Consensus is one of the major challenges in today’s democratic societies, engaging all citizens and regarding all domains of public activity. Bioethics is one of those domains.
Contemporary democracies are dominated by a pluralism of ideas and practices, dictated by individual freedoms and which gives rise to conflicts. These conflicts, in the absence of a superior authority recognized by all, can only be solved by consensus building, and society can only aspire to a peaceful coexistence, respecting individual rights and liberties, if evermore broader and more substantial consensuses are reached.
Despite some major examples of the importance of consensus building throughout history, most especially those developed within contractualist theories from the seventeenth century onward, it is in contemporaneity that theories of consensus are more pressingly proposed as a practical way to solve conflicts and promote governance at all levels of human activities.
John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas are contemporary philosophers who extensively and profoundly developed theories of consensus. Their theories represent two different moral approaches and two different deliberation models to consensus building in democratic societies, both trying to go beyond the theoretical level and focusing on the conditions and procedures necessary to guarantee the universal acceptance of consensus. Both philosophers are concerned not only with their own ethical theory but also, at the practical level, with its effectiveness.
A third perspective on consensus by Adela Cortina is introduced as a pertinent response to some constraints that Rawls’ and Habermas’ theories present.
KeywordsAdela Cortina Coincidence Compromise Contractualism Deliberation Global bioethics John Rawls Jürgen Habermas Public reason Pluralism
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