Philosophical study of life, death, and nature

Home > Papers and Essays > This page



Back to home

About this site

Cross-cultural Approaches to the Philosophy of Life in the Contemporary World
:From Bioethics to Life Studies

Masahiro Morioka

-- In Margaret Sleeboom (ed.), Genomics in Asia: A Clash of Bioethical Interests? Kegan Paul, London, England (2004), pp.179-199.

1) In the bioethics literature, there are many examples of the East/West dichotomy and its variations, but this is the trap we sometimes falls into when discussing the cultural dimensions of bioethics. (...) One of the biggest problems with this kind of dichotomy is that it ignores a variety of values, ideas, and movements inside a culture or an area. (...) The East/West dichotomy oversimplifies this internal variation and neglects the common cultural heritage that many people share in various areas around the world.
2) I would like to present “life studies” as a forum or project in which people who are frustrated with bioethics and other disciplines get together to discuss life, death, nature, scientific technology, and contemporary civilization, although life studies itself is still in an early stage of development. The field of life studies consists of three categories: life studies as a forum, life studies as a project, and life studies on a personal level.

*Page numbers in the original are marked by [(preceding page) / (following page)].


    The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001 was an epoch-making event because it clearly showed us the worst form of hostility caused by “globalization.” Of course, the current globalization process has exploited and suppressed a number of developing countries in an unfair manner; hence, it is natural that people in these countries feel frustrated and express their hostility against, for example, the USA. However, it is wrong to kill innocent citizens in the USA, and it is even worse to kill the same number of innocent citizens in Afghanistan with air raids. As Mahatma Gandhi said, an eye for an aye leaves the whole world blind. What is needed is some different forms of action.
    Bioethics is in the process of globalization. Some scholars seem to think that this is a movement to spread “American values” based on individualism, autonomy and freedom around the world. Anti-American emotions may have emerged in the field of bioethics in some places outside the USA, but just criticizing American bioethics does not create anything. Any value system has its own faults. I will discuss this topic first, and then try to find a way of overcoming the conflict between “values.” In the second half of this paper, I will discuss the idea of “life studies” that I have advocated for years. [179/180]

Bioethics and Cultural Backgrounds

    The word “bioethics” come to Japan in 1974 when V.R. Potter’s book, Bioethics, was translated into Japanese. However, this word was no very popular until the late 1980s. In the 1980s, we had a severe debate on brain death and transplantation. Many people talked about the definition of human death and the meaning of life during this period. American-style bioethics was introduced in the late 1980s, and the Japanese Association for Bioethics was established in 1988. At that time, I was a graduate student majoring in philosophy. I read many bioethics papers, and translated some of them. My first impression was that it didn’t seem to fit into my way of thinking about life. Many people around me were saying that they didn’t agree with the idea that “autonomy” and “rights” must be the basis of bioethics. I was frustrated by the fact that American bioethics did not discuss environmental issues and nursing because I believed that these were also important subjects related to our attitudes towards life.
    I published my first book, An Introduction to the Study of Life: Beyond Bioethics, in Japanese. In 1988. This was the first academic book that thoroughly criticized bioethics and environmental ethics. I insisted that contemporary medical issues and environmental issues should be discussed simultaneously in the same field because our attitude towards the environment must have some close connections to our attitude towards our own bodies and minds. I criticized the personhood argument and the narrow-mindedness of American bioethics.
    It is worth noticing that just before we introduced bioethics from the USA, we had a nation-wide debate on brain death. Not only specialists but also journalists and lay people actively joined the debate. Japan was one of the few countries where a serious discussion on brain death lasted for a long period of time, more [180/181] than 15 years. More than a hundred books on brain death appeared. There has been no such public discussion on brain death in North America up until the present. As a result, many Japanese scholars realized that American bioethics did not solve difficult problems they had encountered in the debate on brain death. In 1989, I published my second book, Brain Dead Person, in Japanese, stating that brain death should be interpreted as a form of “human relationships” (Morioka 1989). I paid special attention to the emotions and relationships within the family members at the bedside, touching the warm body of the patient, express the feeling that the brain-dead person still continues to exist as a human being. My conclusion was as follows:

“Brain death is not found in the brain of a “person whose brain ceased functioning,” but in the realm of human relationships surrounding this person. What we should consider is “the realm of brain death,” or “brain death as a field.” In other words, the essence of “brain death” can be found in the relationships between people (idem:9).

    This book marked the beginning of the “human relationship oriented analysis” of brain death. Readers welcomed my perspective. This shows that Japanese academic bioethics attached great importance to “human relationships” from the start and that modern individualism and human relationships were particularly important topics for Japanese bioethics in the 1980s (Morioka 1995).
    I didn’t emphasize cultural differences in bioethics in the above books, but Takeshi Umehara, a well-known critic, criticized the Western way of thinking lurking behind the concept of brain death in his provocative article, “Opposition to the Idea of Brain Death: A Philosopher’s Point of View,” published in 1990. Umehara stated that the idea of brain death and transplantation goes back to Rene Descartes’ dualism of mind and body, and that Japanese culture is [181/182] based on a kind of animism which tells us that all beings in the world, including animals, trees, and mountains, have souls. He writes as follows:

My view, based upon the studies of the council and upon my own disposition as a philosopher, is that the haughty “brain death theory” of Western science that derives from Descartes’ separation of mind and matter ignores the awe of life and must be rejected. (…) Those who have no doubts about defining death as “brain death” have simply succumbed to the power of science and technology that has enabled the human race to build upon modern civilization and dominate all other life (Umehara 1994: 190).

    Umehara’s argument is based on the Japan/West dichotomy, a modified version of the East/West dichotomy, which is prevalent among ordinary people and scholars in Japan. This dichotomy tells us that Japan (or the East) is essentially different from (or sometimes even superior to) the West. For instance, Umehara concluded in the above paper that Japanese Buddhism influenced by animism is superior in nature to the Western Cartesian philosophy that created modern science and technology.
    There had already been some articles and essays that contained this dichotomy in the 1980s. Umehara summed up this line of thought in his paper. I have thoroughly criticized his argument elsewhere (Morioka 1994); hence, I would like to point out just one thing here. According to opinion surveys 40-50 per cent of Japanese think of brain death as human death. Opposition to brain death is 20-40 per cent, lower than those who agree to the idea. Umehara fails to explain why the majority of the Japanese, being deeply influenced by animistic Buddhism, are in favor of brain death. From this perspective alone, Umehara’s dichotomy seems to be very problematic. [182/183]

Beyond the East/West Dichotomy

    In the bioethics literature, there are many examples of this East/West dichotomy and its variations, but this is the trap we sometimes falls into when discussing the cultural dimensions of bioethics. Let us take a typical example: Hyakudai Sakamoto’s paper, entitled “Toward a New Global Bioethics,” presented at TRT 7, Tsukuba, Japan, in 2002 (Sakamoto 2002: 31-34). Sakamoto has published similar papers, and this is the latest version. Sakamoto distinguishes “Asian proper bioethics” from “Western bioethics.” He writes as follows:

Something is fundamentally different. First of all, in many countries in East and South East Asia, the sense of “human rights” is very weak and foreign, and they have no traditional background for the concept of human rights. (…) Asian people put higher value on the holistic happiness and welfare of the total group or community to which they belong rather than their individual interests (Sakamoto 2002: 32)

    Then he goes on to say that Asian bioethics should be built on Asia’s own “ethos.” Its characteristics are as follows:

1) They put higher estimation on total and social well-orderedness than on the individual interests or individual rights and dignity.

2) There is no unique and absolute God, no categorical imperative, no free will, no autonomy to deduce justice and precepts to control people’s behavior except to pursue social peace. (…) Eventually, there is no room for the idea of “fundamental human rights (…).”

3) There is no antagonism between nature and human being in the depth of Asian way of thinking, and way of living.

4) This idea of invariance is somewhat foreign to traditional Asian ethos. (Sakamoto 2002: 32-33) [183/184]

    Sakamoto concludes that new global bioethics should be “holistic” in contrast to European “individualistic” bioethics, and that it requires “some sort of communitarian way of thinking of a non-western or Asian type.” And finally, he stresses the importance of harmonizing the Asian ethos and the Western one.
    One of the biggest problems with this kind of dichotomy is that it ignores a variety of values, ideas, and movements inside a culture or an area. For example, Sakamoto uses the words “Asian ethos” even though there is no such thing as “the” Asian ethos. He writes in his paper: “The Japanese rejection of heart transplantation from the brain dead body was quite odd for Euro-American minds,” but concerning this topic, Japan was the exception among East Asian countries. Other East Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines, performed organ transplants from brain dead donors in the 1980s. Sex selection and surrogate motherhood are becoming popular in Korea, but are still prohibited in Japan. With regard to reproductive technologies, Korea and the USA seem to share the same ethos.
    The same is true in the “Western” countries. For example, Denmark and Germany went through a nation-wide debate on brain death in the late 1980s and 1990s. In Denmark, the ethics committee concluded in 1989 that brain death should not be human death. However, the report was rejected in the Diet in 1990. In Germany, a pregnant woman became brain dead in 1992, sparking a hot debate about whether she was dead or alive. In 1997, about 30 per cent of the Diet members supported a bill that did not define brain death as human death, but it was rejected. This outcome is very similar to the Japanese situation (Morioka 2001a). In Japan, 20-40 per cent of the Japanese constantly reject brain death. Siminoff and Bloch (1999) reported that even in the USA, 20-40 per cent of ordinary people felt hesitant to regard brain death as human death. In Europe and the USA, the number of donated organs has not [184/185] increased much in recent years. This shows that many family members may refuse to give consent to organ donation from brain dead persons.
    As is evident here, there are a variety of values and ideas in a culture or an area, and in addition, it becomes clear that “Asia” and “the West” share lots of ideas and values on life and death. The East/West dichotomy oversimplifies this internal variation and neglects the common cultural heritage that many people share in various areas around the world.
    After opening the country to the world in 1868, the Japanese were very eager to absorb European ideas, such as “human rights,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” Japanese history of the last 100 years could be illustrated as that of a harsh struggle between people who wanted to maintain hierarchical and paternalistic systems, on the one hand, and people who wanted to replace them with more individualistic ones based on human rights and freedom, on the other. In 1874, Taisuke Itagaki began a nation-wide political movement, “the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (Jiyuu Minken Undo).” Many thinkers and activists joined Itagaki and were put in jail and killed, but this movement prepared the basis for Japanese democracy. (When Itagaki was stabbed, he is said to have shouted, “Even if itagaki dies, freedom never dies!”) When a group of severely discriminated people (Hisabetsu Buraku Min) demanded their civil rights in 1922, the words they uttered were “freedom,” “liberation,” and “equality.”
    The contemporary Japanese bioethics movement began in the early 1970s when disabled people claimed their “right to live” and “disabled children’s right not to be killed by their parents,” and when feminists claimed that their “right” and “freedom” to abortion must be maintained. It is striking that contemporary Japanese bioethics began with voices of minority groups demanding “rights” [185/186] and “freedom.” Since I examined this topic elsewhere (Morioka, 2002), I will not write about it further here.
    My point is that voices for “freedom” and “human rights” have already been integral parts of Japanese history and culture. They are part of the Japanese tradition. Here, Sakamoto’s argument that in Asia “the sense of ‘human rights’ is very weak and foreign, and that they have no traditional background for the concept of human rights” cannot be applied to Japan. His claim that “Eventually, there is no room for the idea of fundamental human rights” is unfounded. Most of the younger Japanese philosophers and sociologists who are interested in bioethics take “fundamental human rights” for granted, and then they are trying to fit bioethical ideas into contemporary Japanese culture and relate them to Japanese people’s emotions. They stress the importance of “human relationships” together with “human rights.”
    Even in the USA, so-called “communitarian bioethics” has been discussed by Ezekiel J. Emanuel (1991) and Daniel Callahan (1996) in the 1990s. American feminist bioethics has put a special emphasis on caring and relationships. It seems that current bioethics throughout the world seeks balanced development between “individual freedom” and “the value of community and relationships.”
    Scholars at the City College of New York conducted a comparative study of US/Japan values in 1988. In their research, students in both countries responded to “the values that they believed best characterize people in their country.” The results were interesting. The top 3 for the USA were “Family,” “Education,” and “Friendship,” and the top 3 for Japanese were “Friendship,” “Peace/Getting Along,” and “Respect.” Both sets of responses look similar and sound communitarian (CCNY 1998). [186/187]
    Daniel Fu-Chang Tsai writes in his recent paper that Confucius’ concept of person has two dimensions, namely, “the vertical dimension,” which is the autonomous, self-cultivating one, and “the horizontal dimension,” which is the relational, altruistic one (11). He says that “some may argue that there is no vertical dimension at all in the Confucian personhood. This is incorrect.” He concludes as follows:

When a person exercises autonomy, he is no choosing in a context-free, conceptual vacuum but considers himself a person-in-relation, with many roles to play and responsibilities to take, in accordance with different relationships (…). The tension might be difficult to resolve, but the traditional tendency of social orientation should surely be balanced by, and reconciled with, respecting the individual’s rights and autonomy (Tsai 2001: 48,49).

    Here we can see a well-balanced perspective on “autonomy” and “relationships.” This kind of mature thinking can be found everywhere on this planet and is not the patent of Confucius or East Asia.
    We sometimes use the words “Japanese bioethics,” “American bioethics,” and “Asian bioethics,” but these wordings are apt to make us think that there is “the” Japanese bioethics, “the” American bioethics, and so on. This is not true. There are various bioethical ideas and actions in each region. Of course there are clear cultural differences between distant countries, but if we take a closer look at one area, we can find considerable gender differences, religious differences, economic differences, etc., and at the same time it is also true that we actually share many things across borders. Hence, we should say “bioethics in Japan” instead of “Japanese bioethics,” “Genomics in Asia” instead of “Asian Genomics,” and so on. Anyway, we have to abandon the East/West dichotomy and its variations. [187/188]

Life Studies as an Alternative to Bioethics

    As I mentioned before, when I first studied “American” bioethics in the 1980s, I was very frustrated because it seemed to me a somewhat narrow and shallow approach to the issues of life. Some of my friends had similar impressions. First, it discussed only medical issues. It did not deal with environmental issues. It is ironical that V.R. Potter who coined the word “bioethics” in 1970 regarded this word as a kind of “environmental ethics” rather than a medical ethics. For me, separating medical ethics from environmental ethics seems senseless because humans live on this planet surrounded by nature and our health and happiness cannot be separated from the environment. My first impression was that medical ethics should not be separated from environmental ethics.
    Second, “American” bioethics did not ask questions such as “What is the meaning of life?,” “How can we live in this society without regret?,” and “What is human?” Whenever we think deeply about difficult bioethical problems like selective abortion, euthanasia, manipulation of human genes, and organ transplantation, we come to the above philosophical questions in the end. In addition, psychological and sociological approaches should be introduced to research on these issues, but the word bio-“ethics” seemed to exclude these disciplines. I thought it would be more fruitful to discuss bioethics in an interdisciplinary forum.
    Third, it took “modern civilization based on scientific technology and capitalism” for granted, and sought the methods of regulating the conflicts of interest among us. However, difficult bioethical dilemma are created by the “advancement” of scientific technology, and sometimes they are worsened by the mechanism of capitalism. In contemporary society, our desires are created by technologies and mass media and as a result, we lose the happiness that we enjoyed before. Of course it is impossible to totally abolish [188/189] today’s science and technology, but it is necessary to examine the essence of modern civilization based on scientific technology and capitalism, and think about how to create an alternative civilization and society. I believe criticism of modern civilization should be one of the foundations of bioethical thinking.
    For these reasons, I coined the term “life studies” instead of “bioethics” in 1988. The idea of life studies has gradually developed since then. In 1989, I published Brain Dead Person in which I discussed the topic from the viewpoint of life studies. I distinguished three concepts, namely, “my brain death,” “brain death of intimate others,” and “brain death of strangers.” I made clear the differences of the meaning of death in these threecases, and demonstrated that these differences might be the cause of ordinary people’s inconsistent attitudes towards brain dead persons in various settings. I also criticized the essence of modern medicine and scientific technology, and developed key ideas like “partism of modern medicine” and “efficiency and irreplaceability.” This book was the real first product of life studies.
    Through research on brain death, I realized that there have been no empirical studies on the idea of life among ordinary people. Scholars sometimes talked about the Japanese idea of life and death, but their arguments were based on traditional Buddhist or Confucian literatures. It is not certain that today’s ordinary people share these traditional ideas. I performed research using open questionnaires and gathered nearly thousand responses from ordinary people. I published part of the results in the paper “The Concept of Inochi,” in 1991 (Morioka 1991) and made various interesting discoveries. Many Japanese grasp the idea of “human life” in relationship with that of “nature.” The images of “life,” “spirit,” and “nature” overlap with one another in their worldview. For many of them, environmental issues are conceived as problems of life. And here, too, their images of life vary. There is no such [189/190] thing as “the” Japanese idea of life. Interestingly, however, several patterns of grasping images of life were discovered. For example, there were many responses that suggested that life is interrelated on the one hand, and irreplaceable on the other. People seem to feel some dynamism between interrelatedness and irresplaceability. This research is still continuing and is one of the most important contributions to the field of life studies.
    In 1995, an unbelievable event occurred. Members of the Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, launched a sarin gas attack in crowded subways in Tokyo, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000 people. At first, they were members of a small religious group seriously seeking the “meaning of life.” However, they began to consider our society to be evil place, and planned to destroy the whole world in order to reconstruct a clean one. I was shocked by their action because I felt I shared many of their aims. This event made think again the relationship between life studies and religion, and I published the book How to Live in a Post-religious Age in 1996. In this book, I confessed that I am a man who cannot believe in any religions, nor believe in scientific materialism. I want to seek “spirituality” and the “meaning of life” outside of religion. I called this “the third way between religion and science.”
    Does this attitude lead to the denial of religion? No. My position is an agnostic one. I do not affirm or deny religions. I have had discussions with various religious people, and I found that we can talk about spirituality and the meaning of life without using religious language. If we respect each other’s worldview and do not force one’s own presuppositions on the others, we are able to have a deep discussion with each other concerning the issues of life, death and nature. [190/191]
    Life studies should be a project where people of faith and people without religion get together to communicate with and learn from each other. I conceive of life studies as a project where people with religion seek to think about life without using dogmatic words, and people without religion seek to think about spirituality and the meaning of life using ordinary language. I think this should be the basis of life studies.
    Life studies also deals with human relationships with the environment. I wrote a series of essays from 1995-1998, and published them as a digital book, Life Torn Apart, in 2001 (Morioka 2001b). In these writings, I insisted that humans are imprinted with three natures, “the nature of connectedness (to all living things),” “the nature of self-interest,” and “the nature of mutual support,” These natures are sometimes in harmony, but at other times they conflict with each other. In the latter case, mediation is impossible. In this sense, human life is torn apart and moves in two opposite directions, the direction of isolation and the direction of connectedness. Under this scheme, the problem of “preservation” and “conservation” in environmental ethics is clearly analyzed, but we cannot expect simple answers to this heavy question. Contribution of life studies to environmental ethics and environmental philosophy will be enormous. This is a future challenge for us.
    In the same year, I published another book, Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics: A New Perspective on Brain Death, Feminism, and Disability (Morioka 2001c). In this book, I demonstrated that incorporating feminist and disability studies would change bioethics into a more attractive field; like life studies, it would be filled with diverse ideas and focus on the process of empowerment. As I mentioned before, Japanese bioethics started in the early 1970s as “feminist bioethics” and “disabled people bioethics.” Their approach was closer to our “life studies” in that [191/192] they were seeking the “meaning of life” and “self-affirmation” in our discriminative society, and in that they severely criticized contemporary civilization, scientific technology, and capitalism (Morioka 2002). I examined “men’s sexuality,” which sometimes indirectly forces women to abort a fetus when men are not willing to have a baby. This kind of “symbolic violence,” which is lurking in our society, should be emphasized in the field of life studies. I discussed the idea of “the fundamental sense of security” as a key term for thinking about the negative psychological impact of new eugenics. I am currently writing a fundamental criticism of modern civilization, which will be published as a book in the next year.

Scope of Life Studies

    I would like to present “life studies” as a forum or project in which people who are frustrated with bioethics and other disciplines get together to discuss life, death, nature, scientific technology, and contemporary civilization, although life studies itself is still in an early stage of development. The field of life studies consists of three categories: life studies as a forum, life studies as a project, and life studies on a personal level.

    Life studies as a forum

    First, we need a forum in which people with different backgrounds get together and discuss the issues of life interdisciplinary. Of course, many conferences on bioethics plan to have interdisciplinary discussions, but the bio-“ethics” makes people from some disciplines hesitant to join because it sounds like as if “ethics” is the central theme. Life studies as a forum will take many forms, for example, conferences, small meetings, collections of essays, discussion groups, or a new research field such as cultural studies and disability studies. Even biologists, [192/193] anthropologists, sociologists, and historians will be able to join more freely. The College of Applied Life Studies (CALS) at the University of Illinois, USA, which contains departments for community health, human sciences, and disability studies, is a good example of this forum (CALS homepage). In this category, the words “life studies” are interpreted broadly.

    Life studies as a project

    Life studies as a project has a more limited scope. It aims at developing our knowledge about the meaning of life, death, and nature in relationship to modern civilization, and it tries to find a way to live our own lives. We seek to attain a deeper understanding of the meaning of life, death, and our relationship with the natural environment. We also seek to attain the deep understanding of the essence of modern civilization based on scientific technology and capitalism. And beyond that, we want to discover a way to resolve contemporary issues concerning life, death, nature, and bioethics without using religious language. Of course, both people of faith and people without religion are welcome, but this project must not have any special relationship with religious groups.
    I wrote “The Declaration of Life Studies: Six Proposals” in 2000. This shows thebasic characteristics of life studies as a project. The outline of the six proposals is as follows:

1) Study as wisdom. Life studies is a kind of vigorous development of our wisdom in which we contemplate the reality of life and death, struggle against our inner desires, and try to find a way of resolving contemporary issues concerning life. [193/194]

2) Criticism of modern civilization. Life studies connects the criticism of modern civilization with issues concerning life, death, and nature. Life studies throws light on the essence of modern civilization, and tries to show a way of overcoming the negative effects of scientific technology and capitalism.

3) Meaning of life. One of life studies’ aim is to think about how we should live in modern society without regret. Questions such as “How should I live?” “What I the meaning of life?” “How should we change ourselves and social systems in order to attainthe meaning of life?” are among the main questions of life studies.

4) Relationship and irreplaceability. Life studies looks at every phenomenon and issue from the perspective of correlation between “relationship and irreplaceability.”

5) Reconsideration of desires, violence, freedom and spirituality. We try to find a way of overcoming our own desires and violence. We distinguish “superficial freedom” that supports modern civilization from “rich freedom” that leads us to the real pleasure of life. We seek for “post-religious spirituality” that is not based on a particular religion.

6) Support from a distance. Life studies means a network in which everyone who is seeking the meaning of life supports others from a distance. We do not join a closed community where everyone has the same standards and values. (Morioka 2000)

    The ultimate goals of life studies would be: 1) to live and die our limited life “without regret,” and 2) to create a society in which [194/195] everyone can live and die his/her limited life “without regret.” In order to come closer to these goals, we have to think about the meaning of life and the essence of our civilization seriously, and we have to communicate with each other to learn different ideas.
    Looking from this perspectives, one of the big problems is, of course, the gulf between economically wealthy countries and economically poor countries. In the lattercountries, for example, many people are suffering from HIV/AIDS, but do not have access to medication. Behind this lies the “structural exploitation” of developing countries by developed countries. But on the other hand, people in developed countries also suffer from acts of violence such as domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and stalking. They are not necessarily happy. Life studies have to tackle with these complicated structural problems in and between the North and South.

    Life studies on a personal level

    Life studies include both thoughts and actions, thinking and living. As mentioned above, one of the ultimate goals of life studies is to live and die our limited life “without regret.” In this sense, living our own life is an essential part of life studies. Thedichotomy of theory and practice does not work here. “Thinking” is a form of action, and we cannot act without a cognitive framework influenced by language. What is needed is wisdom that does not let our eyes turn away from oneself and one’s own life. In this sense, life studies on a personal level should be a lonely act. This is the reason why “support from a distance” is required. It is important to keep in mind that people joining life studies as a project must apply life studies on a personal level. We cannot separate the two.
    I have written a number of works on life studies in Japanese, but this is only one of the possible variations of life studies. Everyone [195/196] can develop his/her own life studies. In science, the words “her science” or “my science” are senseless. However, in life studies, the words “her life studies” or “my life studies” are meaningful descriptions of the concept. Morioka’s approach is apt to be biased towards philosophy. There will be many more approaches to life studies on a personal level. Hence, Morioka’s life studies never fully represent “life studies as a project.”
    The interrelated development of these three categories will be required for life studies and I would like to invite interested people throughout the world to contribute their thoughts on this topic (See Table 1).


    The idea of life studies can be discovered in all periods or areas. What I am doing is to mould the idea to suit contemporary society. Unfortunately, “American” academic bioethics in the 1980s seemed to lack the insights of life studies; I had to find them in other traditions, that is, feminism and the disability movement in Japan in the early 1970s. But this does not mean that some traditions are superior to other traditions in terms of life studies. Each tradition contains a number of valuable lessons that we should learn with a humble attitude. [196/197]


Table 1: Scope of life studies

Life studies as a forum

People with different backgrounds get together and discuss issues concerning life

Life studies as a project

People explore the meaning of life, death and nature in relationship to modern civilization based on scientific technology and capitalism (without using religious language)

Life studies on a personal level

People live their own life without regret seeking the meaning of life [197/198]




Callahan, D. (1996) “Communitarian Bioethics: A Pious Hope?” The Responsive Community, 6, no.4:26-33.

CityCollege of New York (1998).

College of Applied Life Studies, University of Illinois. Available HTTP:

Emanuel, E.J. (1991) The Ends of Human Life: Medical Ethics in a Liberal Polity, Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press.

Morioka, M. (2002) “Disability Movement and Inner Eugenic Thought: A Philosophical Aspect of Independent Living and Bioethics,” Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12, (May 2002), 94-97. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (2001a) “Reconsidering Brain Death: A Lesson from Japan’s 15 years of Experience,” Hastings Center Report, 31, no.4:41-46. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (in Japanese) (2001b) Life Torn Apart. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (in Japanese) (2001c) Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics: A New Perspective on Brain Death, Feminism, and Disability, Keiso Shobo. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (2000) “The Declaration of Life Studies: Six proposals (Rough Draft).” Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (in Japanese) (1996) How to Live in a Post-religious Age, Hozokan. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (1995) “Bioethics and Japanese Culture: Brain Death, Patients’ Rights, and Cultural Factors,” Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 5:87-90. Available HTTP:[198/199]

Morioka, M. (in Japanese) (1994) Reconsidering the Idea of Life, Chikuma Shobo.

Morioka, M. (1991) “The Concept of Inochi: A Philosophical Perspective on the Study of Life,” Japan Review, 2:83-115. Available HTTP:

Morioka, M. (1989) Brain Dead Person, Tokyo Shoseki. Translation available at:

Sakamoto, H. (2002) “Towards a New Global Bioethics,” The Abstracts of Seventh Tsukuba International Bioethics Roundtable, 15-18 February, 2002.

Siminoff, L. and Bloch, A. (1999) “American Attitudes and Beliefs about Brain Death: The Empirical Literature,” in S.J. Youngner and R.M. Arnold (eds.) The Definition of Death: Contemporary Controversies, Baltimore: The JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press.

Tsai, D.F.C. (2001) “How Should Doctors Approach Patients? A Confucian Reflection on Personhood,” in Journal of Medical Ethics, 27:44-50.

Umehara, T. (1994) “Descartes, Brain Death and Organ Transplants: A Japanese View,” New Perspectives Quarterly, 11. Available HTTP:

*This paper was written based on a draft for Asian Genomics: Cultural Values and Bioethical Practice, The Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, March 28-29, 2002, The Netherlands.


Post a comment on this paper / See what's already been said.