Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 117–128 | Cite as

The force of dissimilar analogies in bioethics

  • Heidi Mertes
  • Guido Pennings


Although analogical reasoning has long been a popular method of reasoning in bioethics, current literature does not sufficiently grasp its variety. We assert that the main shortcoming is the fact that an analogy’s value is often judged on the extent of similarity between the source situation and the target situation, while in (bio)ethics, analogies are often used because of certain dissimilarities rather than in spite of them. We make a clear distinction between dissimilarities that aim to reinforce a similar approach in the source situation and the target situation and dissimilarities that aim to undermine or denounce a similar approach. The former kind of dissimilarity offers the analogy more normative force than if there were no dissimilarities present; this is often overlooked by authors who regard all relevant dissimilarities as detrimental to the analogy’s strength. Another observation is that an evaluation of the normative force of an analogy cannot be made independently of moral principles or theories. Without these, one cannot select which elements in an analogy are morally relevant nor determine how they should be interpreted.


Analogy Bioethics Ethical reasoning Dissimilarity 



The preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the Research Foundation––Flanders. We would also like to thank Joke Meheus and the reviewers of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics for their remarks and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioethics Institute GhentGhentBelgium

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