Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 10–17 | Cite as

Don't Blame the ‘Bio’ — Blame the ‘Ethics’: Varieties of (bio) ethics and the challenge of pluralism

  • Max Charlesworth


We tend to think that the difficulties in bioethics spring from the novel and alarming issues that arise due to discoveries in the new biosciences and biotechnologies. But many of the crucial difficulties in bioethics arise from the assumptions we make about ethics. This paper offers a brief overview of bioethics, and relates ethical ‘principlism’ to ‘ethical fundamentalism’. It then reviews some alternative approaches that have emerged during the second phase of bioethics, and argues for a neo-Aristotelian approach. Misconceptions about ethical principles and ethical reasoning not only distort our views of the business of bioethics, but they also prevent us from facing up to the formidable problems posed by ethical pluralism in so-called liberal societies.


Ethical theory principal-based ethics religion moral development cultural diversity 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Devettere RJ. Practical decision-making in healthcare ethics. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press; 1995.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jonson A. American moralism and the origins of bioethics in the United States. J Med Philos 1991; 16(1): 113–30.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nicomachean ethics. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin; 1976.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Nussbaum M. The fragility of goodness: luck and ethics in Greek tragedy and philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1990.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    O'Neill, O. Autonomy and trust in bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2002.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Toulmin S. The tyranny of principles. Hastings Center Report 1981: 11: 31–39.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Reich W. The search for moral meaning: a new bioethics. In: Kemp P, editor. Bioethics and biolaw. Vol 1. Copenhagen: Centre for Ethics and Law, Rhodos Publishers; 2000. p. 41–61.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Charon R. Narrative contributions to medical ethics. In: DuBose E, editor. A matter of principles? Ferment in U.S. bioethics. Washington: Trinity Press; 1994. p. 260–283.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Komesaroff PA. Troubled bodies: critical perspectives on postmodernism, medical ethics, and the body. Durham: Duke University Press; 1995.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Nussbaum M. Upheavals of thought: the intelligence of the emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2001.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Lovibond S Ethical formation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; 2001.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    McDowell J. Eudaimonism and moral realism in Aristotle's ethics. In: Heineman R, editor. Aristotle and moral realism. London: UCL Press; 1995. p. 201–218.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hursthouse R. On virtue ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1999.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kant's Opus postumum. Adickes E, editor. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard; 1920.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Mill JS. On liberty. McCallum R, editor. Oxford: Blackwell; 1946.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Report of the committee on homosexual offences and prostitution (Wolfenden committee). London: HMSO; 1957.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Lyotard JF. The postmodern condition. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 1982.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sartre JP. Being and nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology. Barnes HE, translator. London: Methuen; 1969.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Callahan D. Can the moral commons survive autonomy? Hastings Center Report 1996; 26(6):41–2.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Verspieren P. Apprehension des problèmes de la bioéthique. Après Demain 1984; 266: 37–38.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Glendon MA. A world made new: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House; 2001.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Weston B, Falk R, Charlesworth H, editors. Supplement of basic documents in international law and world order. USA; St. Paul; 1997.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The documents of Vatican II. Abbott W, editor. London: Geoffrey Chapman; 1995. p. 672–700.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Charlesworth M. Religious Inventions: The making of a Christian ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1997.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Max Charlesworth
    • 1
  1. 1.Deakin UniversityAustralia

Personalised recommendations