Bruce Jennings

in The Oxford Handbook of Bioethics

Published in print February 2009 | ISBN: 9780199562411
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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No single concept has been more important in the contemporary development of bioethics, and the revival of medical ethics, than the concept of autonomy, and none better reflects both the philosophical and the political currents shaping the field. This article proposes to consider autonomy in three of its facets and functions: first, as a concept in ethical theory; second, as a concept in applied ethics; and finally, as what might be called an ideological concept — that is, one that both draws from and reinforces non-philosophical interests at work in the profession of medicine, biomedical science and technology, and the broader liberal individualistic culture of Anglophone countries, particularly the United States, where a bioethical discourse centred on autonomy has flourished.

Keywords: contemporary bioethics; medical ethics; concept of autonomy; applied ethics; United States; biomedical science

Article.  8386 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Moral Philosophy

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