Balancing Principles in Beauchamp and Childress

The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 4:191-196 (1998)
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Abstract

In the latest edition of Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Tom Beauchamp and James Childress provide an expanded discussion of the ethical theory underlying their treatment of issues in medical ethics. Balancing judgements remain central to their method, as does the contention that such judgements are more than intuitive. This theory is developed precisely in response to the common skepticism directed at "principlism" in medical ethics. Such skepticism includes the claim that moral reasoning comes to a dead halt when confronted by competing conflicts between moral norms in a given pluralistic situation. In this paper, I use examples from the text to show that despite the authors’s arguments to the contrary, balancing judgements are the product of unreasoned intuitions. Given the necessity of some such judgements in any principle-based system, my argument highlights the degree to which principled ethical reasoning rests upon an arational core.

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Tom Tomlinson
Michigan State University

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