Journal Article

Keeping it Ethically Real

Dien Ho

in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine

Published on behalf of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy Inc

Volume 41, issue 4, pages 369-383
Published in print August 2016 | ISSN: 0360-5310
Published online June 2016 | e-ISSN: 1744-5019 | DOI:
Keeping it Ethically Real

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Many clinical ethicists have argued that ethics expertise is impossible. Their skeptical argument usually rests on the assumptions that to be an ethics expert is to know the correct moral conclusions, which can only be arrived at by having the correct ethical theories. In this paper, I argue that this skeptical argument is unsound. To wit, ordinary ethical deliberations do not require the appeal to ethical or meta-ethical theories. Instead, by agreeing to resolve moral differences by appealing to reasons, the participants agree to the Default Principle—a substantive rule that tells us how to adjudicate an ethical disagreement. The Default Principle also entails a commitment to arguments by parity, and together these two methodological approaches allow us to make genuine moral progress without assuming any deep ethical principles. Ethical expertise, in one sense, is thus the ability and knowledge to deploy the Default Principle and arguments by parity.

Keywords: clinical ethics; ethics consultation; ethics expertise; medical ethics

Journal Article.  6913 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Medical Ethics ; Bioethics ; Public Policy

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