Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 11–30 | Cite as

The hedgehog and the Borg: Common morality in bioethics

Article

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.

Keywords

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

References

  1. 1.
    Berlin, Isaiah. 1953. The hedgehog and the fox: An essay on Tolstoy’s view of history. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gert, Bernard, C.M. Culver, and K.D. Clouser. 2006. Bioethics: A systematic approach, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gert, Bernard. 2004. Common morality: Deciding what to do. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gert, Bernard. 1998. (2005 rev. ed.) Morality: Its nature and justification. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gert, Bernard. 1970. The moral rules: A new rational foundation for morality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gert, Bernard, and C.M. Culver. 1982. Philosophy in medicine: Conceptual and ethical issues in medicine and psychiatry. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gert, Bernard, C.M. Culver, and K.D. Clouser. 1997. Bioethics: A return to fundamentals. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Beauchamp, Tom L., and J.F. Childress. 1979, 1983, 1989, 1993, 2001, 2009. Principles of biomedical ethics, 1st–6th eds. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Beauchamp, Tom. 2003. A defense of the common morality. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 13: 259–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Arras, John D. 2007. The way we reason now: Reflective equilibrium in bioethics. In The Oxford handbook of bioethics, ed. B. Steinbock, 46–71. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Daniels, Norman. 1996. Justice and justification: Reflective equilibrium in theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kant, Immanuel. 1963. Lectures on ethics, trans. L. Infield. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hill, T.E. 1991. Servility and self-respect. In Autonomy and self respect, ed. T. Hill, 4–18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Denis, L. 2002. Kant’s ethics and duties to oneself. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78: 321–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Brock, Dan W. 2001. Gert on the limits of morality’s requirements. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62: 435–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gert, Bernard. 2001. Reply to Dan Brock. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62: 466–470.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Rawls, John. 1971. A theory of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mill, John S. 2002. Utilitarianism, ed. G. Sher. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, ed. M. Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Lomasky, Loren. 1987. Persons, rights, and the moral community. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Collier, P. 2008. The Bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Singer, Peter. 1999. Practical ethics, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Brooks, T. (ed.). 2008. The global justice reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Scheffler, Samuel. 2001. Boundaries and allegiances: Problems of justice and responsibility in liberal thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Arras, John D. 2008. The Jewish chronic disease hospital case. In The Oxford textbook of research ethics, ed. E. Emanuel, et al., 73–79. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations