, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 11-30

The hedgehog and the Borg: Common morality in bioethics

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Abstract

In this commentary, I critically discuss the respective views of Gert and Beauchamp–Childress on the nature of so-called common morality and its promise for enriching ethical reflection within the field of bioethics. Although I endorse Beauchamp and Childress’ shift from an emphasis on ethical theory as the source of moral norms to an emphasis on common morality, I question whether rouging up common morality to make it look like some sort of ultimate and universal foundation for morality, untouched by the dialectics of time and reflective equilibrium, was an equally good move. As for Gert’s magisterial conception of common morality, I conclude that certain elements of his system are controversial at best and woefully inadequate at worst. He has a tendency to find in common morality what he himself put there, and his highly restricted conception of duties of assistance strikes this reader as ad hoc, inadequately defended, and unworthy of a project whose goal is to lessen the amount of misery in the world.

Thanks to Sahar Akhtar, Tom Beauchamp, Jim Childress, Bernard Gert, Bonnie Steinbock, and Carson Strong for helpful discussion and comments on previous drafts of this paper.