The internal morality of medicine: a constructivist approach

Synthese 196 (11):4449-4467 (2019)
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Physicians frequently ask whether they should give patients what they want, usually when there are considerations pointing against doing so, such as medicine’s values and physicians’ obligations. It has been argued that the source of medicine’s values and physicians’ obligations lies in what has been dubbed “the internal morality of medicine”: medicine is a practice with an end and norms that are definitive of this practice and that determine what physicians ought to do qua physicians. In this paper, I defend the claim that medicine requires a morality that is internal to its practice, while rejecting the prevalent characterization of this morality and offering an alternative one. My approach to the internal morality of medicine is constructivist in nature: the norms of medicine are constructed by medical professionals, other professionals, and patients, given medicine’s end of “benefitting patients in need of prima facie medical treatment and care.” I make the case that patients should be involved in the construction of medicine’s morality not only because they have knowledge that is relevant to the internal morality of medicine—namely, their own values and preferences—but also because medicine is an inherently relational enterprise: in medicine the relationship between physician and patient is a constitutive component of the craft itself. The framework I propose provides an authoritative morality for medicine, while allowing for the incorporation, into that very morality, of qualified deference to patient values.

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Nir Ben-Moshe
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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