In praise of unprincipled ethics

John M. Harris

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    In this paper a plea is made for an unprincipled approach to biomedical ethics, unprincipled of course just in the sense that the four principles are neither the start nor the end of the process of ethical reflection. While the four principles constitute a useful "checklist" approach to bioethics for those new to the field, and possibly for ethics committees without substantial ethical expertise approaching new problems, it is an approach which if followed by the bioethics community as a whole would, the author believes, lead to sterility and uniformity of approach of a quite mindbogglingly boring kind. Moreover, much of bioethics is not concerned with identifying the principles or values appropriate to a particular issue, but rather involves analysing the arguments that are so often already in play and which present themselves as offering solutions in one direction or another. Here, as I try to show in discussion of these four scenarios, the principles allow massive scope in interpretation and are, frankly, not wonderful as a means of detecting errors and inconsistencies in argument.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)303-306
    Number of pages3
    JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


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