of trade. We may imagine that regulation of this market was a founding goal of all cultures and civilizations, for it is now among their signal, if subtler, functions.

    In politically developed societies in a nominally slaveless era, human life is popularly assumed to be unpriced. It is also assumed—or said—to be priceless. The first assumption seems correct only because the market price of human life is volatile: nearly zero for the next victim of heavy artillery or out-of-sight starvation or adolescent gang...

  16. XIII GROPING IN THE LIGHT
    (pp. 213-214)

    HOMINES SAPIENTESare smart enough to doubt their own moral wisdom. And, when they feel the need to revise it, they are timid enough to seek permission. Even scientists, who must learn the skills of irreverence, seek authority in ethics. Even scientists know that wisdom has a sedimentary geology and cannot be understood from its surface.

    Yet, most sediment is rubbish, and the caseagainstethical tradition, the caseagainstvaluing history more than immediacy, is strong. Tradition is the enemy of progress, and progress in its principal dimension is advantageous by definition. In ethics, however, progress is hard to...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 215-246)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 247-257)