The Disconnection That Wasn’t: Philosophy in Modern Bioethics from a Quantitative Perspective

American Journal of Bioethics 22 (12):36-40 (2022)
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Blumenthal-Barby and her colleagues (2022) situate their discussion of philosophy and bioethics in the context of (reportedly) widely held assumption that, when compared to the early days of bioethics, the role of philosophy is now diminished across the field – the assumption we call the Disconnection Thesis. This assumption can be summarized, to use the authors’ own words, by the phrase “philosophy’s glory days in bioethics are over“. While in no place of the article they explicitly endorse the Disconnection Thesis, at least some of the authors had previously endorsed it in print (Savulescu 2015). Such expressions of collective expert wisdom might be a valuable source of information on the discipline's history, but they should not be accepted uncritically. Given the explosion in the size and scope of bioethical research in recent decades, any scholar’s familiarity with the area is necessarily based on selective reading and might be biased. Hence, in this commentary, we examine what kind of more rigorous evidence could corroborate the Disconnection Thesis. In other words, if the role of philosophy in bioethics has been indeed diminishing, what kind of observable patterns should we expect to see? Drawing on our previous research (Bystranowski, Dranseika, Żuradzki 2022), here we focus on two useful perspectives: citation analysis and topic modeling. While the first approach allows us to indirectly measure the level of engagement of bioethicists with philosophical literature (by measuring the proportion of references from articles published in journals in bioethics that cite philosophy journals), the latter provides a window into the content and argumentative style of bioethical texts.

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Author Profiles

Tomasz Żuradzki
Jagiellonian University
Vilius Dranseika
Jagiellonian University

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