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The identification of signs and typology of moral residue is a challenging task as it follows the feeling of guilt and distress1. While utilizing concepts and frames used in Plato’s dialogues and Greek tragedies and comedies, it is possible to propose the exploration of individual cases in the context of these narrative frames. The purpose of this paper is to explain how it is possible to identify and discuss the typology of the moral residue with references to individual cases and stories of sickness, using the concepts and problems presented in Plato’s dialogues and Greek tragedies and comedies and as narrative frames.
Plato’s Dialogue and Aporetic Resolution
The moral residue is often related to the medical ignorance and associated medical errors when physicians cause harm to mothers and newborns, when significant symptoms are missed or confused, and when the incorrect diagnosis is proposed. Such individuals’ stories should be discussed in the context of medical ignorance because ignorance means that a person knows that there is something that he or she does not know, and this person also assumes that he or she has the knowledge regarding the fact that is really not understood or known. There are also stereotypes and denials in the knowledge of medical workers as well. The result of actions based on such knowledge is an error and the following moral residue. The appropriate frame is presented in Plato’s Sophist where he states that a physician “must be purged of his prejudices first and made to think that he knows only what he knows, and no more”2. Plato’s aporetic dialogues provide direct frames for such situations because characters in these dialogues finally accept the fact that they do not know anything about the phenomenon or situation. Any their response to the problem can be unsatisfactory under certain conditions, and this response can be tested in terms of morality with references to elenchus (moral testing) as the method.
Greek Tragedy and Emotional Resolution
In contrast to Plato’s approach and the person’s understanding that he can do only that he knows, the moral residue and conflict discussed from the perspective of the Greek tragedy should be considered in the context of the person’s choice. Such cases when medical researchers choose not to explain the consequences of studies for participants or accept the presence of the medical error influencing the following inferences should be analyzed from the perspective of the emotional resolution. Thus, the person chooses what to do and how to cope with his or her feelings. In Oedipus the King, Sophocles describes how the character chooses to be emotionally involved in resolving the conflict3. However, the moral residue can be avoided if the person chooses to control emotions, as it is in Euripides’s Hecuba4. In the first case, the understanding of hamartia (mistake) guides the person’s actions. Therefore, real cases should be discussed from the perspective of the individuals’ choice regarding feeling the guilt or controlling emotions and presence or absence of moral residue.
Greek Comedy and the Comic Form of Dramatization
The medical situations to which patients do not want to draw the attention of both physicians and relatives can cause individuals feeling uncomfortable and even suffering. The narrative approach to analyzing this situation is associated with recognizing the pain and tragedy of the experience through comic forms proposed by Aristophanes in his Birds and The Frogs that discuss the moral problems in the context of relations in the society5. While using this framework, it is possible to answer the question why both patients and physicians can avoid discussing rather intimate details or ‘strange’ aspects, and how such behavior can cause the further development of the moral residue.
The proposed narrative approaches demonstrate that moral residue is a problem that can be resolved in spite of traditional views that it cannot be addressed directly. The reason is in a difference of approaching the person’s guilt and choice. Therefore, the moral residue should be discussed in the context of conflicts presented in the Greek works.
Aristophanes. The Birds and Other Plays. London: Penguin, 2013.
Euripides. Hecuba. New York: Focus Pub. Company, 2006.
Plato. Sophist. New York: Trajectory Inc., 2014.
Solbakk, Jan Helge. “Therapeutic Doubt and Moral Dialogue.” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 29, no. 1 (2004): 93-118.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. New York: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
- Jan Helge Solbakk, “Therapeutic Doubt and Moral Dialogue,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 29, no. 1 (2004): 95.
- Plato, Sophist (New York: Trajectory Inc., 2014), 112.
- Sophocles, Oedipus the King (New York: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 24.
- Euripides, Hecuba (New York: Focus Pub. Company, 2006), 32.
- Aristophanes, The Birds and Other Plays (London: Penguin, 2013), 28, 59.