Common Morality: Comment on Beauchamp and Childress
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2008; 29(1): 43-71
The notion of common morality plays a prominent role in some of the most influential theories of biomedical ethics. Here, I focus on Beauchamp and Childress's models in the fourth and fifth edition of Principles of Biomedical Ethics as well as on a revision that Beauchamp proposed in a recent article. Although there are significant differences in these works that require separate analysis, all include a role for common morality as starting point and normative framework for theory construction in combination with a coherence theory of moral justification. I defend to some extent the existence and empirical significance of common morality, as delineated by Beauchamp and Childress in different versions, but criticize its normative role. It is neither convincing as a moral foundation nor well compatible with a standard coherentist justification. I suggest that the authors should give up the foundational account for a more modest account of common morality as resource of well-established moral insights and experiences, which have proved generally valid but neither sufficient nor infallible. Beauchamp's latest proposal appears as a step in this direction; indeed, it may be the beginning of the end of his common-morality theory.
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