What would John Dewey do? The promises and perils of pragmatic bioethics

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 25 (1):77 – 106 (2000)
Abstract
Recent work done at the intersection of classical American pragmatism and bioethics promises much: a clarified self-understanding for bioethics, a modus vivendi for progress, and liberation from misguided and misguiding theories and principles. The revival of pragmatism outside bioethics in the past twenty years, however, has been of a distinctly anti-realist orientation. Richard Rorty, for example, has urged that there is no objective truth or good for philosophy to be concerned with. I ask whether the work in Pragmatic Bioethics follows this perilous Rortyan trend. It will move towards anti-realism if its account of the good abandons any notion of truth or objectivity, and if, in its discussion of specific problems, it divides these problems into public and the private, urging consensus as the goal of the one, and an unconstrained notion of happiness as the goal of the other. In a final section, I suggest that bioethics done in the spirit of Royce's Philosophy of Loyalty might have much to offer to those dissatisfied with anti-realism.
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