Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 11-30

First online:

The hedgehog and the Borg: Common morality in bioethics

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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.


Common morality Reflective equilibrium Moral justification Duties to others Moral change Gert Beauchamp Childress