, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 69-85

Freestanding Pragmatism in Law and Bioethics

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Abstract

This paper represents the first installment of alarger project devoted to the relevance of pragmatism forbioethics. One self-consciously pragmatist move would be toreturn to the classical pragmatist canon of Peirce, James andDewey in search of substantive doctrines or methodologicalapproaches that might be applied to current bioethicalcontroversies. Another pragmatist (or neopragmatist) move wouldbe to subject the regnant principlist paradigm to Richard Rorty'ssubversive assaults on foundationalism in epistemology andethics. A third pragmatist method, dubbed ``freestandingpragmatism'' by its proponents, embraces a ``pragmatist'' approachto practical reasoning without discernable moorings either to theclassical canon or to Rorty's neopragmatism. This thirdpragmatist approach to method in practical ethics is the subjectof this article. I begin with an examination of freestandingpragmatism in the theory of judicial decision making. I arguethat this version of legal pragmatism – so described on account ofits commitments to contextualism, instrumentalism, eclecticism,and freedom from grand theory – bears a striking resemblance tomuch self-described pragmatist work in bioethics today. Ifurther argue that if this is what we mean by ``pragmatism,'' thenin a certain sense ``we are all pragmatists now.''