The Rise of Empirical Research in Medical Ethics: A MacIntyrean Critique and Proposal
Lawrence, Ryan E
Curlin, Farr A
The Journal of medicine and philosophy 2011 Apr; 36(2): 206-16
Hume's is/ought distinction has long limited the role of empirical research in ethics, saying that data about what something is cannot yield conclusions about the way things ought to be. However, interest in empirical research in ethics has been growing despite this countervailing principle. We attribute some of this increased interest to a conceptual breakdown of the is/ought distinction. MacIntyre, in reviewing the history of the is/ought distinction, argues that is and ought are not strictly separate realms but exist in a close relationship that is clarified by adopting a teleological orientation. We propose that, instead of recovering a teleological orientation, society tends to generate its own goals via democratic methods like those described by Rousseau or adopt agnosticism about teleology such as described by Richard Rorty. In both latter scenarios, the distinction between is and ought is obscured, and the role for empirical research grows, but for controversial reasons. MacIntyre warns that the is/ought distinction should remain, but reminds ethicists to make careful arguments about when and why it is legitimate to move from is to ought.
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