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The Fisherman and the Assassin: Reflections on Anorexia Nervosa
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

A short story of an assassin and a sleeping old Fisherman:

An assassin came to the beach, big eyes of a child
big eyes full of fear. He woke up the sleeping Fisherman:
‘Give me some bread: I am hungry and have no time’
‘Give me some wine: I am thirsty . . . and I am an assassin’
The old Fisherman opened his eyes to the day
And took no look around
But poured the wine and broke his bread
For that who said: I am thirsty, I am hungry
On the back of their horses, two gendarmes asked the Fisherman
Whether an assassin had run along the beach,
But the old man is asleep in the shadow of the last

(Readapted from De André 1970)

Before I explain the rationale of this anecdote, let me begin my response by saying how grateful I am to Bratton and Tomasini for engaging with me over such a thorny and unpleasant topic. Many of us have either suffered eating disorders, or have a relative or a friend who has had an eating disorder, or who has died with anorexia. I still remember giving a talk on anorexia nervosa, several years ago, and at the end of the talk one senior academic was very shaken and nearly in tears. He had lost his sister with anorexia. For many of us, eating disorders are an extremely sensitive issue, and for this very reason, I feel particularly indebted when others wish to comment and to join me in the thinking about this phenomenon.

Bratton’s commentary adds a legal dimension to my reflections. Bratton offers a new and broader perspective from which the issue might be analyzed. More bravely than I did, Bratton talks about an existing judicial “rhetoric” of competence—where the courts stress the primary legal importance of competence, but then also ground their decisions on welfare considerations. Bratton’s commentary made me realize how timely it is that we ethicists, philosophers and jurists explore further—possibly together—the broader legal and ethical issues relating to the consonance of the principle of respect for autonomy versus the principle respect for welfare.

The potential conflict between principles is not unique to the sway of respect for autonomy and for welfare. This conflict is one symptom of the many perils suffered by ethical principles. My paper on the limited role of competence in the management of anorexics is also somehow an implicit denunciation of the uselessness and potential perniciousness of moral principles. I have argued against moral principles elsewhere (Giordano, forthcoming). The philosopher Hegel, much better than I did of course, articulated such ‘anarchic’ conviction in his Science of Logic (Hegel 1969).

The paraphrase at the beginning, the story of the Fisherman, illustrates some of my concerns toward ethical principles. The old Fisherman sees a child, full of fear, hungry and thirsty. He is a murderer, he is on the run. But indifferent to the rules of human justice, the Fisherman breaks his bread and offers his wine, in an evangelic gesture, and remains immobile to the calls of human authority. The poet George Brassens (1955) in his Chanson pour l’Auvergnat, similarly, wrote:

Elle est à toi cette chanson
Toi l’étranger qui sans façon
D’un air malheureux m’as souri
Lorsque les gendarmes m’ont pris
Toi qui n’as pas applaudi quand
Les croquantes et les croquants
Tous les gens bien intentionnés
Riaient de me voir emmener
Ce n’était rien qu’un peu de miel
Mais il m’avait chauffé le corps
Et dans mon âme il brûle encore
A la manièr’ d’un grand soleil
Toi l’étranger quand tu mourras
Quand le croqu’mort t’emportera
Qu’il te conduise à travers ciel
Au père éternel.1

Brassens, like De André who I paraphrased above, were anarchic and atheist poets. For both of them, there is however a moral redemption, and it is for those who reject the authority of moral principles.

The relevance of this in this context is that, as I argued elsewhere, moral principles can harm people, and at best, they are generally useless. This is why they should be tempered or abridged...

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