What conception of moral truth works in bioethics?

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 27 (4):403 – 416 (2002)
For the most part, philosophers have regarded moral truth as propositional and as what follows from the application of moral theory to particular problematic cases. Here I maintain that this is not a useful way of conceiving moral truth in bioethics. Rather, we are better off conceiving of moral truth as what emerges from a process of inquiry conducted in a certain manner. There are four elements to this process: (1) careful exploration of the embedded norms of medical practice, research, and delivery; (2) recognition of the irreducible plurality of ultimate moral values within and between these practices; (3) the cultivation and exercise of moral imagination; and (4) the attainment, however temporarily, of wide reflective equilibrium. This process, I argue, is reflected in the way bioethics is most fruitfully practiced, and it is further to be recommended by being true to the character of moral conscientiousness generally. This analysis suggests that moral truth is "unstable," but that this is not a bad thing. Further, the implication is drawn that moral theory would be better informed if formulated on the basis of paying more attention to lived moral practices.
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DOI 10.1076/jmep.27.4.403.8611
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