Barbara S. Bowers and Linda Migl Keyser (eds), The Sacred and the Secular in Medieval Healing: Sites, Objects and Texts (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. xv + 313, £110, hardback, ISBN: 9781472449627
Book Reviews stood mighty against the failure of rights in the wake of the Reign of Terror. Though this analysis of utilitarianism's victory is by no means new, Gere presents a critique of utilitarianism in the following chapter, by arguing the grave distributive inequalities at the heart of utilitarianism. She explores the marriage between Bentham and Malthus in the achievement of the work-house reforms of 1834. She argues these reforms foreshadowed the often-repeated mechanistic means by
... istic means by which utilitarianism can discriminate against the very poorest and most vulnerable in a society. As Gere puts simply, these people are deemed to have the very least to lose and as such are justifiably sacrificial in the pursuit of the greater good. Following from this critique, Gere continues by plotting the development of utilitarianism through the work of John Stuart Mill and Alexander Bain. She concludes that as the nineteenth century ended, utilitarianism and its mechanistic patterns of distribution based on pain and pleasure became the accepted evolutionary model that determined society's progress by British scientists, economists and philosophers. The final section, comprising the last two chapters, tells of the rise of utilitarian psychology on the other side of the Atlantic, and explores the clandestine re-emergence of utilitarianism in the fields of 'neuroeconomics' and 'behavioural economics', and the close ethical foundations these new disciplines share with the Cold War principles of medical utility. Written with verve and character, where the author's voice is unapologetically present, Gere's new book provides a stylishly forceful critique of medical utilitarianism. Her aim to uncover, critique and expose the dichotomy between pain and pleasure that drives utilitarian ethics, and its mechanistic apportioning of human society into categories of social needs and the individual's sacrificial value, is comprehensive and thoughtprovoking. This is an important new addition to the history of informed consent and medical ethics, and as a provocative and thoughtful work it stands as a must read for historians of medical ethics, bioethicists and medical practitioners alike.