Bioethics: No Method—No Discipline?

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics:1-10 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

This article raises the question of whether bioethics qualifies as a discipline. According to a standard definition of discipline as “a field of study following specific and well-established methodological rules” bioethics is not a specific discipline as there are no explicit “well-established methodological rules.” The article investigates whether the methodological rules can be implicit, and whether bioethics can follow specific methodological rules within subdisciplines or for specific tasks. As this does not appear to be the case, the article examines whether bioethics’ adherence to specific quality criteria (instead of methodological rules) or pursuing of a common goal can make it qualify as a discipline. Unfortunately, the result is negative. Then, the article scrutinizes whether referring to bioethics institutions and professional qualifications can ascertain bioethics as a discipline. However, this makes the definition of bioethics circular. The article ends by admitting that bioethics can qualify as a discipline according to broader definitions of discipline, for example, as an “area of knowledge, research and education.” However, this would reduce bioethics’ potential for demarcation and identity-building. Thus, to consolidate the discipline of bioethics and increase its impact, we should explicate and elaborate on its methodology.

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