The Principlism Debate: A Critical Overview

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (1):85-105 (1995)
Clouser and Gert’s 'A Critique of Principlism’ (1990) has ignited debate over the adequacy of substituting principlism for moral theory as a means for dealing with biomedical dilemmas. Clouser and Gert argue that this sort of substitution is not adequate to the task. I examine their argument in light of recent defences of principlism on this score, those of B. Andrew Lustig (1992), David Degrazia (1992), and Beauchamp and Childress (1994). I argue that both sides in the debate have assumed differing conceptions of a moral theory that virtually guarantee their respective conclusions. These differing conceptions are motivated by antecedent epistemological commitments. The present debate over principlism is therefore inconclusive. Future discussion should focus on the underlying epistemological issues.
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