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Bioethics in social context
  1. P de Zulueta
  1. p.dezulueta{at}

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Edited by B Hoffmaster. Temple University Press, 2001, US$69.50 (hc), $22.95 (pb), pp 230. ISBN 1-56639-845-2

Hoffmaster endeavours to enrich the dominant bioethical paradigm, based on abstract principles, with the lived experience of moral decision making. He proposes that bioethics involves not only the justifications for moral judgments, but also the understanding of the beliefs and values underpinning them. The “old” conventional bioethics, situated in “rationality and generality”, is to be replaced by a new “reoriented” bioethics, situated in the untidy world of “lived human experience”. In other words, context, in its widest sense, is to be integrated into the bioethical framework.

The relevance of social context in moral philosophy is not new, however. As MacIntyre tells us in After Virtue: “ . . . it also follows that we have not yet fully understood the claims of any moral philosophy until we have spelled out what its social embodiment would be”. He reminds us that Plato and Aristotle, amongst others, undertook this project. MacIntyre, like Hoffmaster, laments the loss of social embodiment in the “narrow conception” of contemporary moral philosophy. I submit that we are now witnessing the rejection of Cartesian duality and the revival, or restoration, of an old paradigm—reintegrating the social milieu, narrative, and the emotions, in our conceptualisation of moral philosophy.

Hoffmaster’s second goal is to raise the profile of social science research in the field of bioethics. He argues that the distinction between descriptive and normative ethics is artificial, and that the former is unfairly …

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