Possibilities of consensus: Toward democratic moral discourse

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (4):447-463 (1991)
Abstract
The concept of consensus is often appealed to in discussions of biomedical ethics and applied ethics, and it plays an important role in many influential ethical theories. Consensus is an especially influential notion among theorists who reject ethical realism and who frame ethics as a practice of discourse rather than a body of objective knowledge. It is also a practically important notion when moral decision making is subject to bureaucratic organization and oversight, as is increasingly becoming the case in medicine. Two models of consensus are examined and criticized: pluralistic consensus and overlapping consensus. As an alternative to these models, the paper argues that consensus refers to the dialogic aspects of a broader normative conception of democratic moral agency. When the preconditions for that dialogic democratic practice are met, consensus has a justificatory role in ethics; when they are not, consensus, as distinct from mere agreement, does not emerge and can have no moral authority. Keywords: applied ethics, bioethics, consensus, contract theory, democracy, discourse ethics, liberalism CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this?
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