Moral Perception and the Pursuit of Medical Philosophy
Casarett, David J.
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 1999 Apr; 20(2): 125-139.
This paper begins by examining the claim that the practice of medicine is essentially a moral endeavor. According to this view, all clinical practice has moral content, and each clinical situation has a moral dimension. I suggest that in order to recognize this moral dimension, clinicians must engage in an interpretive process, and that they must be able to interpret clinical data in ethical terms. However, clinicians often lack the 'moral perception' required to appreciate this moral dimension. I will argue that physicians lack moral perception when the clinical data they are given do not offer sufficient opportunity for interpretation. This paper draws on the work of Merleau-Ponty to suggest that this loss of interpretation is, paradoxically, the result of the way that patients experience illness. This thesis may be productive, first, because it suggests opportunities to explore the process of moral perception. This thesis also suggests ways for ethicists and educators to enhance clinicians' perception of the ethical dimensions of clinical practice. Finally, the concept of moral perception, when grounded in the patient's experience of illness, creates a fruitful area of inquiry that warrants inclusion in what may someday be the philosophy of medicine's canon.
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