- Editorial Note
In this issue, we feature a linked pair of papers that follow up on and develop problems raised in our September 2014 (24:3) special issue on obesity and the regulation of bodies. Matteo Bonotti and Michele Loi each contribute articles on food labeling and the right to ignorance. Focusing on British food labeling laws, both argue that—despite the common idea that being ‘informed’ is a precondition for autonomy—sometimes the right to avoid certain information can be an important component of flourishing autonomous agency. Labeling foods as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ can inappropriately control how we interpret our food choices and how we experience certain foods, and it can take foods out of their proper context. In turn this can unduly interrupt important values and sources of pleasure. At the same time, having nutrition information available in an easily accessible and usable form can also be an important contributor to agency and health.
Bonotti, in “Food Labels, Autonomy, and the Right (Not) to Know,” and Loi, in “Food Labels, Genetic Information, and the Right Not to Know,” explore these issues in detail. Bonotti asks what sorts of presentations of information about foods are most conducive to autonomy. Loi develops and defends Bonotti’s argument. She also argues against a common form of genetic exceptionalism, spelling out in detail an analogy between the right not to know certain nutrition information with the more widely recognized right not to know certain genetic information. Furthermore, she makes the important point that trying to control eating behavior through consumer labeling may well overestimate the role of voluntary individual choices as opposed to environmental and other pressures in determining this behavior. Loi’s point, here, fits in nicely with a larger point that is becoming more and more vivid lately: PSAs designed to shape individual choices are generally ineffective, and they often buttress an ideologically problematic and empirically inadequate metaphysics of choice. Both authors—like Barnhill et al. in the previous issue—emphasize that food is valuable, not just as nutrition, but as an [End Page vii] integral component of various social and cultural goods and personal pleasures. No account of the ethics of the regulation of eating is complete without this acknowledgment.
In “Construction vs. Development: Polarizing Models of Human Gestation,” Robert Stith argues that much of the seemingly unresolvable debate over the ethics of the destruction of embryos (in the course of research or abortion) turns on both sides’ implicit commitments to competing models of human gestation. On the construction model, form and essence are gradually imposed, and there is no one objective point at which the thing under construction becomes that thing. On the development model, a thing is what it essentially is right from the start, even if its form will take time to develop. Stith argues that even people who agree that human life has dignity as such routinely make different starting assumptions about whether gestation is a constructive or developmental process; hence they come to different conclusions about whether the destruction of embryos is morally problematic. He defends the development view, even while acknowledging that both models can be intuitively gripping.
Finally, in “Redundant, Secretive, and Isolated: When Are Clinical Trials Scientifically Valid?” Kirstin Borgerson gives an elegant and rigorous analysis of some of the epistemic and ethical shortcomings that result from our taking clinical trials as independent scientific events, and assessing their scientific and ethical value by looking at their internal methodology. Clinical trials are often (1) redundant: they do not properly cite past studies and repeat work already done; (2) secretive: results are often not publicized for a number of reasons; and (3) isolated: their methodologies are not coordinated, which for instance makes meta-analyses useless or impossible. None of these shortcomings can show up by way of the sorts of internal assessments that ethics boards (for instance) typically do. She argues that in order to properly assess the epistemic and ethical soundness of trials, we need to see them as part of a larger social knowledge-producing enterprise. Accordingly, there are community-based standards that good trials must meet. Scientists have epistemic and ethical obligations to situate their work properly with...