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Analogy in moral deliberation: the role of imagination and theory in ethics
  1. B Smith
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr B Smith, Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England;


This paper develops themes addressed in an article by Eric Wiland in the Journal of Medical Ethics 2000;26:466–8, where he aims to contribute to the debate concerning the moral status of abortion, and to emphasise the importance of analogies in moral argument. In the present paper I try to secure more firmly a novel understanding of why analogy is an essential component in the attempt to justify moral beliefs. I seek to show how analogical argument both encapsulates and exercises the notions of rationality and imagination and that the construction, development, and comparison of analogies fundamentally underpins ethical argument. In so doing, it enables us to adopt imaginative and ethically illuminating perspectives but in a manner that does not relinquish any claims to intellectual rigour. I present a critique of a brand of “moral particularism” by showing how it cannot, if construed in a certain way, adequately conceive of how we use analogies and imaginary cases in ethics. Although such a particularism is thus impotent with regard to ethical debate, I show that the wider motivation behind particularism that can be extracted is of clear relevance and importance to medical practitioners.

  • Analogy
  • imagination
  • particularism

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