Medicine, Metaphysics and Morals Essays

2986 Words 12 Pages
Medicine, Metaphysics and Morals

ABSTRACT: Moral decisions concerning what ought to be done always assume metaphysical presuppositions concerning the way the world is. In the field of biomedical ethics, some of the metaphysical presuppositions underlying many current discussions of issues of life and death seem particularly implausible. These include our assumption of the reality of social atomism and our beliefs relating to the possibility of autonomy. Given the implausibility of these two assumptions, many discussions have focused our attention on the wrong issues by reducing questions of alternative social practices to questions of individual preferences. Far from facilitating intelligent solutions to our problems, this merely clouds
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However, the refusal to state metaphysical presuppositions cannot justify the conclusion that no such presuppositions are involved in a discussion. Indeed the situation of the ethicist with regard to metaphysical presuppositions seems roughly analogous to the situation of the biologist as regards the concept of teleology. Von Brueck is alleged to have remarked, "Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live, yet he is ashamed to show himself in public with her." (1) Analogously one might maintain" Metaphysics is a person without whom no ethicist can reach conclusions, yet he or she is ashamed to be seen in public with that person." Regretably the ethicist’s reluctance to admit her relationship to metaphysical presuppositions precludes the consideration of the plausibility of the ethicists conclusions. Since these conclusions may have considerable social impact this tendency to operate from hidden assumptions is unfortunate to say the least. In what follows I propose to examine the metaphysical presuppositions to be found in some common arguments in the field of biomedical ethics and to raise the question of just how plausible these assertions may be. Should it appear that their plausibility is open to serious questioning this might suggest that we may be a bit too hasty in our ready acceptance of some of the more popular conclusions in the field. The presuppositions involved are two in number, the first involving the relationship of the
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