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Minding the gap between logic and intuition: an interpretative approach to ethical analysis
  1. D Kirklin
  1. Correspondence to:
 D Kirklin
 Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Archway Campus, 2nd Floor Holborn Union Building, 2-10 Highgate Hill, London N19 5LW, UK; d.kirklin{at}


In an attempt to be rational and objective, and, possibly, to avoid the charge of moral relativism, ethicists seek to categorise and characterise ethical dilemmas. This approach is intended to minimise the effect of the confusing individuality of the context within which ethically challenging problems exist. Despite and I argue partly as a result of this attempt to be rational and objective, even when the logic of the argument is accepted—for example, by healthcare professionals—those same professionals might well respond by stating that the conclusions are unacceptable to them. In this paper, I argue that an interpretative approach to ethical analysis, involving an examination of the ways in which ethical arguments are constructed and shared, can help ethicists to understand the origins of this gap between logic and intuition. I suggest that an argument will be persuasive either if the values underpinning the proposed argument accord with the reader’s values and worldview, or if the argument succeeds in persuading the reader to alter these. A failure either to appreciate or to acknowledge those things that give meaning to the lives of all the interested parties will make this objective far harder, if not impossible, to achieve. If, as a consequence, the narratives ethicists use to make their arguments seem to be about people living in different circumstances, and faced with different choices and challenges, from those the readers or listeners consider important or have to face in their own lives, then the argument is unlikely to seem either relevant or applicable to those people. The conclusion offered by the ethicist will be, for that individual, counterintuitive. Abortion, euthanasia and cadaveric organ donation are used as examples to support my argument.

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  • i Mrs Pretty had the degenerative disorder motor neurone disease. She sought a judicial review as to her husband’s legal position were he to help her commit suicide. The final judicial review, delivered by the House of Lords, ruled that such an intervention by Mr Pretty would be illegal and that he would be liable for criminal prosecution.8

  • Funding: None.

  • Competing interests: None.