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Holding and Letting Go
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The social practice of forming, shaping, expressing, contesting, and maintaining personal identities makes human interaction, and therefore society, possible. Our identities give us our sense of how we are supposed to act and how we may or must treat others, so how we hold each other in our identities is of crucial moral importance. To hold someone in her identity is to treat her according to the stories one uses to make sense of who she is. Done well, holding allows individuals to flourish personally and in their interactions with others; done poorly, it diminishes their self-respect and restricts their participation in social life. If the identity is to represent accurately the person who bears it, the tissue of stories that constitute it must continue to change as the person grows and changes. Here, good holding is a matter of retaining the stories that still depict the person but letting go of the ones that no longer do. The book begins with a puzzling instance of personhood, where the work of holding someone in her identity is tragically one-sided. It then traces this work of holding and letting go over the human life span, paying special attention to its implications for bioethics. A pregnant woman starts to call her fetus into personhood. Children develop their moral agency as they learn to hold themselves and others in their identities. Ordinary adults hold and let go, sometimes well and sometimes badly. People bearing damaged or liminal identities leave others uncertain how to hold and what to let go. Identities are called into question at the end of life, and persist after the person has died. In all, the book offers a glimpse into a fascinating moral terrain that is ripe for philosophical exploration.
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About the Author

Hilde Lindemann is Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University. A Fellow of the Hastings Center and a past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, she is also a former editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, and the Hastings Center Report. She has written widely on narrative approaches to bioethics, feminist ethics, the ethics of families, and the social construction of persons and their identities.

Reviews

Lindemann manages to pull off that rarest of rare feats in academic philosophical writing: to say something that is at the same time philosophically insightful and universally relevant for beings like ourselves... * Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal * Lindemann writes with great sensitivity to the complexities of everyday identity work, and, one suspects, with no more and no less precision than the practice of personhood allows." * The Philosophers' Magazine * With her characteristic lucid and engaging prose, Hilde Lindemann combines philosophical depth with richness of concrete detail in her new book * a book that significantly extends and deepens the narrative approach to bioethics that she founded in her Damaged Identities; Narrative Repair. In Holding and Letting Go, she compellingly demonstrates how identity and personhood are substantial achievements that often depend upon the help and participation of others. This important book shows the complexity of issues concerning personal identity, intimacy, and embodiment, and their centrality to key debates in the ethics of health care throughout the life cycle. * In this wonderfully wise book Hilde Lindemann weaves stories into theory to help us see how we weave stories into lives, and how through these stories we hold each other in personhood-for good and for ill. Her stories put flesh on the dry bones of much-discussed, overly-abstracted philosophical problems; and in so doing she makes a case for philosophical theorizing as an embodied, engaged, emotionally and socially responsive practice. * Naomi Scheman, University of Minnesota * In this book Hilde Lindemann shows us that good philosophy needs good writing, but also that good writing can contribute to good philosophy... it is how moral philosophy should be done. * Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews * Holding and Letting Go is deceptively easy to read. The prose is so delightful and the observations so incisive that it is difficult to put it down. But a great deal of hard philosophical work is being done in these pages, and there is intricate engagement with a wide range of important contemporary positions. What emerges is a rich, new structure for thinking about the nature of identity and its relation to the kinds of ethical dilemmas and difficulties we face every day. We are shown not just a compelling and thought-provoking set of views about these issues, but a new way of thinking about them, one that promises to shed some light where things have been notoriously opaque... Holding and Letting Go is a sophisticated, tender-hearted, and clear-eyed view of persons that provides original and compelling insights into what we are and why it matters. We will be engaging with it for a long time to come. * Hypatia * A valuable addition to the literature on personhood and identity. Like most such texts, it recognizes the ambiguity of the concepts. However, while other texts then try to clarify and fix the ambiguity, Lindemann goes in another direction. She embraces it by presenting and examining the many ways in which practices of social connection, interaction, and disconnection shape, preserve, and even damage an individual's personal and social identity...In an age where the daily news contains stories of murder, rape, and persecution of humans by humans for reasons related to an inability or unwillingness to tolerate others for who they are, Lindemann provides no platitudes. Rather, she calls attention to the real, rollup-your-sleeves phroenetic work of personhood that can only be approached in steps and measured by effort. Her book resonates long after the last page is turned. * Constance K. Perry, International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics *

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