Ethics, morals, and drama

- Yaman Ors MD, D.Phil.,

Unit of Medical Ethics, Ankara Medical Faculty,
Sihhiya, 06100 Ankara, TURKEY

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1996), 69-70.
Ethics, as I understand it, is one of the main branches of philosophy, hence an academic discipline, devoted to a critically conceptual and logical study of our moral values. It does not exclude, however, an introspective evaluation and recognition of the latter, which are our wishes or "idealizations" as regards human attitude and conduct. Morals, in my view, may be defined as the sum total of moral values as they have developed in the course of time in a given society. Evidently, and leaving aside here their interaction in human history, the subject matter of ethics and the content of morals do not, in principle, differ from each other. As for "drama" as a general term, it means those stage performances based on written texts and called "plays". Whether this nuclear definition would include the incorporation of music, in whatever form and to whatever extent, into these performances may be left outside our universe of discourse here.

In her critical commentary (1) as regard " my text on ethical drama and bioethics education (2) , June Hare mentions the name of JL. Moreno as quotation "the father of psychodrama and sociodrama" applying (in principle, apparently) "all drama to social issues". We learn that he used the term drama as early as 1918 to refer to "the activation of religious, ethical and cultural values in spontaneous-dramatic form". We also learn that on her part she already used the methods of role playing, sociodrama and improvisation in the field of bioethics education in informal class presentations, at conferences and meetings (1).

Frank Leavitt (3), on his part, begins his commentary on the same topic by reminding us that "...the use of drama to teach ethics is as old as drama itself", and giving as examples Sophocle's Antihgone and Shakespeare's King Lear and Lady MacBeth; he also mentions (religious) morality plays "intended to teach ethical lessons", and uses the adverb "ethico-dramatically" in similar contexts. Interestingly from our standpoint, he gives March 1994 as the date when the question of heart transplants was placed in the setting of traditional Japanese legend and the related play was performed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, followed by a discussion; just like the ethico-drama performance on transplantation in general that took place in Ankara a year later (2).

As we have tried to make clear earlier, one must distinguish, first ethico-drama with a directly educational purpose from the "moral tales" (2) of drama in whatever form, using the latter term without a prefix and in its general sense. Further, an empirical-logical analysis of psychodrama as regards its possible use in medical ethics education has shown us that this possibility is rather scarce. June Hare (1), referring to the work of Moreno, just mentions the distinction between the artistic "cultural conserves" and the "personal exploration and relevance of timely themes". Just like Leavitt, however, she doubts whether the performance of the "Ethico-drama company" in Ankara would be regarded as a world premiere of such an approach to the topic of bioethics.

To cut short a potentially long story, I must say that the naming of any activity, an idea, a concept, an approach, a method, and so on, is a very significant step in its evolution. There have always been ethical issues in medicine or any other profession; but without the coining of the terms "medical ethics" by Thomas Percival in the very beginning of the last century (5), and "bioethics" by Van R. Potter twenty-five years ago (6), we could not possibly expect the related and conscious academic and applied developments in these areas.

One of the important sources of confusion in ethical discourse and in the field of morals seems to two stem from the ambiguous use of the adjective "ethical". On the one hand, it means related to (the field or discipline of) ethics; on the other hand, it is used in the same sense as "moral", that is, having to do with morals. We must also bear in mind that however difficult it may be to make a clear-cut distinction in not a few cases, descriptive ethics is not the same as prescriptive ethics (7); while the latter is in conformity with ethics as an academic field, the former is very much related to what we might call individual morals. It must be stressed that ethico-drama, being descriptive, is neither psycho- or sociodrama, nor prescriptive, ethical or moral drama.

Commenting on the definition of life by Azariah, in the second part of his letter, Frank Leavitt makes an interesting general remark, which, however is certainly not an original one: there is not necessarily a contradiction between religion and science (3). Having made this quotation, I cannot help mentioning the well known French saying "Plus ca change, plus la meme".


1. Hare, JR. "Commentary on Ors ", EJAIB 5 (1995), 154-5.
2. Ors, Y. "Ethico-Drama" and Education in Bioethics , EJAIB 5 (1995), 154.
3. Leavitt, FJ. ""Commentary on ors and Azariah", EJAIB 5 (1995), 155-6.
4. Ors, Y. Can psychodrama be a tool in ethics education?, EJAIB 6 (1996), 16-7.
5. Leake, CD. Percival's Medical Ethics, Willimas & Wilkins, Baltimore 1927.
6. Potter, VR. Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1971.
7. Macer, D. ""Bioethics: Descriptive or prescriptive?", EJAIB 5 (1995), 144-6.

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