Conditioning Principles: On Bioethics and The Problem of Ableism

In Elizabeth Victor & Laura K. Guidry-Grimes (eds.), Applying Nonideal Theory to Bioethics: Living and Dying in a Nonideal World. Springer. pp. 99-118 (2021)
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Abstract

This paper has two goals. The first is to argue that the field of bioethics in general and the literature on ideal vs. nonideal theory in particular has underemphasized a primary problem for normative theorizing: the role of conditioning principles. I define these as principles that implicitly or explicitly ground, limit, or otherwise determine the construction and function of other principles, and, as a result, profoundly impact concept formation, perception, judgment, and action, et al. The second is to demonstrate that ableism is one such conditioning principle and that it undermines the field of bioethics and the practice of biomedicine from achieving the aim of justice as fairness. After briefly addressing the history and critiques of principlism in bioethics, I lay out and defend my account of conditioning principles. I then argue that ableism is one such principle and demonstrate it at work through an analysis of a storied debate between Eva Kittay, Peter Singer, and Jeff McMahan. In conclusion, I contend that the ethical and philosophical dangers of conditioning principles are too easily exacerbated by ideal theory frameworks, and I do so by demonstrating how they are especially liable to generate epistemic injustice, especially contributory and hermeneutical injustice.

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Joel Michael Reynolds
Georgetown University

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