What is an oath and why should a physician swear one?

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 20 (4):329-346 (1999)
While there has been much discussion about the role of oaths in medical ethics, this discussion has previously centered on the content of various oaths. Little conceptual work has been done to clarify what an oath is, or to show how an oath differs from a promise or a code of ethics, or to explore what general role oath-taking by physicians might play in medical ethics. Oaths, like promises, are performative utterances. But oaths are generally characterized by their greater moral weight compared with promises, their public character, their validation by transcendent appeal, the involvement of the personhood of the swearer, the prescription of consequences for failure to uphold their contents, the generality of the scope of their contents, the prolonged time frame of the commitment, the fact that their moral force remains binding in spite of failures on the part of those to whom the swearer makes the commitment, and the fact that interpersonal fidelity is the moral hallmark of the commitment of the swearer. Oaths are also distinct from codes. Codes are collections of specific moral rules. Codes are not performative utterances. They do not commit future intentions and do not involve the personhood of the one enjoined by the code. Recent attacks on oath-taking by physicians are discussed. Two arguments in favor of oath-taking are presented: one on the basis of the nature of medicine as a profession and the other on the basis of rule-utilitarian considerations. No attempt is made to define which oath a physician should swear.
Keywords oaths  codes  medical ethics  physicians  profession
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1023/A:1009968512510
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,280
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

46 ( #103,815 of 1,932,507 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

17 ( #40,212 of 1,932,507 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.