Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics

Living Edition
| Editors: Henk ten Have


  • M. Patrão NevesEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-05544-2_119-1


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.


Adela Cortina Coincidence Compromise Contractualism Deliberation Global bioethics John Rawls Jürgen Habermas Public reason Pluralism 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Cortina, A. (1995). La educación del hombre y del ciudadano. Revista Iberoamericana de Educación: Educación y Democracia, 7, 41–63.Google Scholar
  2. Habermas, J. (1990a). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice [TJ]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Revised edition, 1999. The page citations in this entry are to the 1971 edition).Google Scholar
  4. Rawls, J. (2001). In E. Kelly (Ed.), Justice as fairness: A restatement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Further Readings

  1. Forst, R. (2002). Contexts of justice. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. Habermas, J. (1990b). Ethics, politics and history, from an interview conducted by Jean-Marc Ferry. In D. Rasmussen (Ed.), Philosophy and social criticism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Rawls, J. (1987). The idea of an overlapping consensus. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 7, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioethics Research Centre, Bioethics InstituteCatholic University of PortugalPortoPortugal