Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 19, 2017 - History - 304 pages
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How should we weigh the costs and benefits of scientific research on humans? Is it right that a small group of people should suffer in order that a larger number can live better, healthier lives? Or is an individual truly sovereign, unable to be plotted as part of such a calculation?

These are questions that have bedeviled scientists, doctors, and ethicists for decades, and in Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good, Cathy Gere presents the gripping story of how we have addressed them over time. Today, we are horrified at the idea that a medical experiment could be performed on someone without consent. But, as Gere shows, that represents a relatively recent shift: for more than two centuries, from the birth of utilitarianism in the eighteenth century, the doctrine of the greater good held sway. If a researcher believed his work would benefit humanity, then inflicting pain, or even death, on unwitting or captive subjects was considered ethically acceptable. It was only in the wake of World War II, and the revelations of Nazi medical atrocities, that public and medical opinion began to change, culminating in the National Research Act of 1974, which mandated informed consent. Showing that utilitarianism is based in the idea that humans are motivated only by pain and pleasure, Gere cautions that that greater good thinking is on the upswing again today and that the lesson of history is in imminent danger of being lost.

Rooted in the experiences of real people, and with major consequences for how we think about ourselves and our rights, Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good is a dazzling, ambitious history.
 

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Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond

User Review  - William Simkulet - Book Verdict

Gere (history, Univ. of California, San Diego; Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism) posits that utilitarian reasoning prompted physicians to commit medical atrocities. Currently, physicians require ... Read full review

Contents

Diving into the Wreck
1
1 Trial of the Archangels
27
2 Epicurus at the Scaffold
65
3 Nasty British and Short
99
4 The Monkey in the Panopticon
133
5 In Which We Wonder Who Is Crazy
165
6 Epicurus Unchained
199
The Restoration of the Monarchy
229
Notes
239
Bibliography
269
Index
283
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About the author (2017)

Cathy Gere is associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism.

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