Abolishing Morality in Biomedical Ethics

Bioethics (forthcoming)
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In biomedical ethics, there is widespread acceptance of moral realism, the view that moral claims express a proposition and that at least some of these propositions are true. Biomedical ethics is also in the business of attributing moral obligations, such as “S should do X”. The problem, as we argue, is that against the background of moral realism, most of these attributions are erroneous or inaccurate. The typical obligation attribution issued by a biomedical ethicist fails to truly capture the person’s actual obligations. We offer a novel argument for rife error in obligation attribution. The argument starts with the idea of an epistemic burden. Epistemic burdens are all of those epistemic obstacles one must surmount in order to achieve some aim. Epistemic burdens shape decision-making such that given two otherwise equal options, a person will choose the option that has the lesser of epistemic burdens. Epistemic burdens determine one’s potential obligations and, conversely, their non-obligations. The problem for biomedical ethics is that ethicists have little to no access to others’ epistemic burdens. Given this lack of access and the fact that epistemic burdens determine potential obligations, biomedical ethicists often can only attribute accurate obligations out of luck. This suggests that the practice of attributing obligations in biomedical ethics is rife with error. To resolve this widespread error, we argue that this practice should be abolished from the discourse of biomedical ethics.

Author Profiles

Parker Crutchfield
Western Michigan University School Of Medicine
Scott Scheall
Arizona State University


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