David DeGrazia and Tom L. Beauchamp
What distinctive contributions does philosophy provide to medical ethics? Philosophy's most prominent and influential contribution, on which this chapter focuses, is to provide the critical resources of ethical theory and methodology in ethics.1 The ambition of ethical theory is to provide an adequate normative framework for addressing the problems of moral life. Usually such a framework takes the form of a theory of right action, but it may take the form of a theory of good character (which is sometimes helpful in determining right action). The ambition of methodology in ethics, meanwhile, is to provide a procedure or method (1) for producing such a normative framework, (2) for using such a framework once it has been identified, or (3) for navigating the complexities of moral life in the absence of such a framework.
As this book concerns methods in medical ethics, this chapter examines philosophicalmethods in medical ethics. We will explore five leading methods, or models, for doing the work of moral reasoning, with special attention to the problems of medical ethics. Our discussion of particular ethical theories will be relatively compressed, because the application of established ethical theories represents only one of the five methods we explore.
The chapter begins with a section entitled “The Methods of Philosophical Medical Ethics,” in which each method or model is described in a subsection and then subjected to one or more important criticisms in a subsection that immediately follows. Following some concluding comments, the chapter ends with a brief section on philosophical training in medical ethics and on leading scholarly resources in the field.
Moral philosophers have traditionally aspired to normative theories of what is right or wrong that are set out in the most general terms. But it is increasingly questioned whether such general theories can be fruitfully applied in specific cases and contexts. Partly for this reason, it is controversial which philosophical methods best achieve the objectives of “applied ethics” and “practical ethics”—terms that have come into vogue as philosophical ethics has increased its interest in addressing such practical issues as abortion, the use of research subjects, and genetic engineering.