Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 55–68 | Cite as

Common morality and moral reform

  • K. A. WallaceEmail author


The idea of moral reform requires that morality be more than a description of what people do value, for there has to be some measure against which to assess progress. Otherwise, any change is not reform, but simply difference. Therefore, I discuss moral reform in relation to two prescriptive approaches to common morality, which I distinguish as the foundational and the pragmatic. A foundational approach to common morality (e.g., Bernard Gert’s) suggests that there is no reform of morality, but of beliefs, values, customs, and practices so as to conform with an unchanging, foundational morality. If, however, there were revision in its foundation (e.g., in rationality), then reform in morality itself would be possible. On a pragmatic view, on the other hand, common morality is relative to human flourishing, and its justification consists in its effectiveness in promoting flourishing. Morality is dependent on what in fact does promote human flourishing and therefore, could be reformed. However, a pragmatic approach, which appears more open to the possibility of moral reform, would need a more robust account of norms by which reform is measured.


Morality Common morality Moral reform Gert Beauchamp Childress Foundational Pragmatic Pragmatism Ethics 



This article was written in part while I was a Visiting Scholar in the Philosophy Department at Dartmouth College and I am grateful for that support. Thanks also to Jed and Perry Williamson for their hospitality, to the members of the Central European Pragmatist Forum for helpful discussions about pragmatism, and to Carson Strong for insightful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA

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