Empirical Ethics and the Special Status of Practitioners' Judgements

Ethical Perspectives 17 (2):203-230 (2010)
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Abstract
According to some proponents of an empirical medical ethics, medical ethics should take the experience, insights, and arguments of doctors and other medical practitioners as their point of departure. Medical practitioners are supposed to have ‘moral wisdom.’ In this view, the moral beliefs of medical practitioners have a special status. In sections I-IV, I discuss two possible defences of such a status. The first defence is based on the special status of the moral beliefs of the health professional as an expert in medical ethics, and the second defence on the special status of the health professional’s moral beliefs as a practitioner. The first defence is built up around the opposition between experts and laypersons, while the second defence rests on the opposition between practitioners and theorists. In sections V and VI, I examine the interrelations between empirical ethics and anti-theory in ethics. Some regard empirical ethics as a laudable alternative to theory-driven normative ethics. I explore their objections against ethical theory and ethical theorising, and conclude that they are not valid. In the last section, VII, I discuss the role of ethicists in medical practice
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