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Medicine, Metaphysics And Morals Essay

2984 words - 12 pages

Medicine, Metaphysics and Morals

ABSTRACT: Moral decisions concerning what ought to be done always assume metaphysical presuppositions concerning the way the world is. In the field of biomedical ethics, some of the metaphysical presuppositions underlying many current discussions of issues of life and death seem particularly implausible. These include our assumption of the reality of social atomism and our beliefs relating to the possibility of autonomy. Given the implausibility of these two assumptions, many discussions have focused our attention on the wrong issues by reducing questions of alternative social practices to questions of individual preferences. Far from facilitating intelligent solutions to our problems, this merely clouds the issues involved.

Obviously decisions about what ought to be done in any given circumstance presuppose the acceptance of beliefs regarding what can in fact be done. In short moral judgments presuppose metaphysical commitments, beliefs about the way the world is. Unfortunately, social pressures in most modern societies militate against the open admission of any metaphysical commitments on the part of persons involved in making moral judgments in the field of applied ethics known as biomedical ethics. Ethical decisions in the area of medicine need to be seen as acceptable to as large a segment of the community as possible. However, since the community in most modern societies is remarkably heterogeneous with respect to assumptions concerning the way the world is, any explicit reference to metaphysical assumptions on the part of one discussing biomedical ethics is apt to be challenged by at least some members of the community. Hence those involved in discussions of biomedical ethics tend to do so without any explicit admission of the metaphysical presuppositions underlying their treatment of various issues. However, the refusal to state metaphysical presuppositions cannot justify the conclusion that no such presuppositions are involved in a discussion. Indeed the situation of the ethicist with regard to metaphysical presuppositions seems roughly analogous to the situation of the biologist as regards the concept of teleology. Von Brueck is alleged to have remarked, "Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live, yet he is ashamed to show himself in public with her." (1) Analogously one might maintain" Metaphysics is a person without whom no ethicist can reach conclusions, yet he or she is ashamed to be seen in public with that person." Regretably the ethicist’s reluctance to admit her relationship to metaphysical presuppositions precludes the consideration of the plausibility of the ethicists conclusions. Since these conclusions may have considerable social impact this tendency to operate from hidden assumptions is unfortunate to say the least. In what follows I propose to examine the metaphysical presuppositions to be found in some common arguments in the field of biomedical ethics and to raise the...

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