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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bioethics: why philosophy is essential for progress

By Julian Savulescu
J Med Ethics 2015;41:28-33 doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102284

Here is an excerpt:

Ethics is concerned with norms and values. Its subject matter is the way the world ought to be or should be. It is about good and bad, right and wrong. Science is about the way the world is, was, will be, could be, would be. Ethics is about values; science is about facts. (Strictly, science is about natural facts. On realist views of ethics, ethics is about normative or evaluative facts.)

David Hume famously described this ‘fact–value’ or ‘is–ought’ distinction. One of his greatest contributions to ethics was to observe that values cannot be read straight off natural facts. To do so is what GE Moore described as the naturalistic fallacy. Science and ethics are completely different kinds of enterprises.

This distinction is essential to understanding the failure of much of bioethics and medical ethics. Even if science were complete and we knew everything about the world and ourselves, it would not answer the ethical questions of how we should live or whether equality is more important than maximising the good, or when we should die. The stated basis of the National Health Service is egalitarianism—equal treatment for equal need. But that is a highly contestable ethical principle.

The entire article is here.