Culture and Bioethics:
Where Ethics and Mores Meet
Edmund D. Pellegrino
“CULTURE” is perhaps the slipperiest concept in the social sciences.1 Some years ago, Kroeber and Kluckhohn collected 164 definitions.2 Of the many definitions available, we believe Kuper best captures the connotations of the word in his crisp characterization of culture as a “collective cast of mind.”3
In this book we have taken a “collective cast of mind”to be a summation of all those things that give identity to persons, nations, ethnic groups, and organizations. Under this rubric we include all those things humans value, those things that define them as who they are, what they perceive themselves to be and want to be. These are the things they value enough to work for, live for, and die for. These are things that define their view of the good life and shape their morals, that is, their judgments of right and wrong, good and evil.
Every human and every group has its own perception of a specific configuration of values and beliefs that reflects its history, life experiences, and aspirations. Humans belong to many “cultures” in this sense: to a nation, family, club, political party, and so on. No two persons have precisely the same “cast of mind” as the others who share their “culture.” However, it is in those things that are held in common that the profile of a culture is established.
African Americans, therefore, like all Americans, have a collective cast of mind on some things and individualized perspectives on many others. The