Uncommon misconceptions and common morality

Published on 2019in Journal of Medical Ethics2.19
· DOI :10.1136/medethics-2019-105799
Alex John London19
Estimated H-index: 19
(CMU: Carnegie Mellon University)
One of the fundamental challenges in any field of practical ethics is to articulate a framework for deliberation and decision making that is capable of providing warranted guidance about contentious ethical questions.1 Such a framework has to function effectively in the face of empirical uncertainty and what Rawls refers to as the fact of reasonable pluralism—the fact that individuals often differ in their ideals, ambitions, preferences and conceptions of the good life. One of the perennial questions in normative and metaethics concerns the source of the warrant for such judgments, and a major preoccupation of practical ethics has been to find a way to generate such warrant without having to first settle all contentious philosophical questions about the nature and source of normativity. To the extent that scholars use the term ‘common morality’ to refer to a set of moral norms or concerns that are sufficiently common and widespread that they can be used as starting points for moral deliberation and inquiry, I am sympathetic to the term.2 To the extent that appeals to common morality are supposed to do more significant epistemic or justificatory work, they have always struck me as dangerously ad hoc and insufficiently responsive to the legitimate need to explain the ground for common normative claims. Although I am relatively sceptical of appeals to common morality, I am concerned that the version of this view that is critiqued in ‘Why not common morality’ is simply a straw person . Throughout the paper, Rhodes treats common morality as synonymous with everyday ethics and the ethics of everyday life. She says, ‘If common morality and medical ethics were the same, then the ethically justified behaviour for medical professionals and everyone else would be the same’ (Rhodes, p7).3 In effect, the view that Rhodes attacks is …
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