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Ethics of Incongruity: moral tension generators in clinical medicine
  1. Nicholas Kontos
  1. Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas Kontos, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA; nkontos{at}


Affectively uncomfortable concern, anxiety, indecisionand disputation over ‘right’ action are among the expressions of moral tension associated with ethical dilemmas. Moral tension is generated and experienced by people. While ethical principles, rules and situations must be worked through in any dilemma, each occurs against a backdrop of people who enact them and stand much to gain or lose depending on how they are applied and resolved. This paper attempts to develop a taxonomy of moral tension based on its intrapersonal and interpersonal sources and expressions. The proposed ‘ethics of incongruity’ (EoI) outlines ways in which values, actions and needs can find themselves mismatched in morally relevant ways between patients and their clinicians, their own psychologies and their societies. Patient–clinician incongruities may manifest as discord, value misalignment and deception. Patient–patient (ie, intrapersonal) incongruities may manifest as incapacity, akrasia and self-deception. Patient–society incongruities may manifest as disenfranchisement, disaffiliation and disregard. Brief explanations of the incongruities in this scheme are provided, as are suggestions on working within them. Using concepts from moral philosophy when applicable, these suggestions may either ease direct resolution of problems arising from the incongruities, or make sense of the moral tension that arises from the human context of the ethical dilemma at hand. This presentation of content and resolution methods for the EOI is no doubt incomplete. Hopefully, refinement of this preliminary proposal will follow, particularly from clinicians, as the ones who, along with their patients, experience medical ethics in directly tension-inducing ways.

  • social aspects
  • clinical ethics
  • autonomy

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  • Contributors NK is the sole author to develop the idea for this paper, perform the literature search and write the paper.

  • Funding The author haa not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

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