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On the univocity of rationality: a response to Nigel Biggar’s ‘Why religion deserves a place in secular medicine’


Nigel Biggar (2015) argues that religion deserves a place in secular medicine. Biggar suggests we abandon the standard rationalistic conception of the secular realm and see it rather as “a forum for the negotiation of rival reasonings”. Religious reasoning is one among a number of ways of thinking that must vie for acceptance. Medical ethics, says Biggar, is characterised by “spiritual and moral mixture and ambiguity”. We acknowledge this uncertainty by recognising rival viewpoints and agreeing to provisional compromises.

In this response, I object to Biggar's characterisation of medical ethics as “morally ambiguous” and “provisional”. I argue that Biggar has failed to provide adequate support for his conception of ethics as a “forum for negotiation and compromise”. I criticise Biggar's attempt to ‘pluralise’ rationality, and assert that if religion is to play a role in secular medicine, it must be ready to defend itself against a universal standard of reason. In the second section of my response, I argue that ‘theistic natural law’ gives us the resources to defend using reason alone ostensibly faith-based positions in healthcare ethics. In doing so, we retain a univocal conception of rationality, while at the same time leaving space for ‘theism’ in healthcare ethics.

  • Religious Ethics
  • Philosophical Ethics
  • Political Philosophy
  • Abortion
  • Moral Psychology

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