Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 265–276 | Cite as

Against the integrative turn in bioethics: burdens of understanding

  • Lovro Savić
  • Viktor Ivanković
Scientific Contribution


The advocates of Integrative Bioethics have insisted that this recently emerging project aspires to become a new stage of bioethical development, surpassing both biomedically oriented bioethics and global bioethics. We claim in this paper that if the project wants to successfully replace the two existing paradigms, it at least needs to properly address and surmount the lack of common moral vocabulary problem. This problem points to a semantic incommensurability due to cross-language communication in moral terms. This paper proceeds as follows. In the first part, we provide an overview of Integrative Bioethics and its conceptual building blocks: mutlidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity. In the second part, we disclose the problem of semantic incommensurability. The third part gives an overview of various positions on the understanding of interdisciplinarity and integration in interdisciplinary communication, and corresponding attempts at solving the lack of common moral vocabulary problem. Here we lean mostly on Holbrook’s three theses regarding the character of interdisciplinary communication. Finally, in the fourth part, we discuss a particular bioethical case—that of euthanasia—to demonstrate the challenge semantic incommensurability poses to dialogues in Integrative Bioethics. We conclude that Integrative Bioethics does not offer a methodological toolset that would warrant optimism in its advocates’ predictions of surpassing current modes of doing bioethics. Since Integrative Bioethics leaves controversial methodological questions unresolved on almost all counts and shows no attempts at overcoming the critical stumbling points, we argue for its rejection.


Integrative bioethics Integrativity Pluriperspectivism Semantic incommensurability Interdisciplinarity Moral vocabulary 



We would like to thank Neven Petrović, Nino Kadić, Aleksandar Simić, Jan Albert van Laar, Maximilian Engel, Mihovil Lukić, Dean Tibljaš, and Snježana Čorak for providing us with valuable feedback throughout the writing process. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International RelationsCentral European UniversityBudapestHungary

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