For Snead, American public bioethics already does have an anthropology, one it pretends not to have: expressive individualism. Drawing upon a host of twentieth-century social theorists — Robert Bellah, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel — Snead tries to make less familiar expressive individualism’s account of what it means to be human, allowing us to see it afresh as what it really is: one historically contingent vision among others.
At the heart of expressive individualism is the unencumbered self, the atomized individual, shorn of social ties, long on rights but short on duties, always operating at the height of his or her cognitive powers. One’s flourishing consists “in the expression of one’s innermost identity through freely choosing and configuring life in accordance with his or her own distinctive core intuitions, feelings, and preferences.” By privileging the will, this anthropology is forgetful of the body. By extension, it is forgetful of the “lived realities of vulnerability, mutual dependence, and finitude.”
Snead’s sketch of expressive individualism is good and necessary, but it is when he turns detective, when he sets out to unearth where that atomistic anthropology is at work in American case law, that the book really comes into its own. Most of the book is structured around this work, with one chapter showing how this anthropology manifests in court rulings on abortion, one chapter on assisted reproduction, and one chapter on end-of-life questions such as assisted suicide and when to carry out life-saving measures.
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