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What principlism misses
  1. Tom Walker
  1. Dr Tom Walker, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK; t.walker{at}


Principlism aims to provide a framework to help those working in medicine both to identify moral problems and to make decisions about what to do. For it to meet this aim, the principles included within it must express values that all morally serious people share (or ought to share), and there must be no other values that all morally serious people share (or ought to share). This paper challenges the latter of these claims. I will argue that as a descriptive claim about what values morally serious people do in fact share, principlism is inadequate; more principles would be needed to make this claim true. Furthermore, I will argue that while, taken as a claim about what principles we ought to share, principlism could turn out to be correct, it is either unsupported or unable to meet its aims. The only way in which principlists can avoid these problems is to add to the current four principles.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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