The Foundations of Bio ethics:
Rethinking the Meaning of Morality
H. TRISTRAM ENGELHARDT, JR.
In early I960, I took a leave of absence from medical school to study philosophy. From a surgical clerkship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans 1 came to Klaus Hartmann's lectures on Immanuel Kant (Engelhardt 1994a). With me I brought philosophical puzzles, which were recast through explorations of Kant, Hegel, and Husserl. My medical-moral concerns were placed within foundational reflections on the nature of morality and metaphysics, as well as the development of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thought. When I returned to complete my doctorate in medicine and begin research in the history of medicine, I found myself in 1971 in a concurrent academic position at Tulane, which included giving lectures on medical morality and the philosophy of medicine.' During this period, a news magazine report concerning the founding of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics came to my attention. A letter of inquiry, however, produced no response. This failure to engage the new Kennedy Institute's interest proved decisive. I continued to pursue issues in Continental philosophy (Engelhardt 1973a; Schutz and Luckmann 1973), as well as in the history and philosophy of medicine (Engelhardt 1975). My research had become more foundational than practical, just as the field of medical moral reflection was about to be baptized “bioethics.”
This chapter places bioethics in terms of cultural developments that led to the emergence of secular, medical, moral reflections as a distinct Held of intellectual investigation some thirty years ago. The contemporary phenomenon of bioethics, so I argue, should be understood as a late-modern intellectual undertaking about to go aground on the reefs of postmodernity. In this account, 1 give primary attention to The