Bioethics, Family, and Summer School: Part 6 – The Final Day and the “good enough” family
Ben Kenofer

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of short blog posts about the bioethics summer school in Groningen, the Netherlands, which is focused on the role of family in the delivery and consumption of health care. Look for others in this series for about the author and the program itself.

We continued with faculty presentations and ensuing discussions for the first half of our final day at the summer school. For the second half of the day, however, my fellow students and I were divided into small groups of about five people, and our groups were given two questions to discuss amongst ourselves in preparation for a final class-wide discussion session.

For the first question, our group was asked to reflect upon what we have discussed this week (and perhaps what we have not discussed), and from that basis, to come up with some remaining challenges that those working in family ethics might need to resolve. The goal was for our group to arrive at some consensus that we could then share with the class. One of the points that we talked about within my group, and that we ultimately shared when all the students and faculty reconvened, centered on theorists further working out the relationship between family ethics and care ethics (some in the group were also interested in exploring the relationship between family ethics and virtue ethics). There were sometimes references made to care ethics or virtue ethics within the literature we read, but because several of the students came from non-philosophy backgrounds, most of my group members were not very familiar with these approaches. I was able to provide some brief overview, but when it came to care ethics, I too was unsure exactly how to conceptualize its relation to family ethics.

There is certainly overlap between the two approaches, such as a relational conception of the self and the notion that one’s wellbeing is bound up with the wellbeing of particular others, with the focus within family ethics being on those particular others who are family. Our group was left wondering whether family ethics could (or should) be considered as a subdivision within care ethics, whether we consider them distinct but complementary approaches, or whether family ethics should be regarded as supplanting care ethics, at least when it comes to familial matters. We were hoping that continuing to work out the relationship between family ethics and care ethics (and possibly between virtue ethics as well) could help us to make out some of the ethical, meta-ethical, and moral epistemological commitments of family ethics with more clarity.

For the second question, we were asked to identify one important take away from our time in the summer school. While we also discussed this second question as a group, our members each ended up providing our own individual answers when the main session reconvened. I decided to share how I had come to see merit in the idea of families being “good enough”.

Throughout our time here in the summer school, both articles that we read and faculty members during their presentations have made reference to the good enough family. Earlier on in the week, I was feeling skeptical about hearing that designator used. I had concerns about who gets consulted in evaluating a family as being good enough, and was worried about whether that notion could be used to shut down avenues for social critique (e.g., patriarchal families are good enough, so we don’t need to be worried about critiquing that mode of organization).

Perhaps relatedly, I wondered about family members disagreeing on whether their family was good enough, and what to make of such disagreement. Although I still have these concerns with the notion being invoked in problematic ways, I did come around to seeing something of value within the concept as well. This shift largely started with Dr. Scully’s presentation on the third day, when she mentioned how a family might do well in some areas while fail in some others, and still be good enough – that it’s not an either/or between having a wonderful family or a dysfunctional family. She said that family life can get messy, and good adults can come out of messy family. Her discussion helped me to appreciate how the concept of a good enough family could be helpful for avoiding black and white thinking, and helped me to draw similarities between the use of good enough families and other views that I hold about moral theorizing – namely, that I don’t expect a neat and tidy picture of what morality looks like and requires when (a) our own lives are messy and complex and (b) moral philosophy should consider the lived moral experience of those it theorizes about.

Since this was the final day of the summer school, we also took a group photo before the day’s final session. A few people who participated in the summer school had to leave at earlier points, due to competing obligations, but the photo gives a glimpse of those who were still present at the conclusion of the program.

 

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