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J Med Ethics 21:25-30 doi:10.1136/jme.21.1.25
  • Research Article

Ultimate justification: Wittgenstein and medical ethics.

  1. J Hughes
  1. Princess Alexandra's Royal Air Force Hospital, Wroughton.

      Abstract

      Decisions must be justified. In medical ethics various grounds are given to justify decisions, but ultimate justification seems illusory and little considered. The philosopher Wittgenstein discusses the problem of ultimate justification in the context of general philosophy. His comments, nevertheless, are pertinent to ethics. From a discussion of Wittgensteinian notions, such as 'bedrock', the idea that 'ultimate' justification is grounded in human nature as such is derived. This discussion is relevant to medical ethics in at least five ways: it shows generally what type of certainty there is in practical ethics; it seems to imply some objective foundation to our ethical judgements; it squares with our experience of making ethical decisions; it shows something of the nature of moral arguments; and, finally, it has implications for teaching medicine and ethics.