Rorty's Pragmatism and Bioethics
Arras, John D.
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2003 October-December; 28(5-6): 597-613
In spite of the routine acknowledgement of Richard Rorty's ubiquitous influence, those who have invoked his name enroute to advancing their case for a pragmatist bioethics have not given us a very clear picture of exactly how Rorty's work might actually contribute to methodological discussion in this field. I try to provide such an account here. Given the impressive depth and scope of Rorty's work during the past two decades, I make no pretense of presenting either a comprehensive or novel interpretation of his project. My primary aim here is simply to sketch what I take to be the implications of Rorty's neopragmatism for our methodological debates within bioethics. I conclude that the yield of Rorty's pragmatism for current methodological debates in bioethics is primarily negative, knocking the props out from under any pretensions to foundations and universal principles of right and wrong. His "professorial pragmatism" and philosophical trash disposal efforts would clearly sweep away some approaches based upon appeals to nature or universal human dignity, and his deflationary nominalist view of principles would threaten the foundations of some influential principlist approaches to bioethics.
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