Legislation on Ethical Issues: Towards an Interactive Paradigm

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3 (1):57 - 75 (2000)
In this article, we sketch a new approach to law and ethics. The traditional paradigm, exemplified in the debate on liberal moralism, becomes increasingly inadequate. Its basic assumptions are that there are clear moral norms of positive or critical morality, and that making statutory norms is an effective method to have citizens conform to those norms. However, for many ethical issues that are on the legislative agenda, e.g. with respect to bioethics and anti-discrimination law, the moral norms are controversial, vague or still evolving. Moreover, law proves not to be a very effective instrument. Therefore, we need a new paradigm, both for descriptive and for normative analysis. This interactive paradigm, as a normative position, can be summarised in two theses. The process of legislation on ethical issues should be structured as a process of interaction between the legislature and society or relevant sectors of society, so that the development of new moral norms and the development of new legal norms may reinforce each other. And legislation on ethical issues should be designed in such a way that it is an effective form of communication which, moreover, facilitates an ongoing moral debate and an ongoing reflection on such issues, because this is the best method to ensure that the practice remains oriented to the ideals and values the law tries to realise.
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