Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Play Time

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Play Time

Article excerpt

Watch a three-year-old play. As she enacts Ariel and Barbie's judo match over which will marry Prince, or trudges through the living room scolding a pink polka-dotted bunny in a stroller, or explains to you that four-foot-tall Dora is in time out because she's been hitting the other kids with a hammer--well, you may be laughing, but chances are she's not.

When you're three, play is a serious, cathartic process aimed at sorting out and bringing under tenuous control the often overwhelming emotional cues thrown at you each day. Children tease out what scares them--say, jealousy, or blame, or violent anger--and nail it down in particular scenarios that allow them to follow a feeling to its natural conclusions without the ramifications of reality. This is how they develop skills like empathy and abstract thinking.

As we age, this process doesn't change--it just becomes more complex, along with the world around us and our understanding of it. The questions get more daunting, the possibilities more exciting and frightening, and the path to the conclusions infinitely more convoluted. Working through all this becomes an interior progression of imagination, but can still feel serious and cathartic. This is nowhere more true than in bioethics, which is all about posing overwhelming questions and trying to imagine the particular scenarios that might play out, sometimes scaring ourselves silly or breaking our hearts over the result. Doing this can be both pleasurably satisfying and philosophically important. For an example of the latter, see this issue's lead article, in which Alex John London and Kevin Zollman imagine what might unfold if we attempt to put the fair benefits approach to international research into practice. …

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