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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 4, 1998

Bioethics and Medical Ethics

Michele A. Carter
Pages 13-21

Synthetic Model of Bioethical Inquiry

Bioethics, viewed as both a form of reflective practice and a developing discipline, is concerned with the moral aspects of health care practice and research. With its steady maturation in the domain of moral discourse, bioethics has presided over a number of questions about the nature of human illness and how problems imposed by illness can be understood in an age marked not only by progress, but also by the concomitant fear that such progress will outstrip our humanity and our dignity as persons. I discuss some of the current tensions and ambiguities inherent in the field of bioethics as it continues to mature. In particular I focus on the present tendency in bioethics to bifurcate ethical theory and practice. I analyze some of the dichotomies resulting from such bifurcation. Finally, I call for an approach to bioethical discourse defined by the rigor of systematic and critical thinking characteristic of ethical theory, the disciplined eloquence and persuasive power of rhetoric, and the principles of Renaissance humanism. A new model of bioethics is proposed, one that synthesizes the analytic functions of moral theory with the practical and therapeutic functions of rhetorical humanism; such a model bridges the divide between theory and practice. This synthetic model of bioethical inquiry emerges from both ancient and contemporary debates about the possibility and nature of moral knowledge as well as from the moral teachings of humanists and rhetoricians throughout the history of ideas.

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