Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Moral Philosophy Biologized? (from the Editor)

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Moral Philosophy Biologized? (from the Editor)

Article excerpt

There is a strand of publicly prominent bioethics--found in the new President's Council on Bioethics and in a recent book by Frances Fukuyama, who is also a member of the council--that strives to take nature seriously. How seriously to take this strand of bioethics is an open question, of course. But it is philosophically intriguing, anyway, to see Fukuyama and the council trying to make sense of "human nature" in a way that emphasizes the nature in it, rather than whatever might elevate humans above nature. Most Western moral philosophy has understood moral obligations as requiring us to fight against our natural urges--so in this way requiring a fight against nature. It's always been hard to see how morality can also incorporate injunctions to let nature take its course, or to treat nature with respect or reverence.

Yet the turn toward the natural is not really a new thing in bioethics. As noted by the lead article in this issue of the Report, a special valuation of life itself--of biological existence, whether or not the unique features of human existence accompany it--was often regarded as a core element of medical ethics up until bioethicists and others began laying out the attractions of patient autonomy. This belief, argue authors Martin Gunderson and David Mayo, still lurks behind objections to physician-assisted suicide, including some that seem on their face not to involve it. Gunderson and Mayo would like to see it put aside.

Two other articles in this issue remind us of another, very early strand in bioethics that sought to take nature seriously, although this strand never enjoyed much public prominence. …

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