Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1996), 135-137.
The Philosopher's Drama

- Yaman Ors MD, D.Phil.,
Unit of Medical Ethics, Ankara Medical Faculty, Sihhiya, 06100 Ankara, TURKEY

I think that as readers of EJAIB we owe thanks to our Editor for his invitation to the Tsukuba Science City in the latter half of October this year. As a contributor to the Journal, on the other hand, I have to thank him for his invitation in his editorial to a further discussion on the theme of ethico-drama (1). And the very end of the triple reply by one of the associate editors (2) would indicate why I could not help writing on this theme although I had decided not to do so after sending my third short article (3) on this topic.

In his letter to the last issue, and following his remarks on the commentaries by Masahiro Morioka and Haim Marantz on his previous (and rather interesting) article, "Are philosophers immune from ethics?" (4), Frank Leavitt kindly comments on my views (3): "...quibbling about "world premiers" is pointless. Truth, wisdom and goodness are important. Who said it first is irrelevant" (2). I could perhaps thank him for this highly economical observation on what I said about the first performance of ethico-drama, and the naming of an activity in general whether it is performed for the first time or not. I shall not discuss this point again, because I did so earlier in the relevant context (3). But I do wonder why Dr. Leavitt so much bothers about "plagiarism" (2,4) if "who said it first is irrelevant". Why should we be standing on the shoulders of the ancients, as Newton said (2), if they were not the first in whatever they said? How could one logically deduce anything if there were no one among the "ancients" who knew most of the knowledge (2), and who first derived, a conclusion from certain premises? History, the beloved field of Frank Leavitt, is, in a certain sense, the record of the "firsts" and what followed afterwards. Is not the history of ideas, as a very significant part of human history, devoted to the study of "who thought and said it first" as well as of "who developed it later on"? What could one say about the Novel Prize or any other Prize in science? If we disregard the priority in time of conceptual achievements in human history, who is to be admired for the first and successful development and/or coinage of an idea?

Frank Leavitt is evidently justified when he says that wisdom and goodness are important, although, in this context, the first one is a value-laden, and the second an intrinsically moral concept who or what is wise and/or good has greatly differed from period to period, from culture to culture; and, more relevantly in our context, from individual to individual, hence from philosopher to philosopher. As for his third important concept, no one can indeed own "truth" (2), because there is, and can be, no "one truth" or "the truth", unless you adhere to a dogma, heavenly or worldly. When one uses the term "truth", particularly in a philosophical discussion, however, on should make clear whether he/she means the purely logical (analytic), the scientific (or empirical), the concrete ("here and now"), or the so-called "moral" truth? And if science and philosophy (just) intend to report truth (2) (my emphasis), why have there always been scientific disagreements and, more conspicuously, differing philosophical schools and "doctrines"?

And why has there always been drama in human history, whether as a form of art or art-like performance, and so far as the lives of human beings are concerned? I am not in a position to have a plausible answer to the first part of the question. As for the second part, in which the word "drama" has a sense apparently different form, though related to, the former, I can only say this, It has been and will evidently be an inherent part of human like, because human beings feel and think, and are judged differently by their fellow beings. And there seems to be no reason why philosophers should be immune from drama in this sense.


1. Macer, D. "Editorial and Invitations", EJAIB 6 (1996), 68.

2. Leavitt, F. J. "Can Anyone Own Truth?: A reply to Morioka, Marantz and Ors", EJAIB 6 (1996), 70-71.

3. Ors, Y. "Ethics, Morals, and Drama", EJAIB 6 (1996), 69-70.

4. Leavitt, F. J. "Are Philosophers Immune form Ethics?, EJAIB 6 (1996) 29-30.

A Reply To Ors

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
The Jakobovits Centre of Jewish Medical Ethics
Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, ISRAEL
(Home Tel/FAX: +972-2-9963048)

I owe Dr. Ors in his "The philosopher's drama" above, thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify some points which I previously treated too hastily. "Who said it first?" can be an important question for history of science which is sometimes important to bioethics.

But "who said it first" is a juvenile matter if what one is seeking is egotistic pride or fame or promotion, or money or some similarly illusory value, as I have tried to explain in previous articles. But since my own explanations are inadequate, I suggest reading about simplicity and humility in Jewish or Buddhist or other spiritual writings. Or maybe just try being simple and humble for awhile, and see whether this helps you to understand things you didn't understand before. Another idea is to get to know uneducated working people. Are we really wiser than they for all our science and philosophy and bioethics?

Ors mentions being "admired". But this is exactly the kind of egotistic, illusory value to which I have been referring.

Ors accused me of saying "value laden" and "intrinsically moral" things. But isn't this just what Bioethics is supposed to do? I thought we were done with extreme positivist science and the days when scientists thought they could go around building atom bombs and the like without worrying about "value laden" "unscientific" ideas like "moral" and "immoral". (The positivists were right when they sought to rid science of mysterious entities like "force" and "energy". But they were wrong when they sought to rid science of ethics.) The whole purpose - and I mean this literally: the whole purpose - of the bioethics movement is to make sure medicine and biology don't get like "value free" positivistic physics used to be back when they could make atom bombs without worrying about "value judgments" about what they were doing.

Ors refers to moral differences "from culture to culture". This Cultural Relativism is partially true. A great deal of cultural variation is healthy in ethics. But some moral principles are absolute. A culture of people who like murder or torture, for example, is an evil culture. Can anyone disagree with this?

Ors asks "why have there always been scientific disagreements[?]". The answer is simple: because the truth is hard to find. But this does not mean there is no truth.

Ors mentions plagiarism, which is a different matter because plagiarism is the intentional, dishonest attempt to conceal one's sources. But real, intentional plagiarism was never at issue in the current debate (which began in EJAIB (1996) 6:29-30). Only a possible unintentional plagiarism was mentioned. But in any case a court of law should not be the first place to discuss charges of intentional or unintentional plagiarism. One should first try to discuss them in well-intentioned gatherings of friends and colleagues, like philosophy association meetings, if indeed such meetings are well-intentioned gatherings of friends and colleagues and not just platforms for cut-throat competition. And if professional meetings are not well-intentioned love-inspire gatherings of friends, then why bother to go to them?

Science, Positivism, and Ethics - A Reply to Leavitt

- Yaman Ors MD, D.Phil.,
Unit of Medical Ethics, Ankara Medical Faculty, Sihhiya, 06100 Ankara, TURKEY

In his reply to my letter, "The Philosopher's Drama", Dr. Leavitt comments on different points. In the matter of "who said it first?", I do not think that he has given a satisfactory answer to my considerations. And I have not been able to see any justification in his finding a connection between this point, "a juvenile matter" in his eyes, and the "egotistic pride or fame or promotion, or money or some similarly illusory value". For one thing, in the context of our discussion what matters in the first place is not how the person who first thought and said an idea considers himself/herself; what is meaningful is the way we as "outsiders" evaluate his/her work, the person's self-valuation being a different aspect of the overall matter. On the other hand, I cannot see how one can justifiably criticize anyone when the latter appreciates the work he/she has performed; again, the psychological and /or social motives behind a success is another matter, and in principle we need more data in each case or different sets of cases to arrive at an ethical judgment. In all events I think it is an ethical obligation to see the value of one's own work and not to be humble in the case of one's success in any field. To be able to see one self critically and "from without", so far as both one's successes and failures are concerned, is, in my view, a sign of emotional and intellectual maturity. As for money, I think it is a bit too real and not at all an illusory value, although it is certainly different in kind than, for instance, honesty or appreciation of critical thinking.

I doubt that "simplicity and humility in Jewish or Buddhist or other spiritual writing", admired by Leavitt, is valid in secular systems of ethics. This does not mean that a secularly minded individual would defend snobbery and/or boasting. As for the question of whether "we" are really wiser, "for all our science and philosophy and bioethics", than "uneducated working people", I do not have a satisfactory answer to it, nor can see its relevance here. In any case, it is the business of social scientists to tackle this problem. And I find this comparison between the working people (class) and the academically educated professionals an unduly populist endeavor of doubtful ethical value.

Dr. Leavitt obviously confuses, on the one hand, "extreme positivist science" and the technological misuse of scientific activity such as building atom bombs; and, on the other hand, the relationship between the latter and the value "ideas" like "Moral" and "immoral". "Positivism" is a term which has been so much misunderstood and abused in the circles of philosophy, science, and medicine, and in each of these fields the term has a different sense. In scientific activity, which must be "positivist", or at least positive in a sense similar to "empirical", positivism generally implies an emphasis on too much simplicity rather than on the complex quality of the objects of scientific research. Seen thus, an undue emphasis on the quantifiable physical/empirical aspects of higher-level structures such as trees, crocodiles, humans, ecological systems would represent a reductionary attitude in science. In a balanced positivist approach to science, although every system of scientific interest would be explained as a necessary condition in terms of its lower-level constituents, it must be ultimately understood at its own level of existence - a tree as a tree and a crocodile as a crocodile. As for the relationship between morality on the one hand and scientific research and theorizing on the other, it is a matter of the ethical system of the scientist rather than his/her methodological approach to the activity he/she is engaged in. I do not think at all that the creators/defenders of the atomic bomb did contribute to its production because they were positivists in approach; possibly, none of them was.

Contrary to Leavitt, I think no moral principle is, and should be, absolute, in place and/or time. Absoluteness in ethics, as in the case of belief systems above all, clearly represents an authoritarian morality, which is itself rather questionable in terms of ethical concern. I presupposes an unorganized and undifferentiated mass of humans rather than a society composed of members with appreciably different individual values. As for the question, asked by Leavitt in the related context, whether anyone can agree with "a culture of people who like murder or torture", I believe the answer is quite simple: "Certainly, because the murderers and torturers are necessarily obliged to do so".

Dr. Leavitt lastly comments on the matter of "unintentional plagiarism". This is, like "unintentional theft", a contradiction in terms, which is a philosophical error. Theft or stealing, and plagiarism for that matter, are, by definition, intentional acts. If a research worker, philosophical inquirer, or an academician/academic professional in general, borrows, for instance, and idea from the work of a colleague without mentioning it, this is an instance of plagiarism. It is in the very nature of research or inquiry and no individual involved in such an activity can be held exempt from it. If one does this, in borderline cases, without being aware of it, then it is, at least, a serious academic/professional mistake, which may or may not be a breach in professional ethics. Lastly, if professional meetings are "well-intentioned love-inspire gatherings of friends", as Leavitt sees them, I would hesitate to participate, and may rather listen to the "admirable" stories of freemasons.

Go back to EJAIB September 1996
Go back to EJAIB
The Eubios Ethics Institute is on the world wide web of Internet: