Theory Without Theories: Well-Being, Ethics, and Medicine

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 46 (6):656-683 (2021)
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Medical ethics would be better if people were taught to think more clearly about well-being or the concept of what is good for a person. Yet for a variety of reasons, bioethicists have generally paid little attention to this concept. Here, I argue, first, that focusing on general theories of welfare is not useful for practical medical ethics. I argue, second, for what I call the “theory-without-theories approach” to welfare in practical contexts. The first element of this approach is a focus on examining important and relatively uncontroversial constituents of welfare as opposed to general theories. The second key element is a framework for thinking about choice in relation to welfare, a framework I refer to as “the mild objectivity framework.” I conclude with illustrations of the way in which the “theory without theories approach” can improve thinking in medicine.
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