The view from somewhere: Moral judgment in bioethics
Wildes, Kevin William
Doctor of Philosophy
Secular bioethics has been involved in the resolution of moral controversies both in the clinic and in the discussion of public policy and there are three models used to justify moral judgments in bioethics. The first is the foundational model which seeks to build a theoretical account of the moral life. The foundational project must confront two difficulties. First, it must come to terms with the dilemma that there is no universal account of the nature of moral reason. Second, each foundational account requires some ranking of moral values if it is to make content-full judgments. Absent a universal moral narrative there is no canonical ranking of values. Two attempts to circumvent these foundational dilemmas have been prominent in bioethics. The first is the middle level principle approach. This model appeals to a set of principles to justify moral judgments. The model assumes that these principles are shared and that they can resolve moral dilemmas without requiring the resolution of the foundational questions. The model faces three difficulties. First there is no conclusive argument as to why this list of principles should be canonical. Second, it is not clear how the principles are related to one another. Third, the principles, without foundations, are ambiguous in their meaning. Another attempt to avoid foundational dilemmas is the hope of Jonsen and Toulmin to revive some model of casuistry. Jonsen and Toulmin select the model of Roman Catholic casuistry in the High Middle Ages. Yet they fail to take full account of the moral values and moral authority which governed this practice of casuistry. Both casuistry and principlism argue that we can reach agreement on moral controversies without appeal to foundations. In carefully examining what is agreed to one comes to see that the assertion of agreement is a sham. It becomes clear that secular discourse in bioethics must rely on a procedural morality which is empty of content. Content-full moral judgments can only be understood and accepted within particular moral communities.