The epistemology and ethics of consensus: Uses and misuses of 'ethical' expertise

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (4):409-426 (1991)
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In this paper I examine the epistemology and ethics of consensus, focusing on the ways in which decision makers use/misuse ethical expertise. The major questions I raise and tentative answers I give are the following: First, are the ‘experts’ really experts? My tentative answer is that they are bona fide experts who often represent specific interest groups. Second, is the experts' authority merely epistemological or is it also ethical? My tentative answer is that the experts' authority consists not only in their command over specific matters of fact and/or value, but also in their ability to achieve ‘consensus’ about what is ‘true’/‘false’, or ‘right’/‘wrong’. Third, should the authority of expertise be limited? My tentative answer is that it should be limited in the area of facts but especially in the area of values. Persons who are ethics ‘experts’ must be particularly careful to practice an ethics of persuasion rather than an ethics of compulsion . Their role is not to force their group consensus upon decision makers' individual moral perceptions and deliberations; rather it is to help decision makers come to their own conclusions about what they ought to do. Keywords: authority of expertise, consensus, ethics committees, ethics of persuasion, NIH consensus development conferences CiteULike Connotea What's this?



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