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Theory in biomedical ethics: the compatibility of principlism and care ethics McWhinney, Larissa L.


The subject of this thesis is the relationship between "principlism," a dominant trend in the theory of biomedical ethics, and a recently articulated alternative account of ethics known as "care ethics." I will argue that, rather than being competing or mutually exclusive approaches to moral theory, these two perspectives are compatible and that their partnership is mutually beneficial. I will situate my arguments within the larger philosophical debate between theorists and anti-theorists. I will contend that principlism has evolved to a position more closely allied with anti-theory than with theory. Due to the fact that care ethics has been nurtured by anti-theoretical roots, principlism's current philosophical orientation predicts the compatibility of the two perspectives in biomedical ethics. By clarifying terminology and providing reasons for promoting care ethics, I will elucidate some of the causes for the assumption that care ethics and principlism are unsuited to each other. By demonstrating how care ethics can inform the principles of principlism without offending their structure, I will indicate how the two approaches to biomedical ethics are actually well matched. To further dispel scepticism, I will address the criticism that care ethics does not display the necessary methodological requirements for moral theory. I will contend not only that care ethics can meet the standards for a legitimate philosophical school of thought and that it does not fall into the disarray of situationalism, but also that the methodological characteristics it possesses should be adopted by conventional moral theory. Using these strategies, I intend to argue that the contributions from care ethics to biomedical ethics are abundant, and that the partnership between principlism and care ethics is not only possible but that it should be encouraged and promoted.

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