Theoretical Medicine

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 113–131 | Cite as

The hyperreality of clinical ethics: A unitary theory and hermeneutics

  • Henk Ten Have


Medical ethics nowadays is dominated by a conception of ethics as the application of moral theories and principles. This conception is criticized for its depreciation of the internal morality of medical practice and its narrow view of external morality. This view reflects both a lack of interest in the empirical realities of medicine and a neglect of the socio-cultural value-contexts of medical ethical issues, including the creative development of a broader philosophical framework for a practicable medical ethics. Several alternative approaches and conceptions have been proposed. The unified clinical ethics theory, developed by Graber and Thomasma, is an interesting attempt to synthesize these alternative approaches. It correctly identifies as the crucial problem the present disconnectedness of medical ethics from theoretical philosophy as well as the practice of medicine. In this paper, however, it is argued that the unitary theory should take more serious attention to the hermeneutic character of medicine as well as ethics. This implies that the unitary theory must in fact transform itself into aninterpretive clinical ethics theory. The theoretical characteristics and practical consequences of an interpretive theory of medical ethics are discussed in the present paper.

Key words

clinical ethics interpretive clinical ethics theory unitary theory hermeneutics theory and practice in ethics philosophy of medicine 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henk Ten Have
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Medical Sciences, Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of MedicineKatholieke Universiteit NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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