Moral Expertise: A Problem in the Professional Ethics of Professional Ethicists
Bioethics. 1995 Oct; 9(5): 361-379.
Philosophers, particularly moral philosophers, are increasingly being involved in public decision-making in areas which are seen to raise ethical issues. For example, Dame Mary Warnock chaired the 'Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology' in the UK in 1982-4; the Philosophy Department at Auckland was commissioned by the Auckland Regional Authority to report on the ethical aspects of fluoridating the public water supply in 1990; and many of us are serving on ethics committees of various sorts. Not only are philosophers actually being called on or consulted, but many of us would argue that a philosophical contribution in such areas is essential. The involvement of moral philosophers in public policy decisions raises a question of professional ethics, viz, what role should a philosopher's own moral perspective or judgements play in the advice s/he gives, or contribution s/he makes, to public decision-making on ethical issues. Like most problems in professional ethics, this prompts reflection on the nature of the profession, and in particular on the expertise we take moral philosophy to offer. It also prompts reflection on how processes of public decision making in ethically problematic areas should be understood. I explore these issues in this paper.
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