Hedgehogs and Hermaphrodites: Toward a More Anthropological Bioethics

  • Carl Elliott
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 50)


How we answer questions about the proper use of therapies of the self will depend on when and where those questions are asked. I have suggested that how we answer these questions in North America will be contingent upon cultural strands that are often overlooked. In looking at these therapies, the relevant questions to ask are not only those such as “Under what conditions can the state restrict a person’s liberty?” but questions such as “What kind of person should I be?”, “What should I want?”, and “How should I live my life?” For these latter questions especially, it is far from clear that an answer can be given that will be the same for all people, at any time, in any culture, under any circumstance. Rather, how a person sees the answer to these questions will depend on local frameworks of understanding, in which are embedded a whole variety of concepts and practices that are, as Walzer puts it, “richly referential, culturally resonant, locked into a locally established symbolic system or network of meanings” ([18], p xi). To paraphrase Wittgenstein, a moral language is tied to a form of life. Understanding how this is so, and how things might have been otherwise, is the natural territory not of the hedgehog, but of the fox.


Gene Therapy Good Life Sexual Identity Worth Living Moral Thinking 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl Elliott
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, and Montreal Children’s HospitalMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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