Principlism, the bioethical theory championed by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, is centered on the four moral principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy, and justice. Two key processes related to these principles are specification—adding specific content to general principles—and balancing—determining the relative weight of conflicting principles. I argue that both of these processes necessarily involve an appeal to human goods and evils, and therefore require a theory of the good. A significant problem with principlism is that it lacks a (...) theory of the good and consequently does not have an adequate solution to the problems of specification and balancing. My conclusion is that principlism must adopt some account of human well-being in order to be a satisfactory bioethical framework. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between disability and quality of life and some of its implications for bioethics and healthcare. It focuses on the neglected perfectionist approach that ties well-being to the flourishing of human nature, which provides the strongest support for the common view of disability as a harm. After critiquing the traditional Aristotelian version of perfectionism, which excludes the disabled from flourishing by prioritizing rationalistic goods, I defend a new version that prioritizes the social capacities of human nature (...) and the goods of personal relationship. This relationship-centered perfectionism is able to accommodate and explain disabled thriving. I also show how these issues have important implications for specific bioethical debates and clinical practices, using a cluster of issues related to Down syndrome as timely illustrations. My goal is to sketch a perfectionist theory that gives a more plausible account of the relationship between disability and well-being, and that provides better practical guidance in cases involving judgments about the quality of disabled lives. (shrink)
When decisionally incapable patients need a surrogate to make medical decisions for them, sometimes the patient has not appointed a healthcare agent and there is intractable disagreement among potential surrogates of equal priority, legal rank, or relation to the patient (e.g., child vs. child, sibling vs. sibling). There is no ethical, legal, or professional consensus about how to identify the appropriate surrogate in such circumstances. This article presents a case study involving an elderly female patient whose four children disagree about (...) whether to continue life-sustaining treatment for their mother, along with an ethical analysis of various strategies for selecting the appropriate surrogate in cases of conflicting equal-rank family members. It critically examines three different strategies—chance, majority rules, and quality of relationship with the patient—and defends the third approach. (shrink)
Perfectionism is the view that what is intrinsically good is the fulfillment of human nature or the development and exercise of the characteristic human capacities. An important objection to the theory is what Gwen Bradford calls the “Deep Problem”: explaining why nature-fulfillment is good. We argue that situating perfectionism within a Thomistic metaethical framework and adopting Aquinas's account of the metaphysical “convertibility” of being and goodness gives us a solution to the Deep Problem. In short, the fulfillment of human nature (...) consists in the actualization of human potentialities or fullness of human being, and because being is ultimately the same thing as goodness, the fulfillment of human nature is good. We show that Thomistic perfectionism meets the requirements for an answer to the Deep Problem, provides the best explanation possible for the goodness of nature fulfillment, and is a natural foundation for perfectionist theories of value. (shrink)
A serious challenge to religious believers in the Abrahamic traditions is that the God of the Old Testament seems to command immoral actions. Thomas Aquinas addresses this objection using the biblical story of God ordering the Israelites to plunder the Egyptians, which threatens to create an inconsistency among four of Aquinas’s views: God did indeed command this action; God is perfectly good and cannot command any evil actions; the objective moral goodness or badness of actions is not based on arbitrary (...) divine commands; and the prohibition of theft is an immutable principle of the natural moral law. I examine Aquinas’s views on metaethics, stealing, justice, property, and collective responsibility to show that there is not a genuine inconsistency in his position, and that his strategy provides a helpful model for responding to the objection from divinely-sanctioned evil. (shrink)
This special issue commemorates the 40th anniversary of Tom Beauchamp and James Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics with a collection of original essays addressing some of the major themes in the book. It opens with intellectual autobiographies by Beauchamp and Childress themselves. Subsequent articles explore the topics of common morality, specification and balancing of moral principles, virtue, moral status, autonomy, and lists of bioethical principles. The issue closes with a reply by Beauchamp and Childress to the other authors.
The articles in this issue cover a wide range of topics, including the moral status of human embryos and human-animal chimeras and hybrids, the determination of death, theories of human cognition, and policies on the identity of mitochondrial donors. Despite this variety, there are two underlying questions that tie the articles together: what is a human being? And, what is the basis of moral status? First, I discuss these two questions and why they are important for bioethics. Then I provide (...) summaries of the six articles in this issue and explain how each of them is connected to the questions of human nature and moral status. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Alvin Plantinga defends occasionalism against an important moral objection: if God is the sole direct cause of all the suffering that results from immoral human choices, this causal role is difficult to reconcile with God’s perfect goodness. Plantinga argues that this problem is no worse for occasionalism than for any of the competing views of divine causality; in particular, there is no morally relevant difference between God directly causing suffering and God indirectly causing it. First, we (...) examine Plantinga’s moral parity argument in detail and offer a critical evaluation of it. Then we provide a positive argument, based on the doctrine of doing and allowing, to show why there is a morally relevant difference between God’s direct and indirect causation of suffering. (shrink)
The foundation of natural law ethics is a set of basic human goods, such as life and health, knowledge, work and play, appreciation of beauty, friendship, and religion. A disputed question among natural law theorists is whether the basic goods are “incommensurable.” But there is widespread ambiguity in the natural law literature about what incommensurability means, which makes it unclear how this disagreement should be understood and resolved. First, I clear up this ambiguity by distinguishing between incommensurability and incomparability. I (...) show that proponents of New Natural Law Theory hold that basic goods are both incommensurable and incomparable, whereas proponents of Classical Natural Law Theory hold that basic goods are incommensurable but comparable. Second, I critique the leading New Natural Law arguments for the incomparability of basic goods. Throughout the article, I explain why value incommensurability is an essential feature of natural law ethics but value incomparability is not. (shrink)
According to George Lucas, Star Wars is a morality play, a mythological tale of good and evil that's meant to teach timeless lessons about the moral life. This chapter shows how the moral framework of natural law ethics provides a philosophical foundation for the morality of the Force and helps illuminate Star Wars' moral themes.
In contemporary discussions of human well-being, well-being is typically understood in secular terms. Analogously, most contemporary discussions of eudaimonistic virtue ethics, influenced by Aristotle, take human flourishing to be a matter of living virtuously, where flourishing and virtue are both secular notions. For many religious believers, however, well-being and virtuous activity involve not just ethical dispositions and actions, but primarily relationship to God. In this paper, I present an alternative eudaimonistic account of well-being that is theological in nature. This view, (...) which I call Thomistic eudaimonism, makes a strong connection between flourishing, virtuous activity, and relationship with God. What is worth considering about this account is that it is able to avoid one of the worst problems for secular, Aristotelian eudaimonism, namely that flourishing and virtue seem to come apart. This is a major strength of Thomistic eudaimonism and a reason to consider it as a theory of well-being. (shrink)
I propose and defend a new combination of natural law ethics and virtue epistemology. While all contemporary natural law theories recognize knowledge as one of the basic human goods, none of them provide a detailed explanation for the value of knowledge, which would greatly enrich such theories. I show that virtue epistemology is able to deliver the required solution to the value problem, which makes this combination project very attractive. I also address two major worries about this approach: it commits (...) one to a type of virtue ethics that is incompatible with natural law theory; and it results in a fragmented, pluralistic account of normativity. I attempt to alleviate both worries, arguing that the first is unfounded and the second, while true, is not a genuine cause for concern because the combination of natural law ethics and virtue epistemology is more unified than it may appear. (shrink)